In our already fractured times, virtual reality is edging toward 'hybrid' reality — and that's a problem that the gaming industry must face.
The voices of the Black Lives Matter movement have penetrated the walls of corporations. Major brands and companies such as Nike, McDonald's and Facebook have changed policies (and even brand names!) and issued statements denouncing a heritage of racial injustice and colonialism. So it should come as no surprise that video game majors are also being forced to face the music.
But gaming companies have their own troubling history: Not only has the industry been conspicuously far behind the curve in getting out general statements of support, but the issue has put a spotlight on the game industry's long-standing issues of prejudice and xenophobia. In-game voice and text chats have long been rife with slurs and malicious epithets, and players often act out sexist or racist violence through the characters of the game. A recent The Verge article reported on players being harassed by others, with targeting and killing black characters in interactive digital showdowns.
The question of the potential real-life impact of video games has been around as long as video games. Following the 1999 Columbine High School Shootings, American singer Marilyn Manson responded to the widespread denouncements of violent games and heavy metal music, stating that U.S. bombing campaigns overseas were likely a more significant driver of violence.
The issue has put a spotlight on the game industry's long-standing issues of prejudice and xenophobia.
And no doubt he had a point. But it's also true that the line between the real and virtual worlds has been further blurred in the two decades since Manson's statement. The internet revolution has also been a virtual revolution, and it may be possible for the first time in human history to speak about a single, hybrid reality.
And at the heart of it is the game sector — our largest entertainment segment, driven by some 2.5 billion players occupying a virtual world that is poised to soon feel as substantial as the real one.
The imperative some feel to write a moral script for the virtual world also comes at a time of deepening ideological division, and one in which fundamental discussions about where to anchor our values have become rare and endangered occurrences.
The risk is that gaming continues down the road to a normative no-man's land, where nothing is real and everything allowed. We might even imagine a future where video games not only reflect and multiply the worst aspects of our society, but become the creators of new ones.