Virtual Worlds in the Media

The concept of a “virtual world” – one rooted in an abstraction from reality but following a similarly well-defined set of rules in which individuals can explore and interact – has been the subject of numerous pieces in the media and in literature. The capability of a virtual world, as potentially fully disconnected from reality while providing an adequate, indistinguishable, or even more freeing version of it, has captivated authors and journalists and inspired a variety of views on the subject.

Literature and films

Virtual worlds in literature were perhaps more fully developed by early “cyberpunk” author William Gibson, who in his debut novel Neuromancer developed the term “cyberspace” to describe a digital, fully immersive existence that an individual could plug into. The implications of such a cyberspace were described by Gibson – the potential for an individual to become obsessed to the point of addiction with a virtual world, the escapist nature of the virtual world, as well as the functional possibilities of dealing and interacting with people from across the globe, or even individuals who have already died. Further cyberpunk and science fiction novels and films such as “TRON”, Snow Crash, and “The Lawnmower Man” explored the full range of interactions one could have within a virtual world.

Perhaps the most well-known example of a virtual world in popular culture is the world in the film “The Matrix” – a complete digital creation of the world which each human is plugged into from birth, and which the vast majority never distinguish from reality. A wholly immersive world-within-a-world, The Matrix is considered the entire universe to some, but a digital jail to others. The underlying point throughout the film is whether or not The Matrix could be considered “real,” given that though it is created artificially, it becomes the whole of experience for most of humanity.

In the News

These themes surrounding virtual worlds in art follow to the media, as journalists covering real virtual worlds contemplate the significance and dangers of existence tied to the artificial. Even the concept of life after death in a virtual world is continually mused on, as digital existences of those who have passed provide an often eerie disconnect from reality. The validity of human relationships within virtual worlds is often contested, even mocked. One recent telegraph article even “warns” of the dangers of relationships within virtual worlds, and many journalists continue to chronicle the unreality of virtual relationships. The falseness of virtual relationships is still hotly contested; it is clear, however, that virtual worlds are having increasing importance in the real world.

A Higher Understanding

It is the very concept of reality, tied directly to the human experience, that is so shaken by the emergence of virtual worlds, that it is only natural that artists and journalists should reflect so deeply on its meaning. As we rapidly near the technological capability to replicate existence, and are already attempting to do so to some degree, do we lose touch with reality or become more keenly aware of it?