VR is a Legal Drug

guy with oculus pointing

It took only 10 minutes of playing with Oculus for me to understand that our lives are going to be fundamentally changed by its existence. And probably sooner rather than later.

I was visiting a friend who works for an animation company. (Insert plug: They do awesome work.) They had just bought a new super fast computer so, of course, decided to purchase an Oculus headset for fun. Naturally, I asked if I could play with it when I stopped by.

We were in their small studio — me with a headset, a handful of designers at their computers and my friend standing a few feet away. I was very much aware that people were watching me as the experience started. But it only took about a minute before that awareness was lost and felt completely immersed in what was piped through the goggles.

There were dinosaurs just feet away. I was on a boat, rowing through rice patties. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving nearly knocked me over during a layup drill. I seriously braced myself for impact.

It was strange.

I was fully in it.

And fully standing in an office with other people.

I knew it was going to change our lives.

Hacking the Brain

Steven Kotler has helped bring awareness to the phenomenon of flow state — an “optimal” brain state that results in hyper focus, loads of creative output and, in his words, Superman-like feats. His work includes both interviewing people who have learned to achieve flow state on demand and working directly with scientists exploring our brains. As a proponent of mindfulness and a self-described nerd, I’m fascinated by the work. Who wouldn’t want to do more work, better, faster?

One of the projects they’re currently working on is a video game designed to aid in facilitating flow state activation. Somehow, playing the game changes our brainwave patterns in ways that unlock our creative potential.

The results so far are quite promising.

The thing is, these games aren’t all that advanced yet, graphically. And they’re only beginning to reach the level of the Oculus demo I tried.

If my brain could be tricked into thinking a fake LeBron was going to run me over, how else can it be manipulated? (Kotler has begun to answer already.)

VR is the Future of Drugs

Scientists can trace the changes different chemical compounds create in our bodies. Which areas of the brain are affected by mushrooms, acid, etc. And they’re using brain mapping to help chronic pain sufferers identify which parts fire when they’re in pain so that they can consciously shut them off with practice.

It’s only a small step from there to using a machine to recreate these same changes. We’re almost there with flow state already.

Imagine plugging into Oculus and experiencing the euphoria of the greatest high of your life, without needing to consume anything. Without the flashbacks and potential physical damage. Without worrying about a drug test. Without the cost.

All of the fun. None of the risk.

When I talk to people about this, they all react similarly. They look as if they have something growing in the pit of their stomach. Some doubt: There has to be a downside.

Thing is, we don’t know yet. Aside from the obvious. If life is perfect in the VR world, why bother coming back? Heroin is dangerous not only because it’s so deadly but because it’s so addictive.

What will we do with a drug that has all of the good feelings and none of the bad?

How far do we fall down the rabbit hole?

Coming Down

People are already talking about the mood dip that comes after spending extended amounts of time exploring VR. Our brains have a difficult time adjusting to life back on Earth, where things are mundane and we have limited control over our world.

Inception, in waking life.

And, again, it’s only getting more powerful.

I’m not saying VR is inherently good or bad. It can’t be either. I’m saying we need to be mindful of its use in our lives. It’s a tool like any other, perhaps more powerful than anything that’s come before it. As its creators, our responsibility is to use it to our own benefit, rather than become those used by it.

Somehow, the term user seems to fit perfectly here.