How Virtual Reality Games Can Impact Society, Encourage Prosperity

RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight: video games,
virtual reality and how changes in those technologies may be connected with economic behavior. “NewsHour” economics correspondent Paul Solman
and Paul’s avatar are our guides, part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial
news. And you should know his story contains some
video game violence. MAN: You should feel like you’re there. MAN: Oh, gosh. Oh, my gosh. PAUL SOLMAN: Video games, one of the world’s
fastest-growing industries, with more than $80 billion a year in revenues now, more than
twice that of movies. MAN: The feeling of dropping is really awesome. PAUL SOLMAN: And at a recent developers conference
in San Francisco, the race was on to try out a breakthrough that could take the industry
to an entirely new level. MAN: This is insane. PAUL SOLMAN: Though not yet ready for retail
— it’s expected to sell for about $300 — the Oculus Rift is already being hailed as the
Holy Grail of gaming, a lightweight, affordable headset to deliver totally immersive virtual
reality, or V.R. NATE MITCHELL, Oculus VR: A lot of us got
into the games industry to build virtual worlds and explore — build and explore neat places.
And being able to step inside those places for the first time is incredibly exciting. PAUL SOLMAN: Nate Mitchell, Oculus’s 25-year
old vice president, gave me a sneak peak at the headset, driving a mech, a sort of weaponized
robot, in a virtual reality version of the popular post-apocalypse game “Hawken.” Up, up, up, up. Ooh, yes. This is pretty cool. The split-screen images, what I’m seeing in
each eye, don’t come close to capturing the experience. But begoggled, I was virtually
within “Hawken”‘s Mad Max world. Oh, I don’t like that sign, so let’s just
get that. There we go. There we go. NATE MITCHELL: There you go. PAUL SOLMAN: Got… NATE MITCHELL: Yes. PAUL SOLMAN: Pretty mild for video game violence
these days, but still: Do you worry about possible misuse or abuse
of this technology? NATE MITCHELL: There’s always going to be
people who use technology in weird ways, that you don’t want to tap into. But to be honest,
you know, we leave it to developers to choose the content they’re building and people to
choose what they want to play. PAUL SOLMAN: But what will they choose? JEREMY BAILENSON, Virtual Human Interaction
Lab, Stanford University: We are entering an era that is unprecedented in human history. PAUL SOLMAN: Jeremy Bailenson runs Stanford
University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. While part of the lab’s mission is to perfect
the technology, its main purpose is to get a handle on V.R.’s psychological effects,
now that it’s nearing the mass market. JEREMY BAILENSON: In this world in which you
can transform the self and have any experience that an animator can fathom, what are the
consequences to the self? What are the consequences to society? PAUL SOLMAN: Is that as radical a change as
your language suggests? JEREMY BAILENSON: Yes. We cannot underestimate
how radical this change is. Video game violence research shows that if you put someone in
a virtual scene that’s nasty and violent, they behave more aggressively in the physical
world. What we need to do is to think about the wonderful
things we can do in these virtual worlds that can make the world a better place. PAUL SOLMAN: So Bailenson is designing experiments
to try to do just that. First step for putting a new subject into those experiments, an alternate
reality alter ego, a virtually real economics correspondent. Using high-resolution photos, lab manager
Cody Karutz is creating a digital double to fool my brain into ultimately changing my
behavior. JEREMY BAILENSON: For the first time ever,
you get to see yourself in the third person as if in a mirror, except we control the mirror. PAUL SOLMAN: Oh, my God. That is so weird. JEREMY BAILENSON: Cody, can you give me dancing? I don’t know if you have got these dance moves. PAUL SOLMAN: Yes, at first blush, this seems
a lark. But placing a convincing avatar in a persuasive, yet manipulable environment
was designed for an economic purpose: getting young people to save. JEREMY BAILENSON: This study looked at a college
kid and transforms them into a body of someone who’s older. PAUL SOLMAN: Specifically, into the body or
future self of a 65- year-old. The study was designed to see if bonding with their senior
selves would cause kids to salt away money for retirement. If I’m a kid and I’m looking at the older
version of me, the idea is that I’m making a non-conscious connection that will stay
with me and change my behavior. JEREMY BAILENSON: Exactly. It’s — you can
tell someone you will be older some day, but the visceral experience of seeing your image
in the mirror as older than you are causes this deep connection to your future self,
and this is what drives future savings behavior. PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, in a 2011 paper, Bailenson
and others reported that those who had seen their future selves in the virtual mirror
subsequently put twice as much money into a savings account as those who hadn’t. And
the research continues. JEREMY BAILENSON: In future studies, we’re
actually going to build scenarios that show you what life would be like when you’re older
when you don’t have money, so a very visceral reminder of what poverty would be like. PAUL SOLMAN: The aim is to help subjects save
more and prosper, especially those who don’t act as economically as their peers, as evidenced
in the famous marshmallow test. Kids who resisted one treat for 15 minutes
got two treats as a reward… WOMAN: You get two. PAUL SOLMAN: … and later saved more and
earned more as adults. So, we asked famous child psychologist Jerome
Kagan, could a virtual reality experience or V.R. video game change behavior and improve
it for the improvident in real reality? JEROME KAGAN, Developmental Psychologist:
A lot of this is novelty effects. A lot of these experiments in the literature about
you bring someone in and you show them what it’s like to be old and you say, now, how
much money would you like to give for your retirement? And they give a little more money. But by the time you’re 4, you understand the
difference between fantasy and real life. PAUL SOLMAN: Well, but wait. Virtual reality,
the very name suggests that you can’t really or may not really be able to distinguish between
the game experience and real life. JEROME KAGAN: I doubt that. You can always
distinguish between being in a virtual reality laboratory and then leaving, closing the door,
and going outside. PAUL SOLMAN: Not so, says Jeremy Bailenson. JEREMY BAILENSON: That’s going to make you
take off. Virtual experiences are very intense and the
effects of them carry over to the real world. PAUL SOLMAN: So, now what am I doing? JEREMY BAILENSON: Basically, you’re going
to fly around like Superman, and you are going to take off by putting your arms over your
head. PAUL SOLMAN: So, put them up? OK. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Where am I going
now? JEREMY BAILENSON: Go down. Point your hands
down. That will get you back down. PAUL SOLMAN: Ah! Ah! Oh, oh, oh. JEREMY BAILENSON: I got you. I got you. I
got you. Close your eyes if you get scared. (LAUGHTER) (CROSSTALK) PAUL SOLMAN: Holy. Holy. That’s unbelievable. Oh, I — I can see that that would be just
unforgettable. Bailenson says research is beginning to show
that virtual reality can have a deep and long-lasting effect on behavior. JEREMY BAILENSON: So now I’m underwater here,
and… PAUL SOLMAN: Fish going by. In experiments, swimming with the fishes in
water that turns from fair to foul makes people think twice about using plastic bags, which
might otherwise wind up in the great garbage patch that’s polluting the Pacific Ocean. And how about sawing down a virtual tree?
On average, each American requires two virgin trees for a lifetime of pampering with that
squeezably soft nonrecycled toilet paper. The feeling of felling a giant tree, however,
can suffice to make some switch to the recycled stuff. JEREMY BAILENSON: I get calls from people
months after experiencing what you just experienced saying that I never walk down that supermarket
aisle without thinking about cutting down this tree. PAUL SOLMAN: And while we’re on the subject
of environmental awareness: JEREMY BAILENSON: We have people get on all
fours. PAUL SOLMAN: … Bailenson is now working
on a study that has people experience being cows. JEREMY BAILENSON: We’re trying to make a more
visceral connection between an understanding about where your meat comes from and you’re
feeling what it’s like to be led to slaughter. PAUL SOLMAN: Led to slaughter? JEREMY BAILENSON: You’re led to slaughter,
yes. And it’s the idea of giving somebody a bigger
connection with the process of eating meat. PAUL SOLMAN: But wait a second. Now we’re
getting to “Clockwork Orange.” You’re creating an aversive experience that is trying to rewire
me. JEREMY BAILENSON: I think of virtual reality
like uranium. It can heat homes and it can destroy nations. PAUL SOLMAN: The power to destroy, said Bailenson,
lies not in his experiments, vetted by Stanford’s institutional review board, but in the unexamined
spread of commercial virtual reality, where the lowest common denominator is likely to
win. JEREMY BAILENSON: These experiences we give
you in this lab pale by comparison to a video game that kids play it for hours a day. My job is to create virtual experiences that
can help, and also to inoculate the world to understand that when you have these virtual
experiences, they’re not free. They change the way you think about yourself. PAUL SOLMAN: Or about your future self, for
better or worse. HARI SREENIVASAN: The ever-immersive stories
of Paul Solman. If you have ever wondered what he would look
like if his image was morphed with the face of President Obama or Mitt Romney, take a
look on our Web site. Also there, read more from Paul’s conversation with Jeremy Bailenson
on how virtual reality could influence political choices.

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