Rapidly advancing virtual reality technology makes this a confusing time for many. Patients may present as “addicted” to online games and other virtual worlds and as having attentional problems characterized by difficulties delaying gratification in real life. In this talk, I will reflect on these phenomena and suggest that contemporary patients’ difficulty making reality-virtual reality transitions is understandable given that it is becoming increasingly accepted in the culture that events and objects in virtual environments are to be considered “real.” Correspondingly, there is increased acceptance of the view that these environments can serve as locations where people can live satisfying lives. In this context, the transition from the pleasure principle to the reality principle which Freud described as “one of the most important steps forward in the ego’s development” becomes much more confusing than it was when Freud wrote. All this raises questions of how best to pursue a clinical understanding of patients whose lives are already unfolding to substantial degrees in virtual environments, even at this relatively early stage in the development of VR technology.
Bradley Murray, DPhil, MEd, FIPA, is a psychoanalyst in private practice. He is the author of The Possibility of Culture: Pleasure and Moral Development in Kant’s Aesthetics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015). He has taught in the philosophy department at the University of British Columbia and the psychology program at the University of Guelph-Humber. His research and writing focus on issues at the intersection of psychoanalysis, philosophy and digital technology.