William Shatner said VR could help grieving families.© ITV/Rex
William Shatner said VR could help grieving families.
As Captain Kirk in Star Trek, William Shatner took us to places “where no man has gone before”, with stories that foreshadowed the invention of the mobile phone and tablet computers. Now, in real life, the actor is exploring virtual reality (VR) technology – but he wants the entertainment industry to be aware of its potential detrimental impact on vulnerable minds.Shatner told the Guardian: “The use of technology to affect our minds is so powerful now, that we need to be on guard in the future.” He is involved with Ziva Dynamics, a VR company, through which he has, for example, experienced “nightmarish footage” involving strange creatures that creep up on the user.

He said: “It’s so real: it’s the stuff of nightmares … We’ve got to be really careful because you could put somebody into a psychosis.”

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Shatner also spoke of experiences created by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a research centre that works for Nasa. They had turned actual space footage into 3D, he said, describing how, with VR goggles, he “walked on Mars”. He said: “I felt the stones under my feet and went down a hill. I felt my feet were moving more quickly down the hill. Then this creature crept up on me. It was a screaming nightmare.”

He added: “We’ve got to be very careful we don’t do terrible things to people on the verge, whose view of reality is somewhat misty.”

Shatner with Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek.Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

But he also sees the beneficial potential of virtual reality for medical uses, such as helping autistic children experience emotions. It could also help grieving families, he believes: “One of the things that I suggested … was the possibility of people, prior to dying, [making] a little speech to a virtual-reality camera. Then you could put that by their grave and people who loved them, or were curious about them, could see them in their entirety, in absolute reality … There they are, saying, ‘my darling, I love you’.”

Now aged 87, Shatner is about to publish a memoir. In one passage, he writes of having his own body reproduced in VR – “everything necessary to enable technicians to make my image move and speak realistically”.

“Because of that image,” he jokes, “Shatner will now ‘live’ forever.”

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