Virtual reality is one of the 21st Century’s most influential technologies. It has not only resulted in major developments in the science and medical field but also transformed the way we consume content. Using VR-glasses, the wearer can enjoy an immersive experience in a three-dimensional environment.

Within the 21st century, many new technologies have been introduced, significantly transforming life as we know it today. Such a technology is virtual reality, creating new digitally mediated worlds which people can experience without limits. It has had a big impact within the last century, changing how we consume content and leading to breakthroughs in the science, military and medical field. This impact is only expected to increase in the upcoming future: ”Super-realistic AR and VR immersive experiences will transform our experience of education, news, and entertainment, allowing us to watch coverage as it happens, in real-time” (Eaglen, 2019).

Before we delve deeper into how virtual reality has become embedded in our current society, it is important to pay attention to how virtual reality is defined and how it actually works. Virtual reality is defined by Mandal (2013) as follows: ”a technology which allows a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment, whether that environment is a simulation of the real world or an imaginary world” (p.304). She adds to this definition by stating that virtual environments can be manipulated by users in real-time (Mandal, 2013). This interaction makes the virtual environment feel realistic, immersing the user in the process. 

Virtual reality is highly dependent on software and hardware. Hardware includes a head-mounted display, or so-called virtual reality headset, a tracker, either a full body tracker or hand tracker, and a manipulation device such as a three-dimensional mouse or data glove (Mazuryk & Gervautz, 1999). Finally, output devices are needed such as visual, auditory, and haptic displays, highly contributing to the level of immersiveness of the virtual experience (Mazuryk & Gervautz, 1999).

Image of VR hardware. (Source: Jhenning, n.d.)

This immersiveness makes virtual reality different from already existing media technologies. According to Zheng et al. (1998), ‘’immersion means to block out distractions and focus selectively on just the information with which the participant wants work’’ (p.20). Users are able to experience something through virtual reality in a more deep way, using different senses to interact with the virtual. This makes them feel as if they are actually present within the virtual world, which is very different from traditional media forms such as watching movies and reading books. ‘’Virtual worlds can offer a much greater feeling of presence than watching a film’’ (Roberts, Wood & Gibbens, 1996, p.37). Users are able to interact with media on a whole other level, creating an experience that triggers their senses and presence in a way that is similar to their real-life environment. 

Take a look around in the Roman Theater in Jordan from the comfort of your own home. The 360 image showcases a similar experience that can be felt while using virtual reality glasses.

It is important to note that virtual reality is officially not a new technology this century since the first official virtual reality headset was developed in 1960 by Morton Heilig (Lescop, 2017). However, within the 21st century, virtual reality first became available to the general public, with affordable commercially launched virtual reality headsets in the beginning of the century, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Virtual reality headsets quickly became successful, mainly because of their decreasing prices and increasing quality of hardware over the years (Mazuryk & Gervautz, 1999).  

Now you know more of the history of virtual reality, can you place these virtual reality developments in the right order?

Early applications of virtual reality revolved around military training and operations, ”helping to reduce exposure to hazards and increasing stealth” (De Paolis, 2013). However, throughout the years it has also been influential in the medical and science field. In these fields, it is mainly used for educational purposes. It has also helped doctors to explain medical procedures more clearly to patients, reducing their anxiety levels (Delzell, 2021). Finally, with more affordable, compact, and high-quality headsets released on the market, virtual reality has also become prominent within the entertainment field. Using virtual reality, users can replicate the experience of going to a cinema film, going to a concert, or the experience of an alternative non-existing world. It has made possible the unthinkable: recreating experiences at home that are highly immersive and realistic.

Additionally, it has taken gaming to a whole new level. Virtual reality games highly differ from traditional video games, mainly because of the level of immersion and ”the use of the player’s body as the main interface for interacting with the virtual world” (Pallavicini, 2019, p.137). It creates new possibilities in gaming, enhancing the player experience by creating near realistic environments and interactions. Additionally, it has also led to the creation of new worlds that have never been seen before. Users are able to explore these worlds, individually or with friends, and immerse themselves in their favorite games in a way that has not been possible before. The influence of virtual reality on the gaming field is only expected to increase in the upcoming years, with new improved hardware and software being released every year.

(Source: DiscoverZen, 2020).

Finally, virtual reality has created new possibilities for interaction in the digital. People can meet others in a virtual environment, mimicking the face-to-face communication we have offline. This is also called social virtual reality: ”a growing set of multi-user applications that enable people to interact with one another in virtual space through VR head-mounted displays” (McVeigh-Schultz et al., 2019, p. 564). An example of such an application is VRChat, allowing users to communicate with others in customized environments, embodying a customized character (McVeigh-Schultz et al., 2019). When entering the world of VRChat, people can talk, do collective activities and even touch other players. This creates an environment in which communication is more personal, almost like meeting one another face-to-face. 

Image of VRChat rooms that can be used to interact. (Source: Agathe-Latte, 2018).

However, such interactions do not come without consequences. Virtual reality applications such as VRChat have been criticized for harassment issues (McVeigh-Schultz et al., 2019). Additionally, users that often participate in such virtual environments can become isolated. Users can become fixated on virtual connections, abandoning their real-life relationships in the process. Even though these virtual connections can feel very much like the real thing, they can not replace in-person experience (Deakin, 2021). It is important for users to keep this in mind. 

Additionally, the problem of isolation is more prominent in non-social virtual environments. ’’Non-social virtual realities may lead to closing off people in their “own worlds”. (Mazuryk & Gervautz, 1999, p.59). This is especially the case because of the immerse qualities of virtual reality, making users lose track of their offline environment while being in the virtual. This is also explained as telepresence, referring to ‘’the sense of now being in a virtual environment while transiently being unaware of one’s real location and of the technology delivering the sensory input’’ (Surovaya et al., 2020, p.621). 

Image of girl gaming with a vr-headset. (Source: Vinicius ”amx” Amano, 2021).

This risk of isolation can also be explained by the need for virtual reality users to escape their real-life problems. According to Siricharoen (2019), this need for escapism is mainly fueled by people having unsatisfying life situations resulting in them ‘’running away from the reality in which they live in a perceptive and emotional way’’ (p.4). Virtual reality can be an escape outlet, making users focus on things that trigger more positive feelings. 

When it comes to the future we have already seen developments that hint at an increasing role of virtual reality within our society. Such a development is the introduction of the Metaverse by Meta, formerly called Facebook. Meta wants to ‘’resemble a mix of today’s online social experiences in a three-dimensional space’’ (Kraus et al., 2022, p.2). This would mean that many of the interactions we have physically to this day, might take place in a virtual world in the future. Even though this seems like an unrealistic future to imagine, this could be our reality in the upcoming years.


Name: VR-glasses

3D Model

Creator: Imke van Gulik

Date: 27-01-2022

Place: Maastricht

Themes: Entertainment, Technology & Society

Captured with Nikon D3200, Lightbox, lazy Susan

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Windows 10 (64-bit)


Physical Object

Size: 20 x 25 x 11 cm

Weight: 416 g

Material: Plastic and glass


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