Anyone who has watched and grappled with some of the issues raised by last year’s breakout hit Westworld knows that, when it comes to sex and the fantasy world of artificial beings, there are some pretty dark questions to explore. While we’re not yet in the technologically advanced world that show depicts, there’s no doubt that things like AI-equipped sex dolls and virtual reality pornography are (no pun intended) on the rise. What, then, will be their impact — and will they make society a better or a worse place?
That’s something Central Saint Martins graduate Marta Dunjó set out to explore with a recent project called Virtual X that combines virtual reality with what used to be referred to as “marital aids.” Essentially, she’s created a series of proof-of-concept VR accessories that a user could *ahem* interact with while engaging in virtual fantasies.
The catch? That if regular sexually-explicit tech devices on the market aren’t meant to immediately make you reel in horror; these ones kind of are. In terms of highlighting the objectifying undercurrent of similar “tools” — and the questions they prompt about subjects like consent — Dunjó’s Virtual X products do exactly that. All the while looking like something out of a David Cronenberg movie.
“The project began with my interest in VR and its impact in society,” she told Digital Trends. “One of the first industries to begin investing in the technology was the pornography industry and I began to explore what the industry looks like today and how VR might create a shift in its production, distribution and consumption. Currently, the internet has normalized and facilitated access to extreme pornographic imagery, such as simulated rape scenes towards women. My aim was to understand if hardcore pornographic experiences in VR would become an outlet for deviant behaviours so people can satisfy and explore these types of fantasies, or rather if it would become a trigger for these impulses to happen in real life.”
Questions like this aren’t clear cut, of course. Just like the issue of whether violent video games make people more violent, queries about whether ever-more-immersive (and probably shocking) adult content will normalize deviant behavior or give people an outlet for taboo fantasies will continue to be argued both ways.
Dunjó makes clear that Virtual X is a conceptual art project, rather than, say, a Kickstarter waiting to happen (there are no plans to bring this to market), but it certainly gives plenty of pause for thought. “The technology [for this] wasn’t there until recently and there seems to be a lack of research in the field because it is clearly a taboo topic and there is little funding for it,” she said.
Hopefully projects like this force us to confront some of these inevitable realities.