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Nick Booth: I’ve rumbled Polly T and Co. Their distorted view is down to virtuous reality specs


If you think today’s violent porno online culture is corrupting our kids, wait until you see what’s coming next.

Games involving extreme violence, murder, gang rape, theft and misogyny are a bad influence on developing minds, but they are not that lifelike. I don’t care how good the graphics are in Grand Theft Auto, it’s still two dimensional and nobody is convinced this is real life.

However, there’s a new cult that is far more dangerous. It’s in 3D, startlingly realistic, and allows the participant to immerse themselves in a fantasy word of their choice. They become cut off from the physical world, oblivious to facts and data and the geography of their real surroundings, because they have the capacity to make everything look how they want it to. Before information can reach the rational regions of their brain, it is re-arranged into the picture the user wants to see, by being passed through a prism of their prejudice.

They call this Virtuous Reality. Celebrity users include Jeremy Corbyn, trendy vicar Giles Fraser, New Statesman columnist Penny Dreadful and the entire editorial staff of the BBC.

Like many new phenomena, virtuous reality has been around for a while, but it’s only just reached mass consciousness. Recent events in Cologne and Sweden have alerted the public to the power of this reality distorting power of virtuosity, but in truth it’s been around for decades.

The problem is that Virtuous Reality takes an awful lot of processing. You can’t deceive other people until you’ve deceived yourself, and some truths are incredibly difficult to re-shape. If the incoming information is completely at odds with the pre-conceived picture the user wants, it takes a huge time-consuming effort convert it. The fact that Harold Wilson closed more mines than Thatcher, and that Tony Blair didn’t re-open any when he came to power, is something that has to be seen through virtuous reality googles. The Labour government’s transfer of ten of billions of pounds earmarked for the NHS, to useless IT contractors and private financiers, is another detail that can’t be handled by the virtuous reality user.

The BBC, the world’s first network to broadcast entirely in virtuous reality, has consistently had problems reporting in this format, and has been criticised for its failure to cover anything that can’t be made to fit the expected narrative. It can’t even broadcast, for example, the simple fact that its left wing hero Tony Benn was a fierce critic of the EU.

Virtuous Reality isn’t cheap, however, so only the wealthy can afford this privilege. Polly Toynbee, one of its early pioneers, has a number of houses from which she has room to establish her unique worldview. Many virtuous reality users are sensitive children from sheltered backgrounds. Think Jon Snow, Laurie Penny, James O’Brien, 90 per cent of The Guardian’s editorial team. Understandably, they desperately want to over-compensate for the two decades they spent ring fenced from a world their parents thought was too dangerous for them. These are the kids who, in more innocent times, would have joined a cult. Virtuous reality has, until now, been a manageable crisis, because it’s confined to unpopular newspapers and unelectable politicians.

However, it’s worth examining the effects of this intoxicating invention, in case it filters down to the masses.

Like many addicts, virtuous reality users tend to lock themselves away from the public and take shelter in their own world. Author Owen Jones has become convinced that Britain is at the start of the industrial revolution and that he’s Wat Tyler. This is a common symptom among the VR users – they like to retreat to a simpler world, where they can play a winnable game against a clearly identifiable baddie who has been defeated before. Which is why many, when attempting to come to terms with modern life, tend to see their opponents as Robber Barons who want to send children up chimneys, or moustache twirling opponents of the National Health Service. (According to some historical accounts, it was the doctor’s union the BMA that opposed the creation of the NHS. But that’s just one of the inconvenient truths whose facts need to be re-orientated).

As with many gamers, there is a tendency to see opponents in dehumanised form, as Nazi henchmen, sword wielding Crusaders or Victorian landlords, who can be violently despatched without guilt. If this condition was restricted to ignorable people it would be fine. However, it’s endemic now.

Sadly, as virtuous reality has got more potent, even the sensible and the rational are not immune. Last week Jess Phillips, who appears to be highly intelligent and strong minded and has been described as a potential leader of the Labour Party, displayed all the symptoms of a virtuous reality. Phillips went on national TV and described her dystopian vision of Birmingham as if it was fact. In her Brum, the Bull Ring is under the cosh of menacing misogynist bullies who regularly perform their own version of the Taharrush. A view that Brummies say is unrecognisable. As Phillips came out with this nonsense, you could almost hear the anguish of the audience. “Oh God, not her too,” people thought, “we all had such high hopes for Jess.”

Still, what can we do to stem the perniciousness of virtuous reality? Comedy might help. Maybe it’s time to send a joke to one of those BBC satire programmes. Oh, wait, hang on a second, they’re already in the grip of this cult. Dammit, this is worse than I thought.

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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