Virtual Reality in Social Media
Many of us have seen 3D movies in the theatre. You may even own a 3D TV at home. I don’t like it too much because sometimes it gives me a headache. Regardless of what you think about the 3D movies, the $2 billion Facebook acquisition of Oculus is a major step in inoculating the 3D virtual reality into our everyday interactions (remember Facebook’s business is in social media). So perhaps in few years time, I will be having a 3D, immersive, face-to-face conversation with you in a virtual living room about a topic related to the Christian faith instead of posting an article online.
Virtual Reality in Gaming
The Ocular VR can respond to head and eyeball movements and “fool” the brain into thinking that you are moving in the virtual space. It has huge potential for the gaming industry. The video game industry has already become more profitable than the movie industry. Many video games are produced with a larger crew and budget than in an average movie production. While most movies were presented linearly, video games are interactive and engage the gamers in the decision-making process. You may think that video games only appeal to the teenage consumers. As of 2013, the average age for a video game player is 30 years old. A few years from now, the gaming experience will be even more realistic and compelling than the current ones and it will certainly be a more prominent influencer in our contemporary culture.
Where does this development take us? More specifically, for us Christians, what are the implications of this specific technological advancement?
A good starting point is the reflection on Jesus’ bodily resurrection. When it comes to the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, many believers have a tendency to understand it in a mere spiritual sense. “Jesus rose from the dead to give us hope for an afterlife” is a very common one. Many others are confused by it and found it hard to relate "the resurrection" to their day to day experience. Luke Timothy Johnson, a New Testament scholar, argues that Jesus’ resurrection is “unavoidably ontological”. What he meant is that the Resurrection has implications that go beyond a moral, spiritual sense of joy or hope and touch on the believer’s very bodily existence.
According to Luke Johnson, Jesus’ resurrection affirms our bodily existence. One thing that is worth repeating is the fact that Jesus did not leave behind his earthly body and float up to heaven in an ethereal form. He rose up with his physical body. Resurrection is God’s affirmation of our embodied existence. Don’t forget the resurrected Jesus cooked breakfast for his disciples and ate a broiled fish. Body matters to God even after Jesus died in his body.
Now let us take this theological affirmation and apply it to the discussion of virtual reality. In the area of social media and digital communication, we want to affirm it as a God-given tool, yet it is not to be confused with the communication we have in our embodied existence. Virtual communication, as benefitcial as it has been to the modern society, can never replace embodied communication that engages our entire somato-sensory existence. Something is missing when two people are not physically together, even when all the audio and visual cues are present. A seminary professor said it quite poignantly: “Social media is an extension of an ongoing, personal relationship; it does not replace it." As Christians, we need to value our physical togetherness, especially when we meet in corporate worship and in small groups.
The gaming industry in particular, and the entertainment industry in general, are not just telling stories but are providing alternative realities. My greatest concern is that virtual reality would become such a compelling reality that believers would lose their sense of awe and imagination in God's Grand Story. Soaking ourselves in God's words, small group, prayer, corporate worship are all critically important ways for Christian formation in midst of all these competing "realities".