Sunday, November 25, 2012

Communication and Cyberspace: Chapter 5

   In our second group of readings from Communication & Cyberspace it was chapter 5. Back to Plato's Cave: Virtual Reality that got me thinking. I remembered something we discussed in class and realized that it connected back to this chapter.  In class we watched a video of a man chopping down a tree in virtual reality. Click here to see the video.  The study done at Stanford University suggested that experiencing something in a virtual reality can change behavior in actual reality. Specifically for this study, cutting down a tree with a chainsaw may make people more environmentally conscience, e.g. recycling.
     Chapter 5, also suggested that virtual reality can changes peoples' actual reality. This author, Herbert Zettl,  was more concerned with violent virtual realities that included "...mutilation, rape, and even murder" (pg 108).  He is concerned that playing video games, which make use of the virtual technology available today, could affect behavior. It seems that perhaps the Stanford study could solidify those fears. Zettl worries that perhaps the user may not realize when he or she has switched out of the virtual reality game and back into reality. I do agree this is possible, but not with most people. Having played many different video games over many years, I find that the act of saving the game and exiting out through the various screens or even turning it off and seeing the screen go black, sufficient in bringing me back to reality. I often have to check what time it is and then take a second to remember what I planned to do the rest of  the day.  I believe this is sufficient for most people.  Although, I can see where there could be some issues for highly suggestible, or psychologically impaired, players. For people with underlying issues, they may have trouble snapping back into reality and leaving that other world.  I also don't think the danger lies solely in virtual reality. People with that kind of suggestibility could also lose themselves in a t.v. series or movie, a book, or even a graphic novel/comic book.  Its altered reality that can pose the danger, which includes but is not limited to, virtual reality.
     Getting back to the Stanford experiment, it wonder if some other types of virtual reality experiences can change real life behavior. For example, the arcade-style racing games that the chapter mentions. Sometimes you sit inside a little booth that has a seat, a steering-wheel, and pedals. Or, it may be a motorcycle that you can actually sit on and can lean side to side.  These games include large screens and often speakers on either side of the player. It is probably the closest to virtual reality that most people will get.  I wonder, will a person who  before playing is a safe driver, drives the speed limit and abides by traffic laws, would change their behavior after playing.  After playing the game where speed is encouraged and it is acceptable to make illegal U-turns and to drive on sidewalks, will a player start to increase their speed while driving in real life? I am not suggesting that after playing these games that people will start drag racing, going on high speed chases, or running over pedestrians. Sure, for a very small number of people that effect could occur, but again we would be dealing with people who have other psychological issues. For a mentally healthy and well-adjusted adult, if there are any changes in behavior, I believe they would be slight. Like going a few miles over the speed limit, maybe accelerating through a yellow light instead of stopping. Or, perhaps making that illegal U-turn, when before he or she would have chosen not to.
     We can then bring this around to psychology.  In reality we choose not to speed or break laws because we could get ticket, which means paying a fine or even losing the license to drive. Obeying the laws becomes a learned behavior due to operant conditioning.  Virtual reality allows us to enter into a world like our own, and allows us to make choices similar to ones we can make in real life. When making those choices in virtual reality, like in the racing games, the consequences can be different. Speeding in real life can lead to a fine, but in the game it leads to a high score. In that example, the positive punishment (addition of a fine) is replaced by positive reinforcement (addition of praise in the form of a high score).  This changes the type of operant conditioning and the possible outcome.  Now, most people know the difference between the game and real life and know that the outcomes remain different, and therefore large changes in behavior won't occur. But, it does make me wonder if the small changes might, and would the player even notice?

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