These corridors are white and pristine. A faint smell of ammonia wafts through the air. What’s startling is the animal sounds that are echoing through it. People are strapped to comfy looking chairs, hands fastened to their sides so they will not hurt themselves (or so it seems at first glance), VR headsets nestle their heads. The floors are dirty but there’s an army of cleaners to keep it disinfected so the process can go on.
Welcome to the new age of interrogation.
Virtual reality tech is familiar with stretching the coils of reality. It manages to soothe the mind, comfortable in the knowledge that any place that you meander while using a programme will not result in a painful end. But what if this were not so? What could this VR tech that is so exercised for rehabilitation do if it was employed alongside a tool that teased the five senses? What would happen if this gadget was forcefully clamped onto a reluctant head, made to watch scenes customised in their horror, tailored for your terror?
Reality is 9/10ths perception; just look at the phantom pain an amputated leg can cause a person years after its loss. Surveys have found that between 78 and 85 per cent of amputees feel phantom pain even up to 25 years later.
Autosuggestion as a tool is so effective that is taught as a way to condition the body – practise affirmations, say it till you believe it, and so on. What if you could turn the double edged sword onto its dark side? Can you brainwash a body into being miserable?
One of the most feted uses of VR is therapeutic; if you are afraid of heights it takes you to the edge of a precipice and allows you to look at it until you are desensitised. For some, the therapy takes a dangerous path; the New Zealand gunman who massacred people through a Christchurch mosque live streamed it, making it look quite a lot like first-person shooter games; in the military, people run through simulations to get over the gore that is sure to follow bullets. What would happen then if you put in a wrong simulation into a wrong headgear? A child, aged 4 and trying to learn about the universe, is suddenly struck in a warzone. Extremists who target games – more easily accessible, at least for now – to young, malleable minds – what happens when they step on VR landmines?
And so, on to the real question: Is there a way to police VR tech or are we just setting ourselves for an implosion of personalities and an era of mindless zombies?
The coin is still in the air – care to call it – head or tails?