Stay Indoors and Kill Robots
When the last man lays desiccated on a rancid Lazyboy, his goofy grin frozen beneath cheap VR goggles, the robots will have finally won.
Originally published in ColdType | Issue 206 | Mid-May 2020
Virtual reality is the ultimate psycho-technology. Like personal computers and ubiquitous smartphones, it’s a crucial step in our inexorable progress toward mass delusion and total atomization. It’s also a lot of fun.
The first clunky VR helmets appeared in the 90s. In those days, the visual renditions of the mind’s eye were already amazing, but there were too many bugs for VR to gain mass appeal. Early users complained that the visual field’s tracking was a bit off. Turn your head, and the world moved slightly out of sync. If you kept the goggles on for too long, you’d puke.
Back then, the virtual universe was composed of interlocking polygons and half-baked gaming ideas. You were better off just buying a Nintendo and playing MarioKart. Having experienced the new generation of VR, I can assure you, the bugs have been fixed. Like the proverbial auto-fellator of locker room lore, if I had my own VR set at home, I’d never leave the house.
The first time I put on a VR headset was in Amsterdam during the summer of ’18. At the time, I was working as a rigger on a European concert tour. I’d just had a smoke at Abraxas Café, and set out on foot to wander. As I neared the red light district, I passed an open studio with a retro 80’s aesthetic. Old school Atari games covered the brick wall. Two people were flailing around inside, feet planted on the ground, plastic pistols in hand, their upper faces covered by goggles.
I stepped inside for a closer look. There were widescreen TVs on the wall showing each user’s experience. Rotting zombies shambled up from all directions. I moved closer to one of the players. Without warning, he aimed his pistol at my face and pulled the trigger furiously. Click, click, click. A chill went down my spine. His eyes were seeing someone else inside the headset. Undead humans exploded on the screen behind him.
“Whatchoo writing about, mang?” The shift manager stood beside me, looking down at my notebook. Turns out the public is allowed to snap pics on a smartphone, but longhand notes are forbidden. A heated discussion erupted. In the end, I convinced him that the most damning thing I could write about is not being allowed to write.
I also explained why I would never try VR. Entering the virtual world is the spiritual equivalent to walking into a strip club or a crackhouse. It violates my sense of the sacred. The guy understood, so he offered me a discount.
To be honest, the HTC Vive goggles were surprisingly comfortable. At first, all I could see was a wide, blank room with a vaulting ceiling. The visual tracking was superb. All was silent except for the manager/spirit guide muttering instructions in my ear.
“Are you ready, mang?”
I nodded. Then—WHOOSH!
In an instant, I’m standing on busy sidewalk in a modern metropolis. Cars honk. Bits of conversation come and go as people pass. Trees wave in green city park across the road. A wall of skyscrapers rises up behind me. It’s obviously a simulation—but just barely.
My spirit guide instructs me to go into a door behind me. I find myself inside a golden elevator. I push a button. The doors slam shut and up I go. Through the narrow gap between the doors, I can see that I’m rising fast. Suddenly the doors open. I’m twenty stories high. There’s a six-foot plank extending out from my feet.
“Step out onto the plank, mang.”
I do it. They’ve apparently put a board down at my feet, back in the physical world, so the virtual wood feels real beneath me. A breeze hits me from the right. The cars honk far below. The pedestrians scurry like ants. I step up to the end of the plank, testing my nerve. My toes hang over the edge.
“You like it?”
“This is incredible!”
“Great! Now, step off the end.”
“What’s gonna happen?”
“Just step off.”
“No fucking way!”
In real life, it’s routine for me to walk out on narrow steel beams a hundred feet in the air. As an arena rigger, I do it all the time. That’s just the job. But what riggers never do—no matter what—is step out into the void. Narrow is the gate that leads to life; wide is the path that leads to destruction.
The simulation is suddenly oppressive. My breath quickens and my palms start to sweat. The ground seems much farther away now. Will angels swoop down and catch me at the last minute? Better not test my luck. I try to explain to my spirit guide why I’m not gonna jump.
“Just do it, mang,” he insists. “Just jump!”
I ripped the helmet off. The manager stood there, eyes wide, completely stunned. The studio looked tiny and drab.
“DUDE, I’M TRAINED TO NEVER COME OF THE BEAM! ALRIGHT?! THIS SHIT’S FREAKING ME OUT!!” Passersby stopped at the door to watch me melt down. “Let’s just go to the next game, okay?!”
“Okay, okay, mang,” said the manager, helping me put the headset back on. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re incredibly stubborn?”
I spent the next half hour shooting intelligent alien life forms by the dozen. They splattered like bugs. The sound was so satisfying. Afterward, in the real world, I asked the manager what happens when you jump off the plank.
“You just fall until you hit the ground. Then everything turns white.”
“You mean you just die?!”
“It’s an amazing experience, man. A lot of people refuse to do it. But I think everyone should try it once.”
There’s a reason I swore off video games when I turned twenty. Like many young men, I couldn’t get enough of them. My life skills were being stunted. So I’ve been clean for two decades. I mean, for the most part. You know how it is—one hit now and again never hurt anybody.
The last time I did VR was back in March of 2020. It was the last weekend before everyone crawled into the Internet to escape the coronavirus. I got to play Singularity at an establishment called Zero Latency, hosted by MGM Grand on the Las Vegas strip. The game was fantastic! All the action goes down in an empty 60’ x 40’ room, meaning you get to run around inside the simulation, ducking behind objects and chasing down the enemy.
For fifty bucks, you can either mow down zombified humans or shoot up sentient robots. It’s like a training camp for sociopathic mass shooters. A group of tourists—two Latino bros led by an older white nerd and his Japanese girlfriend—were waiting outside for their turn. I joined them to fight the robots.
Zero Latency’s desk clerk explained that their HP Reverb 2 headset, equipped with noise-cancelling headphones, is top of the line. This rig is hooked up to a computer you wear like a backpack. Its mini ATX motherboard is fitted with a 2070 graphics card, 60 gigs of RAM, two solid state hard drives, and an i9 processor. The sleek rifle they issue looks like something out of Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Singularity starts out fierce. Your team has been sent to investigate a space station overrun by its own robots. The astronauts are all dead.
The space station’s visual environment is stunning—all complex equipment, intricate keypads, and reflective metallic surfaces. Outside the wide windows, the stars extend into infinity. My teammates jig around in Metroid-style space suits, looking like intergalactic cloggers. We fall over ourselves trying to walk down ramps. We run up walls charged with artificial gravity. We unload our rifles like there’s no tomorrow.
I try out each weapon in my arsenal: a laser pulse, a ray gun, a scatter beam. The pulse delivers a sure kill, so I go with that. These dumb AI bots don’t stand a chance. Neither do the squadrons of drones flying overhead. While my teammates jig back and forth, drawing enemy fire, I pick off drones like they’re robotic clay pigeons.
Next comes the humanoid infantry, flanked by unmanned laser turrets. I duck behind a wall and land kill shot after kill shot. Finally, we face the Big Boss. It’s a villainous artificial intelligence that has murdered its masters and taken control of the system. Why it manifests as a giant mechanical crab, I’ll never know.
“You humans are so inadequate. Bwa ha ha!”
Back in the Zero Latency armory, we peeled off our gear, then head out into the MGM casino to see who got the high score. You could tell the one Latin bro was disappointed, but he took it like a sport.
#1: JOEBOT – Kills: 243 – Score: 83,563
If I were a better man, I’d have made an effort to cover my teammates’ backs. But you don’t get the top score by throwing yourself on pulsar grenades. Game over, suckers. They walked off without saying goodbye, and I stepped out into the searing desert sun.
The world looks so plain when you emerge from virtual reality. Even a place like Las Vegas feels so limited and mundane. Up in my room at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino, I stared out the window at a rollercoaster winding through the hotel’s replica of Manhattan’s skyline.
The riders climbed up slowly and screamed all the way down, pretending to die for the fun of it. I sipped my wine and thought about artificial life. Programmers have already created AI priests to lead online rituals. Soon, artificial intelligence will pilot drones carrying Amazon packages, or maybe mini-nuke payloads. Better hope they get the right address.
Looking out at the barren mountain range on the horizon, the Vegas neon glittering below, my mind drifted to VR’s infinite possibilities. The future belongs to painless love at a comfortable distance—to virtual porn and teledildonics. We may never explore alien worlds in outer space, and there’s no reason to. Not when we can just create them ourselves.
That’s when the lightbulb burst. You can pretend to shoot all you want, but when the last man lays desiccated in a rancid Lazyboy, his goofy grin frozen beneath cheap VR goggles, the robots will have finally won.
Forget about banning assault weapons. We have to make virtual reality illegal before it’s too late! The machines must be neutralized before they delete us. If you’ve ever done VR, you know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t—hurry up and try it now, while you still can. You’ll love it!
Originally published in ColdType | Issue 206 | Mid-May 2020
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Joe, I am 61 years old, and was in my teens when “pong” came out. It was “the thing” of that time and we played it relentlessly. But to me personally it was never as satisfying as the physical ping pong. In my 20’s we went to the bars drank Dark Heinekens and played Pac-Man, space invaders, and asteroids. Many of my friends really got hooked where I didn’t see the draw to keep going. As a result I never got proficient at any of these games. And got my ass kicked by non sentient AI relentlessly. And then later on, when I first heard of VR I was amazed at the tech, but never tried it.
Now the present VR Tech although amazing I’m sure... and as real as it must feel and be, I still have no interest? Curiosity yes. But No, it’s more like I have anxiety thinking about experiencing it, because my inner voice firmly tells me “don’t do it!” Because that voice, God’s voice, knows I’d probably like it to much? Sometimes you just have to listen to it.
I believe (or more like I know?) that in putting any of the head gear on to try VR, you must eventually or maybe even instantly give up part of your (un)conscious mind to really get the full experience, which I hold, is a way of giving up some part or even some sense of yourself, thus ultimately be controlled by the digital powers that “seem” to be.
And It’s either because I don’t want to give my mind over to the possibility of digital indoctrination and dogma of Scientism via AI and programming... OR, it’s as simple as I have more of a thing about Living in the here and now in God’s physical realm and reality He created for us. He blessed us the gift co-habitation as humans on a beautiful world. I feel this so, that it seems illogical (idiotic) and also redundant to add another reality to my thinking.
Plus, I have no interest in becoming a mass murderer of anything digital or otherwise, as I’m sitting drooling sitting on my couch waiting for my Uber Eats delivery.
So, I will continue to listen to my inner voice telling me “don’t do it.”
Great story you wrote. It’s atrocious to think that the first game you tried and quit is a game of suicide. That is so efffed up on so many levels. Evil doings abound in the tech.
Nice story of your journey. I understand better how you arrived at the deep exploration of the AI development and its dangers, hopes, dreams, and search for meaning for people to live in worlds beyond the mundane. As a kid growing up when computers were bid things for crunching numbers and accounting, I found my virtual reality in reading science fiction. The 1st book I ever bought in grade school was War of the Worlds by HG Wells and that started my journey. The stories and worlds in my head were so much better than the movies they made of those stories. So, I sure understand the lure for virtual reality. My problem with VR is it is not the mental play ground of ideas that good science fiction provided. Bad science fiction space operas were more like the shoot-em up VR games. The real threat is that VR can be so seductive. The phenomenal imagery now is like porn trapping the watcher at a visceral level. Not dissimilar to drugs like heroin. The shift manager in your story is much like the pusher introducing a kid to a "free" sample knowing they will come back and pay whatever the price to get that high again.