knocking the virtual right out of “virtual reality”

Posted: July 14, 2016 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , , ,

holdenWilliam Holden was an “A List” movie star in the mid-20th century. He appeared in 75 films, many of them good, a few even great. At his best his acting was engaging and affecting. His work in the classic Sunset Boulevard is sometimes shuttled aside because Gloria Swanson’s mesmerizing Norma Desmond character is impossible to ignore. Swanson may steal the scenes, but Holden holds the story together. During his career he was nominated for three Best Actor Oscars and won for Stalag 17. His movie legacy is secure. Yet whenever I think of Bill Holden the absolute first thought is how he died. He was drunk and alone when he slipped on a rug and smashed his forehead into a side table. It was a stupid way to go, but it had a certain memorable flair. If he survived his slip-and-fall the story probably would have never become news. But that was 35 years ago. In 2016 you no longer have to die for your dumbass actions to become news. We thank (?) technology for that. We also thank (?) technology for providing new ways for our species to illustrate its collective idiocy.

headsetSince they were first introduced I assumed virtual reality headsets would lead to a new kind of stupid death: one generated by bits and bytes. Granted, VR headsets are primarily used indoors in a familiar environment, but that means nothing. (Ask Bill Holden.) It wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine a person so immersed in a VR experience that a small misstep, perhaps a stumble over a pile of dirty laundry, would result in a head bash on an unyielding surface. Maybe this has already happened. I don’t know. These headsets have not become ingrained enough into the culture to bubble these stories to the top of the scummy vat of grime we call today’s news. Instead texting while driving stepped up to claim the honor of being the preeminent way for people to experience a bit and bytes demise.

Well, move over texting. There is a new kid in town poised to snatch that title from you. Say hello to Pokémon GO.

For those of you with a life who may not know, Pokémon GO is a game designed for smart phones. It was released about a week ago and already has over 10,000,000 downloads. (If the word Pokémon means nothing to you, well done!) What is the objective? Let the game’s website educate you.

(Pokémon GO) will use real locations to encourage players to search far and wide in the real world to discover Pokémon. Pokémon GO allows you to find and catch more than a hundred species of Pokémon as you explore your surroundings

Get on your feet and step outside to find and catch wild Pokémon. Explore cities and towns around where you live and even around the globe to capture as many Pokémon as you can. As you move around, your smartphone will vibrate to let you know you’re near a Pokémon. Once you’ve encountered a Pokémon, take aim on your smartphone’s touch screen and throw a Poké Ball to catch it. Be careful when you try to catch it, or it might run away! Also look for PokéStops located at interesting places, such as public art installations, historical markers, and monuments, where you can collect more Poké Balls and other items.

Thus your phone acts as a Pokémon locator. You log into the game. When your phone vibrates you jump to action! The thing is you can’t find Pokémon with your lazy arse parked on the couch. You need to go outside and meander about in the real world. Well, the real virtual world, if that is even an actual thing. What is an actual thing is you must be on the move to find these little devils. They will not come to you. You must walk or drive or run or skip or scooter or bike somewhere in search of a good vibration. If one happens whip out the phone and look through it as if taking bathroom selfie. Scan your surroundings. When a Pokémon appears throw the virtual Poké Ball at it! Ta-da! Well done! Then continue to play until you find yourself helplessly lost in a strange part of town.

I know this all sounds harmless enough, but let’s remember the game relies on people’s prudence. It has only been a week and people are already failing miserably. Last time I checked nobody has died a stupid death because their focus was on the game at the wrong moment, but there have been a few harbingers.

pokepicOn Tuesday a man in Auburn, New York drove his car into a tree while playing the game. He broke an ankle and suffered assorted cuts on his legs. No word on whether he got the Pokémon who caused this whole kerfuffle.

On Wednesday two men fell off a crumbling sandstone bluff in California trying to catch these wily rascals. One tumbled 50 feet and was found unconscious. The other fell approximately 100 feet. He never lost consciousness, thus reducing the possibility he had some sense knocked into him.

Other reported incidents include a woman who twisted her ankle when her phone “vibrated to let me know there was something nearby and I looked up and just fell in a hole”, another player who tripped over a cinder block, and a skateboarder who cut his hand when he fell. To his credit he was moving slowly on his board. To his discredit it was because “I just wanted to be able to stop quickly if there were any Pokémons nearby to catch.”

Technology is seductive. Pokémon are cute. The outside world is wonderful. Together they sound like an excellent trio. Still, a feeling of impending dread lingers. I hope I am wrong. I don’t want to read about someone who walked onto a busy road chasing virtual creatures. If you are going to die a stupid death, follow Bill Holden’s example. Be alone and drunk. It won’t matter to you since you will be dead, but the rest of us will be forever grateful that we were spared the trauma of witnessing it.

  1. rangewriter says:

    Ah, what is it in our DNA that causes us to fall willy nilly into fads like this? The car and the tree trunk merger has me worried. As if texting while driving (TWD) weren’t enough of a problem, no we must worry about PGWD?


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