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Virtual Reality: a world of unlimited possibilities

In 2018 I was part of a team of researchers at Universidad Eafit, a college located in Medellin, Colombia. The goal of our team was to explore the possibilities that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality provided to create engaging stories. As journalism students, we focused on telling stories related to the local culture of our city. My role within the team was to handle those weird, "alien-like” pieces of equipment known as an Insta360 camera and Oculus Rift.

From the very first moment I had contact with virtual reality, I was amazed. It amazed me the idea of being able to interact with the virtual world not only with my hands but also with my other senses. Likewise the fantastic worlds I read about when I was younger, the virtual world seems like a land of unlimited possibilities. In this project, I want to explore the most recent developments in human-computer interaction through the use of VR. By observing the latest trends in VR I wish to have a better understanding of the interaction between humans and computers and, hopefully, be able to catch sight of the future and possible impact of VR on human society.

Before talking about the latest trends or the future of Virtual Reality, I think it is important to analyze the relationship between humans and Virtual Reality to understand its importance in modern society. As mentioned by McLuhan in the “Understanding Media”(1964), the media and other human inventions are an extension of the human senses. But I would modify such a statement to argue that this has happened since the creation of the written word. Throughout human history we have created tools to extend our physical and intellectual skills, just like the wheels became an extension of our legs and hands, books became a vehicle of our ideas.

Nowadays, computers and other technological developments related to them allow us to communicate through long distances, hear frequencies that remain hidden from the human ear, or watch objects located millions of light-years away. Computers can also be described as an extension of our minds. Computers are capable of “thinking” and memorizing a high amount of data even faster than any human, they have become an extension not only of our consciousness as individuals but also as a collective consciousness through the network we have created between them, the internet.

It could be stated that by working as an extension of our senses, machines have assimilated the "natural gifts" innate to human beings becoming themselves human to a certain extent. Perhaps such affirmation would have sounded hilarious in the past, but recently, thanks to advancements in Artificial Intelligence, machines are developing emotional intelligence; the ability to manifest empathy, being able to identify themselves with a personality, and socially interact with humans.

This symbiotic relationship between computers and humans has had a high impact on our society. In only some decades we have achieved technological advances much faster than in the previous centuries. Some experts may prove me wrong by arguing that previously humans developed a sort of technology less noticed but not less needed, for example, wheels, agriculture techniques, tools, etc. My point is that we are achieving technological achievements faster than ever before.

An obvious example of how computation has changed our lifestyle and our relationship with media is online courses like this one. Here we are, people from countries many miles apart having a conversation using a language that now has become widely spoken worldwide. With "language" I mean English but we could also mention another sort of language, the one used by computers. These words will become data that will be encrypted and sent through a complicated set of wires and devices to eventually reach the screen of your devices.

It seems normal for us nowadays that some kids can handle a computer better than some adults, but this is only a statement of how fast our society is changing thanks to technology. For many generations in the past, studying was not required for most people. Such a thing was an activity for scientists or doctors. Nowadays, having some sort of academic knowledge is basic to getting a job, and having a basic knowledge of the proper use of devices such as phones and computers is essential for daily life.

More than with any previous invention, humans have developed a deep connection with machines. At present, it seems impossible to imagine our world without computers. Most of our interaction with cultural, economical, and political events is deeply involved with the digital world. With an electronic device connected to the internet, it is possible to satisfy almost any need without ever leaving home: buying groceries, communicating with family or friends, working and communicating with clients, reading the news, attending a concert, and even finding a couple. It can be stated that in general, we are becoming highly dependent on computers as individuals and as a society. Therefore those who, for some reason, don't have access to the internet will remain isolated and ignorant of a fundamental part of our society's development.

In this context, Virtual Reality is leading to a future with a high level of interaction between humans and machines. But what exactly is Virtual Reality? It can be defined as a technology that “creates virtual worlds rendered in three dimensions, and then presents them to the user as if they were real, complete with stereoscopic displays and movement in the virtual space correlated with the user’s own movement” Dourish, P. (1999).

Thanks to Virtual Reality, the place is known as “home” for some may be migrating from the physical world to a world entirely made of bytes. This can be experienced in the video-game VRChat. Within this app users can create an avatar or choose one that already exists, have their own "apartment" and travel to a wide range of virtual "worlds". In some of these worlds, it is possible to hear people chatting using their real voices. Something particularly interesting about this game is that users are provided with a furnished apartment to stay in and rest. In this apartment, there is even a mirror in which it is possible to "see" themselves. Next to the mirror, there is a panel that allows users to choose another physical appearance. This implies that the user somehow identifies himself with the avatar portrayed in the mirror.

Screenshot of VRChat video game

In a similar fashion as VRChat, some other relevant examples are Sansar and Rec Room. In Rec Room users can create an avatar and dress it as they wish. After creating an avatar, the user goes through a tutorial guided by an omnipresent cheerful and friendly voice. In that tutorial the user goes through a different set of activities and is introduced to the rules and activities that he can take part in as a member of the "community". This app is interesting as it allows the user to have a high level of social interaction with other avatars, from making gestures with your virtual hands to attending a pizza party to share a beer with a stranger.

Screenshot of Rec Room, a multiplayer VR video game
Photo taken from Steam (Rec Room)

On the other hand, Sansar is a multiplayer online video game developed by Wookey Project Corp, the same developers of a famous game called Second Life. What makes Sansar stand out is that users are allowed to design, upload and sell for real money their own designs of furniture or character customizations. The possibility of earning money by "creating goods" for a virtual world has taken to another level this platform and VR apps with such feature.

Sansar video game screenshot
Photo taken from Steam (Sansar)

Each of these examples display hints of the impact that VR is already having on our society. In these games, Virtual Reality assimilates essential aspects of the real world allowing users to satisfy through the game basic needs such as social interaction, entertainment, and access to a source of income.

Sansar multiplayer video game
Photo taken from Steam (Sansar)

Probably the key to the popularity of VR is that thanks to its immersive experiences, it has a high level of interaction. Nowadays, those interfaces that "work" are those that allow the user to interact with them intuitively, which in this context means that it can be easily understood by an average person; “Proponents of virtual reality technology emphasize the ease of use that virtual reality systems provide through their mimicking of reality, allowing users to transfer familiar skills from the real world to the virtual” Dourish, P. (1999).

In a VR app, users can interact with elements by waving their hands, in the same way, they would do if they were having the same experience in real life. To be able to interact naturally with an interface has some sort of a magical effect; “ a magical moment of transformation, a moment when one begins to get back more than what was put in; an unexpected moment when the system seems not only just to work, but to almost come to life; a moment when what had previously been a noisy mess of buggy half-working mechanisms seems to flow together and become a kind of organic whole” Murtaugh, M. (2006).



Greengard, S. Virtual reality (2019).

McLuhan, M. Understanding Media (1964).

Dourish, P. Embodied Interaction: Exploring the Foundations of a New Approach to HCI (1999).

Murtaugh, M. Interaction. (2006).

Wookey Project Corp. (2017). Sansar [Video game].

Rec Room Inc. (2016). Rec Room [Video game]

VRChat. (2017). VRChat [Video game]


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