Jamie Felton in VentureBeat reminds us to take a look at Virtual-Virtual Reality, a surreal VR experience that’s impossible to categorize. Part game, part story, part experience of the future, this is just something you need to step into.
Where to begin in this surreal story? You dive into a journey through Activitude, a futuristic corporation that serves AI clients. What initially appears as a sequence of bizarre experiences (for one, getting slices of toast to a demanding slab of butter) takes on increasing plausibility. Your actions are reviewed and criticized as you try to fulfill impossible demands. Eventually, a deeper meaning begins to surface in this comedy-adventure narrative as you find yourself locked in a dystopian work environment.
As Cecilia D’Anastasio describes it in Kotaku,
In a future where robots do most human jobs, human labor has become an artisanal service, which the in-game startup Activitude has monetized.
It’s a cautionary tale of our own future with the rise of AI in virtual reality and society. That’s not to say we should avoid the convergence of VR, AI, and related tech, but we should be thinking deeply about where we’re headed.
We know that as a new media form, VR will blur the line between the real and the virtual. The question raised in Virtual-Virtual Reality is whether we’ll even notice in the end.
Here’s Felton’s description of the experience.
In this vision of a reality gone weird, you take on the role of a new worker at Activitude, an Aperture Science-esque facility that provides services to AI clients. With the limitless possibilities of VR at your finger-tips, these chores are anything but mundane; sentient butter fetishizes about having perfectly-toasted bread lavishly slapped onto its sides, while a Texan tumbleweed longs to roam free in a runner-style minigame. You warp between realities by putting on virtual VR headsets with the aid of Activitude’s head-of-madness, Chaz.
VVR initially revels in the inherent silly side of VR to glorious effect. You bounce between realities with giddy curiosity, always wondering what ridiculous situation you’re going to find yourself in next. It’s Accounting with a little more nuance, replacing Rick and Morty’s volume for the mild-mannered antics of Portal’s Wheatley. As you go, your performance will be rated by sometimes satisfied but mostly unhappy customers. Suffice to say you’ll probably end up making some mistakes that you didn’t see coming.
But all is not what it seems; it’s not long before you peel back the thin layer of Activitude’s surface and begin to uncover a deeper meaning to both the dystopian corporation and the wider game. Are you really serving AI constructs? Or is there a bigger story behind the gravely-voiced pinwheel that takes such pleasure in watching you water his garden? What about the VR we as headset owners experience now? Where does that reality go when we switch it off?
VR, AR, and Mixed Reality is changing so fast that the virtual will work its way into reality largely unnoticed. And as it does, it will have a profound impact on business, media, politics, education, and society. Today, we’re concerned with fake news; a few short years in the future, we’ll be questioning what to do about fake realities.
As Samantha Gorman, one of the creators of Virtual-Virtual Reality put it.
We’re always searching for more satisfying immersion. I feel like every technology, even the precursors to VR, is just people wanting to be more immersed. Our tagline is ‘Must go deeper.’
The corollary tagline for us as we rush headlong into this immersive future is – ‘must keep our humanity’.
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.