With the launch of virtual reality comes the creation of virtual worlds. When people slip on a virtual reality headset, or hold a virtual reality mobile device to their eyes, they are instantly transported to a different place, whether that place is real or a digital creation.
Through that transportation, virtual reality has the ability to expose people to worlds they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to explore—all in a captivating, educational, and informative way.
Virtual World: A Definition
Simply put, a virtual world is the setting that surrounds a person when they slip on a virtual reality headset. That world is a 360-degree, high-resolution environment that the virtual reality user can interact with. Within a virtual world, the user can turn his or her head from place to place to explore the environment from different angles. Often, the virtual world responds to a person’s movements, allowing the person to move through the virtual space. In the most immersive virtual worlds, users can manipulate the environment by talking with virtual characters, or by picking up and using virtual tools.
Virtual reality worlds can be real or imagined; they can be totally computer generated, as in the case of a virtual reality video game, or totally real, as in a virtual reality visit to a rainforest or a famous landmark. A virtual world also can be somewhere in between, such as a virtual reality tour of a famous painting or yet-to-be-constructed building.
The Power of the Virtual World
The power of a virtual world comes from the immersive quality of virtual reality. When a person enters a virtual world, they are surrounded by it. They can view and hear all aspects of that virtual world up close.
Virtual worlds have the power to trick the mind into believing they are real. Because the virtual world encompasses a person’s sight and sound, and reacts to a person’s movements, the brain perceives it as real. The effects are so powerful, virtual reality users report feeling vertigo when they look down from a height, feeling the need to move out of the way of virtual objects, and feeling an overwhelming emotional reaction to their virtual world experiences.
Because of that, virtual reality experiences have been praised for their power to effect empathy and emotion from virtual reality users. When users enter a virtual world that shows the plight of refugees or the effects of climate change, they have a deeper emotional connection with those situations. Virtual reality experts say that deep emotional connection will change the way people view news stories or movies, as the virtual world they enter will help them develop a better understanding of the global issue, movie plot, or situation they’re experiencing.
Virtual worlds also transport people to places they otherwise would not get to experience. In a virtual world, people can visit foreign countries they may never travel to, outer space, or a completely imaginary virtual world. There are virtual reality experiences that allow people to climb Mount Everest, explore cruise ships, dodge asteroids in space, and explore cultural events like a major fashion show. Of course, there are countless virtual worlds created for the video game industry.
The Future of the Virtual World
As more and more people and technology companies experiment with virtual reality, the amount of virtual worlds available will grow exponentially. With that, the applications for virtual worlds will grow, as well. Virtual worlds have been mentioned as a benefit to education, training, travel, real estate, entertainment, and virtual reality gaming.
Virtual reality has been hailed as the next technology that will change modern culture, and with that, how virtual worlds are created and used are limited only by the imagination.