Brexit and Trump drive one in five Brits to virtual reality

Brexit and Trump are the two main drivers for Britons looking to virtual reality and online romance for as escapism.

One in five Brits would prefer living in a virtual world to their existing reality, according to a study carried out by Geekzonia.

Of the 1,000 people surveyed by the virtual reality social platform, 22 per cent cite the ‘twin threats’ of Brexit and Trump as the main reason.  others are lured in by the appeal of exploration VR can offer, such as visiting extraordinary real and fictitious places (such as Mars, Gotham City and Mordor), and to meet fictional characters like Superman, The Hulk and Captain America.

“It’s no surprise that people are experiencing a sudden desire to live in a virtual universe,” says Peter Dobson, CEO of Geekzonia. “Virtual reality has the potential to make people feel invincible but also allows them to meet other like-minded people from around the world without needing to leave the house. The level of connectivity and surreal experiences virtual reality enables us is thrilling and gives us the opportunity to escape some of today’s harsh realities.”

Aimed at Geeks, VR and tech enthusiasts, Geekzonia is a “social haven” for users to share interactive and immersive experiences in various zones centred around geek culture. 

Geekzonia was founded by Carina and Stephen Walsh, and CEO Peter Dobson – the faces behind comic book shop and cafe chain Geek Retreat – which has stores in Glasgow, Newcastle and Birmingham.

Earlier this month, Geekzonia launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to bring their virtual world to life.

The poll, which looked at the level of interest people have in escaping reality for a virtual realm, also examined how they would develop their avatar to represent them in this alternative dimension. An avatar within these massively multiplayer virtual worlds is a person’s representation of themselves, as they wish to be perceived by others users.

The results revealed that most people would prefer their avatars reflect what they look like in real life. Other popular avatars of interested included ‘becoming’ a fictional character (25 per cent), not even human (nine per cent) and a celebrity (four per cent).

The benefits of escapism

Author Ethan Gilsdorf believes that virtual worlds are often misunderstood. “News stories tell of how virtual relationships wreck real-life ones. Spouses are ignored or cheated on. Or even more heinous behaviour occurs: virtual muggings, harassment, racial incidents,” he writes in Psychology Today.

Gilsdorf sees escaping into virtual worlds as an opportunity for people try out new attitudes, new personalities, and new selves. “And maybe, just maybe, (they can) find a way to export their fantasy experiences into their real lives, and become more like the ideal selves they want to be.”

Escapism through romance

The political turmoil in Europe and the US has had a surprising impact on other forms of escape, too.

According to psychologist and global director at Berkeley International, Mairead Molloy, Brexit and Trump are the two maim drivers of a surge in the world of elite dating.

As the boss of an international matchmaking service with offices in London and clients in the United States, Molloy says that enquiries are up 55 per cent year-on-year. “For the first time in the history of the business, clients are telling us that they are genuinely fearful for the future. Life’s a bit more palatable with a partner, so we’re getting strong interest from long-term single men and women who are now saying, ‘I’ve had enough of being on my own. I’d love to have a partner to help support me during this difficult time’.”

In addition, those working internationally are taking advantage of their mobility and choosing to leave the UK in the wake of the pro-Brexit referendum result.

“Since late June, we’ve had an increase of people, typically aged 30 to 55, express their desire to pair up with a partner abroad. Brexit means exit for many unattached men and women looking for a better future.”

Donald Trump’s shock victory has opened the floodgates for Americans looking to new horizons for a partner. “Enquiries from Silicon Valley are up 66 per cent year on year and likewise those on the East Coast are looking for an escape from the political rhetoric.”

One for globalism

Finding romance across borders may be the escape conflicted residents of the UK, US and even France and Italy need, says Molloy. “Following Britain’s vote for Brexit and Donald Trump’s election victory, there’s much talk of the ‘far right’ option in France and a potential ‘Frexit’. We’re already speaking to clients wanting to leave France and find a partner in a less hostile location. Our Italian office in Milan has experienced a surge on enquiries following the resignation of the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who was swept from power after calling a referendum on constitutional reforms.”

December, January and February are traditionally the busiest months of the year for matchmaking agencies as people typically feel the pressure to be partnered for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

“Perhaps the irony of the current situation is that there’s a great deal of international travelling going on with those who are independent and in control of their destiny, while the world seems to be rejecting ‘globalism’. Highly ambitious types don’t let a nation’s borders get in the way of their future happiness,” she explains

The power of sci-fi

Throughout the bulk of human history, society did not change dramatically or quickly enough for people to be able to question their core beliefs and imagine a time or place vastly different from their own. Until the age of conquistadores and imperialism, the world was largely unexplored, and communities were mostly static. Literary experts often posit that science fiction was born from a social rather scientific need, providing authors a medium to vent about present socio-political problems far-removed from present day.

From Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to 1950s B-movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, most science fiction gave the world a form of escape, while quietly critiquing the status quo, and through the microcosm of literary utopias and dystopias, providing an alternative.

For Stephen Walsh, Geekzonia’s co-founder, the modern day geek is an expert escapist, daring to imagine an alternate reality with the technology we have today. “Growing up, the idea of virtual worlds was the work of science fiction, from The Matrix to the holodeck in Star Trek. Today, 90 million people own a virtual reality headset but we’re still waiting for the holodeck, and we’ve certainly not reached Matrix proportions,” he says.

“But Geekzonia is turning science fiction into Science FACT, creating a universe that hosts unlimited VR users and delivering a 24/7 Comic-Con of WONDER. We’re so excited to open the floodgates and get geeks investing in a world they’re really passionate about.” And with Brexit and Trump egging them on, more people on both sides of the Atlantic are ready to bury their heads in the sand–or strap on a headset as an alternative.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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