EXPERIMENTAL STUDY ON VIRTUAL REALITY AND THE LOSS OF IDENTITY
Andi Wang, Yiyan Lin and Lola Mercadal
Is Virtual Reality real?
“There is an apple in front of me. I can see it, but I can’t touch it I can interact with the apple. I have an avatar that I can control on the screen. That avatar is a virtual projection of myself. It can pick up the apple, throw it around the virtual room, or eat it. But I can’t touch it and interact with it using my own physical hands.”
As philosopher Philip Brey points out with this analogy, virtual objects exist in some form: they are not a product of our imagination, but their existence have a distinctive metaphysical quality. He argues that our perception of reality can be categorized by objectivity and subjectivity in relation to ontology and epistemology. In order to explain this, he analyses the essence of what he calls ‘institutional facts’ referring to social constructs such as marriage, property and money. Brey argues that these only exist in our collective minds through an agreement upon a constitutive rule. They don’t have a physical existence. In principle, we can project the same social reality over anything, including the representations and simulations that exist within virtual reality.
If we consider the virtual world as part of our reality, how does an avatar affect our persona? According to David G. Myers, our sense of identity is what helps us organize our thoughts, feelings and actions. In a virtual world the users can freely explore many facets of their personalities in ways that are not easily available to them in real life; they are free from social constructs and expectations which can have consequences in an individual’s identity development.
Researchers at University College London and University of Barcelona have used virtual reality to help patients with depression proving that VR can re-train the brain and change the way you interact with the real world. Therefore, it would be naive to say that one can decide when and how our brain is going to be modified. In fact, a study by Frederick Aardema et al shows a great increase in dissociative disorders as a result of exposure to VR. It causes a lessened sense of presence in objective reality.
This project is an experimental study exploring the use of virtual reality and how it affects or modifies the perception of the self. Eight volunteers participated in the experiment; the exercise involved three different Virtual Reality immersive encounters. As our volunteers were in the game, we found ourselves analysing their body movements converting the exercise into an observational study. It was curious to observe the volunteers during the experiment; it seemed like their mind was leaving their body. They wouldn’t respond to any of our questions during the experience although they could hear us. Although the games were stimulating there was very little movement; instead of moving their arms they would only discreetly move their hands. During the interview, when asked about the loss of identity or presence all agreed that more time spent in the VR world was needed. However, almost all of them agreed that there was a separation between their persona in the real life and their persona in the virtual world. The language they used was also remarkable: all the volunteers talked about being in the game when they were referring to the experience.
The aim of this project is to raise awareness on the dangers of over using VR. With this video, we hope to invite to reflection on the naivety that most VR users have regarding the fragility of their identity.
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