Immersive Content Regulation and Ethics
Creating software is complicated, but formulaic. Developers use defined programming languages employing logic and sequencing to craft endless applications. Done properly, it’s an elegant symphony of code. In the world of Extended Reality, we now have the sophisticated hardware to match. So, today’s immersive content really does carry the promise of infinite solutions surrounding everyone.
Immersing yourself in a believable fantasy is no longer a thought experiment. But when the possibilities are genuinely limitless, are there subjects and experiences we can or should regulate? Are there times and places to restrict what goes on between a human and his or her private virtual world?
Crafting Realities that Heal Broken Hearts
The XR world recently came head to head with questions about what constitutes acceptable content when a grieving mother in Korea was reunited with a child she lost tragically to an incurable disease.
In the video below, an incredibly lifelike replica of a little girl greets her mother. They share a reunion that includes a birthday cake. It’s undeniably heart-wrenching to watch.
Our collective reaction was a jumbled mess of empathy for the woman’s grief and gratitude that she could have some level of a comforting reconnection.
But the next question is should this be done? Isn’t it possible, even likely, that some people traumatized by grief and the sudden loss of a loved one too soon would be susceptible to becoming addicted to a virtual world, regardless of how well they’re aware of its unreality?
And we already know that indulging in some fantasies can be harmful to the mind. Acting out unhealthy (or even violent) behaviours can cause mental health to deteriorate rather than recover. So, we keep all of this in mind as we’re pondering these questions.
Immersive Content for Loneliness
In addition to reuniting with loved ones to alleviate grief, immersive experiences can also offer companionship to lonely people. Newly relocated professionals, seniors, chronically shy people, or really anyone who may need friendship, but for whatever reason doesn’t have it – all may experience relief from sadness and depression in a virtual world.
Virtual companions can be care providers and assistants, but can they really be friends? It’s enticing to think about having a friend tailor made for you, not subject to the natural small frictions between people. Would you spend time with a virtual companion, particularly if you found yourself isolated socially or geographically? The answers to questions like this are perpetually subjective. And in the end, relevant mostly to the end user.
But we all know immersive content already doesn’t stop with companionship. Pornographic content is readily available and likely the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can and will be developed. Will the XR world see a growing black market of taboo content? Should this content be governed? If so, by whom?
How Real Will Immersion Become?
Have you ever read that quote from Arthur C. Clarke about advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic? We have. And it’s worth thinking about. Just because we can’t currently explain the technology that would make a StarTrek holodeck a viable experience doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t come to pass.
We know how quickly tech is progressing for our generation and it’s getting easier to let go of an inability to understand what life will be like many years from now. We simply know that it will be as unrecognizable to us as our present day would be to a Renaissance-era inventor.
Immersive content currently benefits from some truly amazing haptic gear, bikes, chairs, and treadmills – with more in the works every day. Wind and scent machines have joined the fray. And this tech is backed by realistic graphics alongside characters and plots written by some of the best storytellers in the world. Perhaps one day we will incorporate brain machine interface technology that negates hardware altogether. We may not know exactly what the next 100 years will hold, but we know human curiosity is endless and the future is coming.
Immersive Content Ethics
Content creation could become a slippery slope of catering to alternate lives we’d rather be leading, crafting realities that we’d rather experience. But from there, we can ask ourselves, is there anything wrong with that? If you have time to visit Rivendell and be an elf at the end of your busy day, instead of watching it in a movie, you could literally immerse yourself in the story. What kind of fallout could we expect from providing richly detailed escapes? Alienated family members? Lost jobs? Or rejuvenated minds? Probably all of the above.
We can view some escapist content as shallow and self-serving. Some of it probably is exactly that. But we should also look honestly at the way humanity interacts with fictional content. People use media, art, culture, and all forms of storytelling to learn, grow, and imagine. Yet we also use stories to escape monotony and to experience connection or validation.
If we re-imagine the way we tell and consume stories, we might be in a better position to accept and then benefit from the full scope of what immersive content can offer.
That said we fully expect to see expanded regulation and codes of conduct established as immersive experiences proliferate as a form of mainstream entertainment. We will need trusted guides along the path that morphs immersive content from the realms of gaming, education, and task completion into deeply personal experiences.
Work with a Responsible Content Partner
At Stambol, we believe in solving problems. Sometimes problems are every bit as complicated as people. So, we welcome the opportunity to be a part of tough conversations, particularly if the outcome is a benefit for our larger XR community.
We believe in challenging norms and being accountable for our work. And while we’re not free speech experts or counselors, we are pioneers of new technology. Reach out and ask us to talk about immersive content development and what technology partners can contribute to industry standards.
Feature Image Credit: DanRentea / Adobe Stock