In an age of vast technological advancements, we have seen the growth and development of Social Virtual Worlds but, importantly, the rapid rise of Virtual Reality (VR).
There has been significant demand and use of these technologies, due to the yearning for stress-free relaxation, enjoyment and fulfilment, as well as an interest in the immersive ‘real life’ feeling. Both of these reasons have coincided with their significant rise.
Virtual Worlds are defined as simulated three-dimensional environments in which one can interact with others and create objects as part of that interaction while appearing as avatars. A virtual representation of oneself (a “virtual ego”) can take on any shape or form (Virtual Reality Society, 2017).
Virtual Worlds have grown from the early text-based multi-user domains (MUDs) to single-player RPGs like The Sims games, which are still as popular as ever. And evolving into what we have today, the ‘sophisticated 3D interactive systems. Such as massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs)’ (Hendaoui et al, 2008) like Second Life, Active Life, Avakin Life and many others, where you can create avatars and homes whilst also exploring and socialising. Verily mimicking ‘real human lives’ (Chen et al, 2007-2008). But more so, where you can do, or be who you wanted and even fulfil dreams you’ve been afraid to fulfil in “real life”.
Virtual Reality (VR), is defined as a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person immersed within that environment and, whilst there, can manipulate objects or perform a series of actions. This reality is usually accessed via headsets, Omni-Directional treadmills, and special gloves, which are used to stimulate our senses to create the illusion of reality (Virtual Reality Society, 2017).
VR has substantially developed from its ideation back in the 1800s, to the very beginning of practical photography and the first stereoscope invention in 1838 (The Franklin Institute, 2022).
Then, the 1950s saw the invention of the earliest virtual reality technology, known as the sensorama, a VR machine invented in 1956 by Morton Heilig (The Franklin Institute, 2022).
Though, the term “Virtual Reality” was first used in the mid-1980s, when the founder of VPL Research, Jaron Lanier, began to develop the gear, which consisted of goggles and gloves to experience with what he called “Virtual Reality” (The Franklin Institute, 2022).
As the decades went on, VR developed into what we have today, ‘high-quality, low-cost devices which are easily accessible’ (The Franklin Institute, 2022) to today’s generation of consumers and fanatics.
The Rise of Immersive VR
Though both Virtual Worlds and Virtual Reality have developed at a significant pace in the right direction, with increased consumer interest, purchase and consumption, they haven’t developed as much as I had hoped and predicted in my third-year Sociology dissertation over a decade ago.
Although Social Virtual Worlds are still popular, with an increase in consumption and revenue, there has been a shift into the consumption of VR as it moves further into films and games. Console games in particular – such as VR First Person Shooter (FPS) games – have undoubtedly become popular over the past five years. That’s in addition to adventuring, exploration and sports games, which provide immersive gameplay that can somewhat tap into your emotions and give you the feeling of really being there, even when you aren’t.
A Future of Possibilities
Though VR’s popularity is only surging and the hype is far from fading, there is still a long way to go before we can experience a full range of feelings and feel more immersed than ever, like having full-time jobs in alternate metaverses and connecting VR to our senses so we can taste food, feel everything we touch and fully experience emotions in a similar way to how we do in the “real world”.
Maybe it’ll get there in another decade, potentially changing the status quo of society along the way. Who knows. In any case, as it stands today, Virtual Worlds and VR still seem as exciting, thrilling and as new as they did decades ago. Maybe even more so now as their rise in popularity coincides with the constant disconnection, detachment and discontent humans feel with “real life” and the need to search for alternative reality as a form of escapism from current mundane everyday life rises.
So, whether you’re a fan or not, the days of being fully immersed or, at least, partially immersed, in VR with all our senses are not too far away.