Hotdogs, Horseshoes, and Hand Grenades (aka H3) is an open-ended sandbox VR experience where you can play with a variety of exotic firearms. It’s a puzzle game where you have to figure out how to activate, load, and fire a huge range of different weapons. In real life, these guns have a wide range of inconsistent and non-intuitive features that makes for an overall frustrating and confusing user experience. This complicated user experience of guns is usually glossed over and oversimplified in first-person shooter games, but H3 transmutes these pain points into a compelling VR puzzle game where the reward of solving the puzzle is being able to shoot the weapon in a simulated environment.
Developer Anton Hand makes research trips to Las Vegas, Nevada in order to have an embodied experience of firing some of these rare and exotic weapons so that he can better simulate them within VR. This level of attention to detail and fan engagement has allowed H3 to cultivate an entusiastic fan base that Hand describes as a sociologically-fasincating microcosm of society that spans the full political spectrum.
At GDC this past March, I had a chance to have a wide-ranging conversation with Hand debating the ethical implications of simulating guns in VR, the underlying economic system of capitalism, and whether or not decentralized technologies like cryptocurrencies could viably change the power dynamics and inequities of our society. Spoiler alert: Hand is not a fan of unbridled techno-utopianism, and so he recontextualizes these debates around ethics in technology to the larger sociopolitical and economic context. The full backstory that’s motivating Hand to create an open-world, sandbox environment for play and exploration with guns is a fascinating story, and this conversation just scratches the surface of what H3 really is and what has made it such a successful project in VR.
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This conversation happened on March 20th, just a couple weeks after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happened in Parkland, Florida on February 14th, 2018. It was also after Stanford’s Jeremy Bailenson published an op-ed on CNN titled If a possible mass shooter wants to hone his craft, don’t hand him a virtual boot camp. Hand and I debated this topic on Twitter, which set the context to have a much deeper and far reaching conversation that spans ethics, economics, politics, culture, the limits of technologically engineering systems to change some of these fundamental aspects of the fabric of our society, and the role of governments when multinational corporations are amassing more power and influence than any singular government.
As the creator of the most accurate _by far_ representation of VR firearms in the consumer space, I think the level of kinesthetic similarity between the very best representation and a real gun is comically overstated. Airsoft/paintball are orders of magnitude closer.
— Anton (Tired) (@AntonHand) March 6, 2018
This conversation also happened a few days after learning that that Cambridge Analytica sold psychographic data mined from Facebook in order to conduct targeted information warfare on the US democratic process. This kickstarted some deeper questions about the role of ethics in computer science that mirrored by some of the ethical discussions happening about AI as well as the larger gun control debate in America. Any human-created technology can be used for good or for evil, and it’s an open question for how society will deal with the ethical dilemmas that are brought up with technologies ranging from AI, VR, and guns.
Hand and I cover a wide range of topics, and what’s clear from recently attending the International Joint Conference of Artificial Intelligence conference is that there are an increasing number of organizations making ethical declarations about technology and that these types of discussions require a cross-disciplinary team of politicians, economists, philosophers, and lawyers in order to go beyond the limitations of a purely algorithmic or engineering implementation mindset that technologists use to think about these deeper issues.
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