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Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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Virtual reality is being tested as a way to overcome phobias

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Virtual reality is being tested as a way to overcome phobias

The fear of spiders is, apparently, something that needs to be cured. Why, exactly, nobody knows. For all but the most extreme of cases, this is something the average person can very much live with. But we live in an era when minor problems are treated as pressing concerns, so… spiders it is!

To wit, here’s a story on Samsung’s efforts from the fine folks at VR Scout:

“The latest experiment from Samsung placed four Nordic influencers who suffered from a fear of spiders in a room with a serious looking tarantula spider in a glass jar. Their initial distance threshold was tested, having the participants see how close they could get to the spider before freaking out. The answer: They didn’t get very close.”

If the future of science is locking “influencers” in virtual rooms with virtual spiders, I am all for the future of science. But Samsung maintains that this is more than an attempt to get “influencers” in their headsets—it’s a cure… sort of! Within three hours in the wonderfully named VR app, Itsy, users are apparently better off. Virtual reality to the rescue!

On the one hand, this is a good news story: using VR as a low-stakes environment for exposure therapy. Because it’s all programmed in advance, you can gradually work yourself up from very mild exposure to something stronger. That is promising, even if this isn’t the most impressive of uses and Itsy’s randomized trial counted a whopping (!?) 100 participants.

The problem, of course, is that Itsy, like most other VR uses, skirts the line between torture and empathy. If you believe it has the power to cure you when perfectly calibrated, you also have to believe that a slightly less calibrated version of this tool is basically a torture implement. Good on Samsung for using their powers for good, even on “influencers.”

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