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Dating in VR

Dating. The prospect of a romantic evening spent with a cute boy (or girl). Each trying to impress the other just a little, and each having a wonderful time.

A fine meal, a cosy dark cinema with a movie, or dimly lit theatre with a play. Perhaps a travelling fair, or moonlit walk with company. However, why stop there? Picture a romantic trip for two on board a prototype airship. Alighting on a rocky tableau nestled against the moonlit shores of an isolated island. Light winds blowing, the sound and smell of the waves crashing against the beach. Spending company in the arms of another, feet draped in the surf whilst lying on a bed of heather, the airship silhouetted behind you, offering the comfort of away back when the evening ends.

Or, how about walking through the woods, hand in hand. The scent of wet life around you, dappled evening sun filtering through the treetops, as you climb a hill and the wooden trees give way to giant mushrooms, 50 to 60 feet tall, of all different sizes and shapes. The floor is a field of oversized spores, laying like feathers three inches deep. As you both head further in, a path emerges from the spores, winding its way through the stalks. The light slowly fades, sun seeping below the horizon. As it does so, the undersides of the mushroom heads seem to glow in a soft, blue, internal light. Paper lanterns are strung from stalk to stalk in places along side the path. Soon, you start to see houses embedded in the thicker stems. Little windows made by cutting away the fungii flesh. Inside them, strange little creatures, humanoid buy as pale as the mushrooms themselves, scutter about.

Your date takes you to a restaurant made of several entwining stalks, tied together in an arch canopy over a wooden log platform. One of the strange creatures takes your order, and, as the moon rises, a soft music begins to play; the whole fungii forest seems to come alive.

This break from the normal, the mundane, the ordinary, is part of the experience offered by dating in virtual reality. Almost any wonder the mind can behold, can be recreated within VR.

There will be some naysayers at this point; those of you who feel that dating in VR is just, well? sad.

However, if you stop and think about it, it does offer many good possibilities and opens the way for dating where physical distance is no longer an issue. We already have telephone dating, where complete strangers phone one another, through a meeting service, and chat about their fantasies via the phone, with no idea where each other live, what they look like, or anything beyond their voice.

Telephone dating is a major growth industry now. Just five years ago, no one had even heard of the concept, and most would have derided it at the time. The concept of dating in VR is no different, save that it is already with us in its first forms. No more advanced than telephone dating in the most part, but a good deal more immersive.
Dangers of Physical Dates

One of the reasons for both phone dating and VR dating to increase in frequency, is the increasing danger in physically committing to an evening out with someone you barely even know. They both offer a level of abstraction without reducing the intimacy that keeps you physically safe, should the worst come to the worst.

The person you are alone with may or may not be safe. There are increasing reports these days of predators, and black market operations. Most people are familiar with the so called "date rape" drugs that can be easily slipped into a drink glass, and have the effect of removing all inhibitions, making the drinker very compliant, suggestible, and impairing exhort term memory. Sometimes people come to the next day in a bath full of ice, missing a kidney or a lung, to sell on the black market.

A touch less extreme, but still a possibility is the likelihood of an evening with someone physically stronger than yourself, who turns forceful partway through the evening, and 'no' is not an acceptable answer.

Whilst these examples are by no means the majority of first dates, or dating scenarios, they do occur, and are one of the things to keep mindful of.

Embarking on the VR Date

Due to the nature of VR itself, there are multiple levels of possibility for VR based dating, some of which only open up once our level of technology has advanced somewhat.

In order to make this easier; each level will be examined independently.

Talking Only

Talking only is about the level of current commercial, social VR. Places like ActiveWorlds and SecondLife. Individuals can talk with one another, whisper to one another, and take in the sights and sounds of a virtual world they experience from outside - by looking through monitor screens.

Whilst this level of VR is not truly immersive, and leaves the individual outside, it does allow for mind to mind communication. And, with a little suspension of disbelief, is enough to pull the mind into the picture and enthral.

You can picture yourself being on that beach with your honey, because your mind fills in all the little details, adding the scents and smells from the view and the sound. You feel their arm around you because you imagine you do.

There is just enough realism to make it desirable, and frequently, a relationship inside this level, leads to a relationship outside; long lasting and often permanent.

The following is taken from a recent study:

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University's social sciences department quizzed 1,000 gamers from across the world to assess the impact their online addiction had on their lives. The study showed nearly 50% of players meet up in real life and many of these embark on a relationship. More than 30% of participants found themselves attracted to another player and 40% would choose to discuss sensitive issues with online friends rather than their real-life peers.

Female players are more likely to find themselves attracted to others in their online circle and were happier to meet up and go on dates with people they meet through computer games.

Only one in five participants said online games had a negative effect on their relationships if their partner was not a player.

Professor Mark Griffiths said: "As well as making good friends online, 81% of gamers play with real-life friends and family, suggesting (computer games) are by no means an asocial activity, nor are the players socially introverted."

"The virtual world that these games offer allow players to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing in real life because of their appearance, gender, sexuality, age, or other factors.

The study found, on average, gamers spend more than 22 hours a week playing online. 30% said it allowed them to be themselves more than they felt able to be in real life.

Whilst a date could not be further from a game, the conclusions still hold true, and were taken from this level of immersion. Dating in VR, even through monitor screen to monitor screen, truly works, and well.

The Turn-Off of the Sensory Rig

The next level up from just talking is to immerse yourself halfway into the virtual environment. This is possible currently, but the equipment is not standard use, due to the exorbitant price of many of the components for the average person.

Much like getting dolled up for a physical date, this involves slipping a varying amount of hardware onto your person, in order to interact more fully with your date: to go beyond looking and listening, to feeling slight touches, scents, feeling the date location unfold around you rather than just peering through a screen.

You would slip into a tactile vest, haptic gloves which monitor your fingers and provide the sense of touch. Maybe (if you decide things might go that far) some form of haptic interface to the nether regions. Add haptic leggings, and maybe a full bodysuit. Fit your head into a head mounted display system, delivering different input to each eye. Wear a scent collar or start up a scent 'printer'. Add earphones for sound and a galvanic vestibular stimulator to tie your balance in as well.

After donning this entire rig, assuming you manage not to trip over all the wires, you are ready to enter a world of close to full sensory immersion. You will still not be able to kiss your love, as there is currently no interface hardware for lip sensation, however, you will be able to chew your food, see your vision move as your avatar does, feel every step you take, smell the wine, feel their limbs against you as you dance?

It brings the whole thing much closer, again, assuming you have been able to afford wireless kit and do not strangle yourself on the wires.

This little lot and more, is required. It encroaches on 'why bother' when you add it all up.

Full Immersion

The next step on from the Sensory Rig does without it (thankfully!). The next logical step for a VR based date is the neural jack, or direct brain communication. This is not as messy as it sounds; do not have to open your skull up - well you can if you'd like to, but it is not necessary.

A direct connection, known as neuroelectronic, or brain-machine interface links your brain directly to the computer system, bypassing your body. Since all your senses - taste, touch, balance, sight, smell, hearing, balance, and proprioception - are nothing more than generators of electric signals sent to your brain and interpreted, if you replicate the signals from the computer, you replicate to an exact degree, everything you are tasting, smelling, holding and grasping.

The wooden floor under your feet, the smell of the roast on the table, the cool breeze as the glass door behind you is opened, the most intimate changes, the arm around your waist - everything.

It differentiates from physical in only four ways:

  • You can leave if you desire to, and no one can stop you -just log out
  • If you do not desire to feel the pinch of those new shoes, the ones that make you look 2" taller, you can tell the simulation not to send you that data, so your feet never start throbbing
  • If you do decide to take things further that night, it does not lead to STD or other issues?as your physical body is not affected.

And last, and by no means least:

  • You are free to go on the date with the body you wish you had, rather than the purely physical shell; interacting, laughing, joking, getting mad, or getting high - with the body that fits your mind, fits who you are, who you should be, and you feel that body around you, as your own.

Looked at in that light, it does make you wonder if, ultimately, people will look at those who do NOT partake in virtual dating, and think that those who go for purely physical are just?sad.


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Staff Comments


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