Justin Ricklefs


Pursuing Reality Reality instead of the Virtual Variety

“I was totally by myself at the house, I popped the thing on, the stupid animatronic was right in my face, I screamed out loud ‘aw f*** no’ and literally threw the thing across the floor.”

A few weeks ago, we were gifted a VR headset. I think it’s called an Oculus Quest. I should know that.

But whatever it’s called, I had an internal stiff-arm attitude towards it when we got it.

“Those things are so stupid. Only lame people would ever put that thing on. It’s fake.”

After playing it now for likely a million minutes over the last month, safe to say I’ve entered the meta verse. And found another enticing distraction.

We’re Beat Saber experts (not expert+ yet), and the occasional Five Nights at Freddy’s players when we muster up enough courage.

Here’s the wild / creepy thing. It can be the middle of the day, sun shining brightly, family members all around you, and yet, when you put those goggles on and enter the pizzeria, it feels like midnight.

A terrifying, the chicken is coming to get you, kind of midnight.

Even when you consciously know it’s virtual, and far from reality. And even as the game mocks you with a sign that says something like, “Animatronics are not real animals.”

The games have created some fun moments with our family, to be sure. And at least there’s a bit of physical movement involved (especially Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance on Expert+, damn that one is brutal) as opposed to the finger only workout of a typical digital coping mechanism.

But it really has me wrestling with / questioning, not the headset or the games or the concept of virtual reality as tech, but what we’ve all collectively begun to accept as reality based on the ways we engage a thing on a screen (VR, social media, zoom calls, you name it).

And by nature of the way our attention works, when we give it to a virtual audience, by rule, we can’t give it to anything else, including the reality reality that’s right in front of us.

Brooke texted me the above exchange, after she threw the headset across the room in terror. I reassured her it wasn’t real. She clearly already knew that. Freddy Fazbear was not out to get her.

But damn, the digital dopamine sure feels real doesn’t it?

As we take the virtual reality goggles off from time to time, we begin to realize the tradeoffs and erosion that may be causing more injury than improvement.

I don’t know what it looks like exactly, but reality reality seems to be worth pursuing really really hard these days. Because the virtual variety continues to feel more and more like the real thing.

Even if we know animatronics aren’t real animals, and even if we know it’s more hollow than a screaming hologram.

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