The Market Ethics In The Age Of The Nether

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‘Market ethics’ may sound like the perfect oxymoron (two words that are contradictory). But the market has their own set of ethics, just like everything else. Like technology, for instance. In the following paragraphs I will try to unveil what the ethics of the technology market are.

If I had to define Virtual Reality in two words, I would say scenery creator. It creates new worlds, giving us the opportunity to play the main role.

We rarely speak about theater here, and it is about time we do. Theater is the scenery creator by excellence, and it has since the very dawn of our culture. Art is like a river that runs along the road of technology. Sometimes a little further (Jules Verne and H. G. Wells are the perfect examples), sometimes a little behind, but always keeping an eye on keeping up with the times.

This is a follow up on last week’s article, about VR and ethics. But what actually triggered was a theater play.

The first criticisms.

Although critically acclaimed play The Nether opened in London in 2014, I have just learned about it.

The scenery is a hypothetical near future, in which The Nether is the internet’s next evolutive step. In The Nether, a network of virtual reality universes, users do as they please. In such a setting, almost everything is possible. Detective Morris founds out about a virtual environment called The Hideway, a realm where pedophiles and child molesters act out their fantasies, and brings its creator in for questioning.

With this premise we all may know where to stand, but the question grows much more complex when these two characters start exchanging views and opinions. The line that divides what is morally acceptable from what is not gets blurry when situations are extrapolated to the virtual realm.

Malevolent experiences.

Seems that Virtual Reality wants us to face extreme situations. Developers must have read that our current society is hungry for new experiences, and asks to be moved. Examples are fairly abundant.

I cannot shake the feeling that, with VR, we are jumping into a pool without even knowing if the darn thing is full or empty. The psychic effects of the most uneventful virtual experiences are still unclear, yet the first thing they come up with is tightrope walking and poltergeist chasing. Makes you wonder.

The first time I heard about Oculus Rift was because of a YouTube video that showed teenagers reacting to horror games. There was this girl shrieking her lungs off, repeatedly asking herself  ‘why do I do this, why do I do this’.

Another very famous virtual reality experience is the one The Tightrope Walk provides. People who have tried it report feelings of intense fear, vertigo, wobbling knees and, what I find most interesting, a humongous hesitation when they had to take the first step.

Even though there may be a different answer to every person, a little self questioning about what we  consider to be ‘entertainment’ is in order. Some enjoy being scared, others suffer greatly with nowaday’s horror classic resource – the jump scare. But a VR headset makes every jump scare a hundred times more intense so, are we really enjoying ourselves?

market ethics

You can say ‘why, nobody pointed a gun to these people’s heads, they did this willingly’. Right. And of course there is such a thing as free will. However, this will is becoming less and less free as capitalism advances. How free a person can be when bombarded by advertising 24/7?

To put it bluntly, the question is: do we want to be subjected to these terrifying experiences, or is it the market that wants us to? Both premises may be partly right, though, but we have to consider the possibility that the market makes a respectable number of our decisions for ourselves.

Where are the conservatives?

20 years ago, when The Market was not as interested in technology as it is today, every new technology was objected by the conservative portion of the public opinion. Parental organizations, republicans, the Church, even Science (yes, I believe science is conservative too) would raise a ruckus. Video games endured endless criticism and objection.

Surprisingly, and now that the market dances to the beat of technology, conservatives are surprisingly quiet. Mortal Kombat allowed kids to remove their opponent’s heart in 1992, and the scandal was huge. In 2016 maddeningly horrifying virtual reality experiences are being released and you could have heard a pin drop. There is no place for feeling outraged any more.

I said earlier that The Market has its ethics – sell, sell, sell and keep on selling, no matter what. Is it safe to confront people with disturbing experiences just like that?

Conservatives were against technology when technology was not as profitable as it is today. Conservatives now side with technology because The Market is 100% technology reliable.

The key is in the content.

I am not one to judge. I am all for the new. I do not think people are stupid. I just ask myself questions.

We asked ourselves three things today: what are the limits, why is the majority of the content so extreme, and why so little objections are being raised. I have no answers for the first one, a hypothesis for the second one and a theory for the third one. To sum up: the limits are context dependent, the content is shocking because The Market misread what The Public wants, and The Market only cares about The Market. Otherwise, why would only be the most progressive individuals who are pointing out the controversial aspects of virtual reality? Some food for thought.

At least for the time being, virtual reality is the technology that works in the closest proximity to the human psyche. Yes – The Public wants powerful experiences. No –  they do not necessarily have to be disturbing. Yes – powerful and intense are synonyms. No – intense and shocking are not the same thing.

Critical thought.

It is time to realize how restricted our freedom as consumers is getting. Once we know what we are not, we can work on being what we want to be.

We cannot look at The Market for ethical inspiration. Our values and interests are most likely to not match with those of The Market. You can do whatever you like within a virtual reality realm – or the virtual reality market can do whatever it wants with you. In this apparent freedom, you may have to experience things you are not ready or not willing to face.

It is quite worthless to ask The Market for limits. At least for now, looks like we are on our own.

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