Virtual worlds, physical disability, and evolving perception

[From the Pixels and Policy blog; the Gizmodo report is here]


Virtual Worlds, Physical Disability, and Evolving Perception

Virtual worlds can profoundly impact both our personal sense of self and the ideals of a wider community, but how is the Metaverse affecting younger generations?

A thought-provoking report by Gizmodo reveals that our perceptions of who we are may be evolving with our exposure to new technology.

Pixels and Policy takes a look at whether future generations will debate the philosophy of the virtual world.

Pixels and Perception

Technological advancements in communication and entertainment provide younger generations with more opportunity for exploration of social and personal spheres than ever before, the Gizmodo article shows.

From the article:

The generation of children growing up today has a distinct advantage in this realm of identity, thanks to their daily interaction with the internet and video games.

It’s commonplace for them to create avatars and parallel representations of themselves, and they see their ability to change, transform, and augment those bodies to best suit their surroundings as beneficial.

The human body – or rather, a body – is more fluid in the minds of those acquainted with the routine modification of avatars in a virtual environment. The subject of Gizmodo’s piece is a young girl faced with a leg amputation. Normally, a child might worry that such a major procedure would create social problems.

Thanks to the experience of recent generations with virtual worlds and avatar modification, the idea of a false leg may not appear as traumatic as it once did. As children expose themselves to the realms of possibility in virtual worlds – and the increasing merger between the virtual and the real – they will carry real-world ideas into the Metaverse, and virtual ideas into reality.

From Necessity to Option

The virtual world certainly isn’t on the verge of eliminating prosthetic limbs, but it is advancing our perception of what human modification could become. Gizmodo makes the astute argument that our virtual fantasies can easily become research projects in reality:

There’s plenty of evidence that connects our visualization of what we dream to be possible to what we eventually create as a new reality.

Gene Rodenberry’s imagination in Star Trek and that of Arthur Clarke’s, Marvin Minsky’s and Stanley Kubrick’s in 2001: A Space Odyssey had a direct impact on funding certain projects at NASA because scientists and researchers had “seen” this whole imaginary world, and they sought to make it real. Amputees may soon see a time where losing a limb is not as traumatic an experience as it once was. Instead of providing prosthetic limbs merely for function, the virtual world asks us to take a look at form as well. In time, and thanks to the horizon-expanding landscape of virtual environments, amputees may see a wide range of prosthetic options well within their budgets.

As perceptions evolve and societies fill with citizens experienced in virtual worlds and conversant in the language of character modification, perhaps the entire notion of a physical disability will undergo a shift. Prosthetics continue to advance along with our understanding and willingness to engage in wide-ranging virtual body modifications.

The question is: Can these hopes come to fruition?

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