Shortly after Facebook purchased Oculus VR back in 2014, I attended a VR conference featuring Palmer Luckey, who of course was the star of the show. In the press room, he was surrounded by game industry reporters and podcasters peppering him with fanboy questions, one of which touched on virtual reality porn. As I recall, Palmer casually talked about porn as just one of many possible VR use cases, and wasn't too concerned about the potential PR issues around it.
"You don't understand," I said, interrupting Luckey. "When Second Life was at its peak in media hype and interest from big companies like IBM and Amazon, we started getting hit with salacious news stories about porn in Second Life. And then way worse, a German TV news program even reported about simulated child pornography with avatars. It was a huge PR disaster and totally freaked out the major companies and educators, who started pulling away. To this day, Second Life has a stigma because of it." (Or words to that effect.)
Palmer Luckey looked at me like I was a crazy man, and went on with the interview.
Which brings us to sex with Taylor Swift in the Oculus Rift -- which is a line in Father John Misty's sardonically brilliant indie hit, "Total Entertainment Forever":
Bedding Taylor Swift
Every night inside the Oculus Rift
After mister and the missus
finish dinner and the dishes
And now the future's definition is so much higher than it was last year
It's like the images have all become real
And someone's living my life for me out in the mirror
Here's Father John Misty explaining his reasons for these lines which he recently sung on Saturday Night Live:
“Human civilizations have been entertaining themselves in disgusting ways all through human history,” he said. “We have to consider that maybe there are ways in which we entertain ourselves now that are equally as disturbing.”
“The fact of the matter is, I don’t want that to happen to Taylor Swift. That is the worst thing I can think of; that is so horrible,” he told Exclaim! “But again, this plays into progress, where like, the internet was supposed to be this new democracy, a utopia of information where everyone had a voice and we were all interconnected, and we would experience true democracy—and it turned into pornography, followed only by outrage.” He later adds, “And if you don’t think that this virtual reality thing isn’t going to turn into sex with celebrities, then you’re kidding yourself.”
I can personally guarantee Father Misty that virtual sex with avatars of non-consenting real celebrities is hardly the most disturbing thing that exists in the virtual world -- not even close. And while his point is a socio-cultural one (and a very valid one at that), it's also one, in less poetic treatments, can hurt whole industries. Because I can also guarantee he's raising issues that the media will focus on, when and if VR ever really starts to gain mass adoption numbers. Because that's when the hype honeymoon ends, and the hard questions begin.