It is not hard to understand that everyone, from time to time, needs an escape from reality. Some members of the human race do so through vacations. There is nothing quite like an icy, tropical cocktail in your hand, as you soak up the sunshine and listen to the waves crash onto sandy shores.
Others can find escape in hobbies such as reading or playing sports. Whether you mentally escape deep inside the chapters of a book or physically escape releasing sweat and stress as you become absorbed in a heated game, there are plenty of ways people find a way to “getaway.”
One of the more popular ways to do so in the online, digital society that we live in today is through virtual worlds. Let’s break down precisely what those are, how they work, and what the pros and cons of such spaces truly are.
Defining a Virtual World
A virtual world, in its simplest of terms, is a computer-simulated environment. It is not a real-world space, where you physically take form. Instead, it “lives” completely within a computer. Whether a program is a piece of software or a complete online universe, a virtual world means just that: it is not real. It is a simulated environment.
An Online Virtual World
One of the most common and popular versions of a virtual world are those currently offered in an online realm. These spaces create a reality that includes the interaction of other players. You are not wandering alone here, and you are not just speaking to pre-programmed bots crippled with artificial intelligence and limited responses.
Instead, you are in an open, free space where you, and any other players interacting in the world, can behave largely as you please. Most online virtual worlds are populated by many users.
To designate your persona in the space, a user can create a personal avatar. With said avatar, a player can simultaneously and independently explore the virtual world alongside other participants.
Not only can a player participate in a virtual world’s activities, games, or quests, but they can also communicate with others that are doing the same.
Different Types of Online Virtual Worlds
Even within the realm of the online virtual world, there can be a varying degree of interaction, purpose, and goals established. Firstly, the types of virtual worlds typically fall into one of two categories based on their reason for existing: Entertainment and Social Interaction.
Entertainment-Based Virtual Worlds
When you think about the virtual world, and if you have any familiarity with it, chances are video gaming springs into your mind. Many popular games, designed to entertain, have been created around this technology. And, while this category does encompass a very large portion of the entertainment side of virtual life, it is not the only way a virtual space can exist.
Other entertainment-based uses of the tech include things like virtual reality concerts and musical experiences, virtual museum tours, virtual art galleries, and even virtual theme parks. If the space exists in the realm of “real world,” active worlds, chances are there is also a virtual version.
Any type of circumstance where the virtual world is used to provide enjoyment or pleasure is considered to be an entertainment type.
Social Interaction Virtual Worlds
If you consider Entertainment Virtual Worlds to be the fun, exciting friend, always ready to take you out for a good time, Social Interaction Virtual Worlds is its rather nerdy counterpart. Social interaction worlds are typically designed for the purposes of education. In these cases, user interaction is permitted for teaching and training through simulated worlds.
A tech in its earlier stages than the gaming versions, these virtual worlds have become a valuable asset for industries such as education, politics, business, and military, where training with many can be done across the miles and in a lower-cost, more efficient, virtual manner.
Additionally, the use of such tech is helpful when training in spaces that would otherwise be harmful to one’s health. For example, in training a firefighter, simulators can be used to establish real-world scenarios, but not actually place the trainee in danger. Likewise, pilot simulators are often used for those learning to fly so that, while in the early stages of education, they are not putting themselves or the trainer, in any actual danger.
Unique Levels of Virtual Worlds
The level at which a player is submersed into the virtual reality of the programmed world can greatly impact the type of play a user will have. These virtual reality games can be created in realistic environments, but include completely unique ways to interact.
Virtual World Games
In what is likely the largest category for the virtual world marketplace, video gaming has made its mark in the industry, revolutionizing the way players game. Through virtual worlds, gaming has taken itself to a whole new level, allowing players to not only interact with the programming of a game but also interact with other, living players.
Across Age Groups
One of the biggest changes most will be recognized right off the bat with virtual world gaming is the age of the players. Silly rabbit. Video games aren’t just for kids anymore. Instead, kids represent a rather small percent of those playing in virtual environments.
As technology advances, so too do the age of the players. As a generation that was raised with gaming all or nearly all of their lives, these players take their environment far more seriously than stomping on a few Goombahs and traveling through oversized plumbing.
Virtual video games are nothing new, but as the technology continues to improve, and the advancements of the Internet continue to allow for, games have continued to adapt in an ever-changing industry. In doing so, there are many types of video games now creating their own virtual worlds.
Many virtual worlds exist in one of the following major categories, defined by the goals of the game itself:
In these titles, video gamers are finally up off the couch, and into an active role. If you want a character to dodge, tuck, and roll, you yourself may have to do so. Advancements in virtual reality playsets, such as Oculus or PlayStation VR, have created subversive worlds which require players to move in order to play games.
Some games in the virtual universe are designed strictly to explore your creative side. While in real life you may work with pencils, paints, and ink, a virtual environment can bring artists similar experiences without the necessity of such materials.
From creating digital art, to simply perfecting your talents, these games give you a virtual blank canvas to create to your heart’s content. Such games not only allow an escape through hobby but also lessen costs with free or near-free activities, giving access to the masses.
The Sandbox Games
In a similar vein to artistic gaming, there are virtual worlds often dubbed “Sandbox” games. These spaces allow for that creative juice to flow, and have few rules or stipulations for doing so. Popular titles like Minecraft (especially in a creative mode) give a blank slate and allow players to design to their hearts’ content.
Not only are they creating, but their world is open through the worldwide webs to allow others to come into their created space and interact, too. You no longer have to play alone in a game, but can allow access to potentially millions of other players online.
These games bring endless possibilities, providing only resources and allowing the player to bring creativity.
Role Playing Games
Role-playing games, also often abbreviated to “RPGs,” are those that create a storyline. However, instead of moving along in limited, calculated motions, a player is invited to role play, or interact how they see fit with the world around them.
Players wander fantasy worlds, with such interactions as trade, communication, relationship-building, and actions. One can become immersed in the space, living almost a second life in a virtual economy, with a virtual family, in a virtual environment.
Massive Multiplayer Online Games
Possibly the most notable of the virtual world games are those dubbed “MMOs” or massive multiplayer online games. Complete immersive experiences are offered with creative tools spanning far further than a unique avatar.
Representing an entire community of gamers, the MMOs have arguably the most developed of the virtual world game market’s offerings. These spaces not only allow you to sometimes create your own virtual world for open interaction but almost create a second life, in the online universe, giving the concept of gameplay an entirely new world.
Players in MMOs tend to be most immersed, and sometimes no longer recognized the activity as a way to “play games.” This virtual reality becomes a second life to them, sometimes superseding real-life responsibilities.
Games such as World of Warcraft and the Final Fantasy series have become lifelines to those focused on the world. These spaces become far more than wandering avatars and virtual goods but become instead a way of life.
Many MMOG players have friends online and meet for events or quests to work together. Such relationships have created a new avenue for interaction, especially for those more socially awkward in person or during difficult times such as a global pandemic, when human interaction is inadvisable.
In the same way one would make friends in their real lives, so too would MMO players enjoy the use of technology to do so. Users in such created universes are not as concerned about the world around them as they are with the world they play in online.
Dangers of a Virtual World
While there is plenty of fun and useful ways to enjoy a virtual world, the space does not come without its risks. Many warn of the complicated and slippery slope that virtual worlds can bring to users. From virtual reality health concerns, such as weakened vision, potential seizures, and disorientation, to the mental health concerns of such subversive landscapes, there are risks involved.
If you decide to enter a virtual world, whether it is for research or game purposes, it is wise to understand what you are jumping into so that you can make an informed decision, but also sidestep some of the pitfalls many encounters.
An Augmented Reality
It is great to be so into a game that you lose track of where you are. It is not great if you are walking out in traffic. Games like Pokémon Go, for example, created a virtual world in which gamers commuted about in real-world space, attempting to catch creatures that they only could see on their gaming device.
While this made for a fun example of what a virtual world could be, it created massive dangers as children and adults alike took to the streets, even in vehicles, focused on a game and not their real-world surroundings.
Your image of self, not to mention other avatars with which you interact frequently, can become largely distorted when you visit a virtual world on a regular basis. Many studies have been conducted to research the mental health impacts of gaming, and in particular virtual worlds, to better understand their results.
Becoming too immersed in a game can create a distraction that destroys relationships, professional growth, personal hygiene, and interpersonal skills in real life. Gamers especially need to use caution on becoming too reliant on an unrealistic universe.
The Online Virtual World in Pop Culture
You don’t have to play games or train online to understand the use of virtual worlds. Pop culture brings the tech to the forefront of discussions at many a water cooler. (Or should we say many a virtual chat room or Zoom call these days, as even our offices have been driven into an online, virtual world.)
In the Box Office
Mainstream pop culture follows the trends of the planet, and virtual worlds are no different. As they grew in popularity, so too did the community following them. As a key factor, these worlds also started generating considerable dollar values, and society follows the money.
For better or worse, as the industry grew (and more money went into pockets), more mainstreamers became aware of the concept of virtual worlds.
In 1999, courtesy of the brilliant minds of The Wachowskis, the world was given a front-row seat (or at least a theater seat) to the concept of virtual worlds with the release of the box office hit “The Matrix.” A film that generated $460 million in theaters alone took a deep dive into the sci-fi concept of a human being trapped in a virtual world of sentient machines.
The franchise spun off into two feature film sequels being released in 2003, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, proving that money makes the world go-’round, even if that world is virtual.
As of 2022, The Matrix Resurrections is bringing much of the same cast back for a revamped revival of the concept, a solid 23 years after its original piece. While the space of virtual worlds has come a long way, it is being followed through cinema.
Comedy Central’s South Park has taken an animated, adult-only show and reflected the good, the bad, and the ugly of society back on itself. And this series, of course, didn’t miss out on a chance to do just that with its view on virtual worlds.
Ever the peak of parody, South Park cashed in on the rising fandom of World of Warcraft in a Season 10 episode entitled “Make Love, Not Warcraft.” During the show, the kids attempt to save the WoW platform (and thusly the world in their opinion) from a gamer defying the virtual world’s rules.
If you have a computer, you’ve heard of YouTube. Not quite just the Internet, and not quite just television shows, Youtube made many a name famous over the years. One of those names is a user called “Leeroy Jenkins.”
Gamers are not the only ones that will recognize this user, as he is famous these days for far more than his gameplay. Jenkins also used World of Warcraft to make his point, and as a player, became known for pulling an unplanned stunt.
As his avatar in the game, he managed to pull off a maneuver that resulted in his entire clan getting killed. Said YouTube video that resulted from the prank had over 19 million views at the time of publication.
Many Uses, Same Technology
From training police forces in armed encounters to allowing a child to build his own virtual house, there are countless uses for the technology behind the virtual world. Many use the space as a way to get away from it all. They can escape real life, even if only for a short time, interacting with friends across the globe, and enjoying countless hours of entertainment.
The same tech can help a pilot fly a plane, a fireman understands risks, and an EMT reacts to emergencies. Whether used for educational and training purposes or used to view a gallery half a planet away, there is a nearly endless list of possibilities when it comes to the virtual world.
The future looks bright as ever with this tech, opening doors for those that may not otherwise have a chance at experiencing some of the world’s most unique treasures.
Just like any part of the ever-changing and ever-confusing online universe, it can be tough to stay on top of new technology. Trust our informative and helpful resources at FLOLiO to keep you in the know, even as the landscape progresses at a rapid pace, my friends.
It is crucial to have a trusted source for your information, with sensibly-based and factual data, articles, and research that you can rely on to stay informed. The development of virtual world platforms is far from over, and staying in control of updated information is important.