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article imageOp-Ed: Hallelujah! You can practice firing people with virtual reality

By Paul Wallis     Aug 13, 2019 in Technology
Cambridge - Just what the totally paranoid, insecure employees of the world need to hear – It’s now possible to practice firing people! With VR, you can learn how to destroy someone’s life! You priceless asset, you.
According to MIT Technology Review, the training is really taking off. A specialist VR training company called Talespin has even created a character called Barry to fire. Barry is a greying white guy with a shirt which may be older than he is, to fire. He’s a pretty good image. You can see the life experience this guy must have had, while you’re firing him.
Admittedly, the choice of a generic subject may permanently destroy your relationship with older white guys called Barry, but…Meh. Barry is designed to react to his firing as most people would emotionally, but presumably without firearms.
To be fair – Firing people is a fact of life. If you’re a manager, you may well have to fire someone. Even the author of Parkinson’s Law, C.N. Parkinson, made the ability to fire someone a basic requirement for a corporate leader.
Some people, however, take it too far. I worked for years in the US and EU on employment sites, and the stories of truly psycho behaviour, (I’m not using the expression frivolously) were horrendous. The idea of a practice option for the genuine nutcases does not inspire me to great paeans of praise.
The good side to this training is that people may well finally understand the devastating impact of firing someone. Barry shouts, he cries, and he responds clearly to the situation. The information available doesn’t say that he sits there in shock, unable to function, as many people do, but how would you train for that?
Interestingly enough, firing people is now firmly in the category of soft skills for businesspeople. That’s an interesting reflection on the ever-more-cumbersome HR culture which turns everything into an epic event. Imagine having a PhD in that.
The downside of all this skill-gathering is that practice makes people better at what can be a highly destructive, counterproductive basic function. There’s a reason for the wariness - Firing people isn’t the great party favourite it used to be, even with employers.
The modern workplace isn’t exactly paradise. Some middle managing megalomaniacs are great at creating continual staff turnover, with all its associated workplace issues and general demoralization of staff, etc. Employers don’t hire people simply to fire them on a whim, whatever the urban legends say. Hiring and firing can be very costly, time-consuming, and highly disruptive.
Barry has the advantage of being a VR character. That, however, also means he’s following a script. Scripts, as any script writer will tell you, can do so much. If Barry is a good starting point, he may be the only point at which you can interact with another person and not get the shrapnel from their reaction when being fired.
Some people say that Barry can’t quite bridge the gap between his script and the brutal side of firing. However, given that the real experience of firing is downright stressful for everyone but the most insular managers/office gods, starting somewhere does make sense.
Meanwhile, a few more productive thoughts:
• Create VR characters of people you hate and abuse them until you feel better.
• Create a VR character of yourself, preferably with an A.I.-assisted script, and fire them that way.
• Start a franchise which goes around firing people, preferably with capes, masks, etc.
• Use VR for all your relationships with your colleagues, friends, and managers. You’ve become a Sim, but hey, you had to grow up sometime.
Good idea… but?
The tech is good and truly innovative. The idea of training people to manage people really could catch on, provided it generates some actual learning and empathy among our highly qualified imbeciles who don’t seem to have a clue about working with anyone or anything. With a bit of evolution, this could be a very useful training tool.
It’s just a pity that they chose firing people as the first glimpse of the tech. OK, it has a direct impact, and it’s a good talking point. It’s also a challenging role for any technology in the workplace. How about motivation, or something less doom-laden, next?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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