THE AGE OF VIRTUAL REALITY

I. INTRODUCTION
his is the Age of Virtual Reality. Writers are witnessing “something huge . . . running beneath the
radar.”1 Ray Kurzweil, the respected author, inventor, and
futurist, claims this moment in history will end 6,000 years of
“civilization” as we have known it.2 And other well-known
writers on Virtual Reality agree something big is happening.
This “something” is slipping up on us suddenly—exponentially.
For history has rapidly increased its tempo. Everything’s
happening in an expanded now. Kurzweil claims technological
progress in this century will be 1,000 times greater than in the
last century. Time, in other words, has become “exponential.”
Kurzweil explains it this way: “With 30 steps, you get to 30.”
“With 30 exponential steps, you get to one billion.”
And it’s not just the tempo that catches our breath. The changes
within this acceleration even shock our sense of normalcy. For
Virtual Reality—as a full-fledged, in-your-face, surrogate
reality—is overthrowing the way we think. It’s altering our
1 Hayes, Tom – Jump Point: How Network Culture is
Revolutionizing Business (McGraw-Hill, 2008) p. 218.
2 Ray Kurzweil, “Accelerated Living,” PC Magazine, Vol. 20, No.
15, September 4, 2001, pp. 151-153.
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awareness of reality itself.3 Tomorrow we will suddenly see that
everything has changed. What we see today is only the beginning. lready, this phenomenon claims an all-at-once-everywhere
presence. Already, for example, it drives the global economy.
Virtual Reality (VR), in the form of entertainment—not autos,
steel, nor financial services—is “becoming the driving wheel of
the new world economy.”4 And professionals in all fields are
finding VR a necessity. Surgeons rehearse their operations on
“virtual patients.” Architects “walk through” their buildings
before they become actual structures. And “graphic artists,
designers, virtual physicists, cognitive psychologists,
development psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists,
ethicists” and other interdisciplinary scholars hang their hopes
on VR.5 Suddenly, we all share a new philosophy: “Staying connected is
good; not staying connected is bad.” Social networking, cell
phones, and unlimited texting is pervasive. Indeed, worldwide
mobile data traffic compounds at an “annual growth rate of 92
percent.”6
3 Michael Heim, Virtual Realism (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1998) p. 140.
4 Michael J. Wolf, quoted in Phil Cooke, Branding Faith
(Scottsdale, Arizona: Regal Publications, 2008) p. 25.
5 Mychilo S. Cline, Power, Madness, and Immortality: The Future
of Virtual Reality (S. I.: University Village Press, 2005) p. 177.
6 Kurzweil, http://tinyurl.com/4asco5l
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I. Introduction
3
So Civilization leans precipitously toward a virtual world. We
could call it a “migration,” or even an “exodus.” “People are
spending more time in media and especially screen media than
anything else they’re doing in life (emphasis added).”7
“There are enough consumers of video games to fill auditoriums
and even stadiums to hear orchestral renditions of game
soundtracks. Video Games Live! is one such event that calls itself
an immersive event, because the combination of live music,
video, game playing, and pyrotechnics consumes all your senses
and your total attention.”8
So VR is here! And it’s everywhere! Even the term “virtual” has
become surprisingly common. We have “virtual universities,
virtual offices, virtual pets, virtual actors, virtual museums,
virtual doctors—and all because of virtual reality.”9
hat’s driving this phenomenon? The answer begins with
serious money and serious weapons. Both big business and
the U. S. military have pushed most of the research and
innovation involving VR. The Internet, for example, came into
being because of national security. But profit and security are only part of this historical event.
7 Bill Moult of Sequent Partners quoted in Higgins, Adrian, “We
can’t see the forest for the T-Mobiles” Washington Post,
Tuesday, December 15, 2009; C01. (My italics)
8 Tom Hayes, quoted in
http://www.davidmays.org/BN/HayJump.html
9 John Vince, Introduction to Virtual Reality, Product view in: http://tinyurl.com/3p55jra
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Today’s youth also drive it forward. They reveal an innate
affinity with altered futures. Their pop culture exudes a passion
for something “out there.” Their fluid and eclectic lives move
easily in a dynamic and spontaneous universe. They love
breaking boundaries and overcoming constraints. Regardless of
political, geographical, and ethnic divides, today’s youth revel in
an “anything goes” world. VR, after all, “expands the process of
creation (and) opens up the future.”10 These fast-tracking futurists welcome reaching faster and farther
to everyone and everything. They celebrate their triumph over
the tyrannies of Time and Space. They welcome the collective
conversations of a new coexistence—the creative collaborations
of a new consensus. Indeed, their world resembles a “global
human brain” in which the simultaneous firing of millions of
“synapses” creates new patterns of “emerging” thought. Their
universe has become a World Wide Web in which organic
self-organization creates endless connections. The young are less and less patient with passive obeisance to
television. They prefer to participate. They want to be on the
“doing” and “sharing” end of modern media. As a result, TV finds
itself just moments away from becoming a participative
experience. The TV moguls have no choice but to follow their
lead or become obsolete. Among this new generation we find today’s cyber geeks and
tech artists, the prophets of VR. They have one foot in the real
world, the other in a fantasy one.11 The new generation wields
10 Pierre Lévy, quoted in Marie-Laure Ryan, Narrative as Virtual
Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic
Media (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003) pp.
35-37.
11 Booklist Review of Ethan Gilsdorf, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming
Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online

I. Introduction
5
the power of graphics and games. They rule the world in which
we all will live some day, and we have crowned these digital
“deities” with uninhibited legitimacy.
till other events explode the VR “happening.” Western
Civilization, for example, has returned to an oral culture. In
oral cultures, truth and information moves through stories,
songs, rituals, and dances. Its participants know the imagination,
feeling, and power that flow from nonliteral images and the call
to participate.
“Two-thirds of the world’s population, either by necessity or
choice, are oral communicators, and they are found in every
cultural group in the world.”12 In other words, communication is
increasingly nonliteral and interactive. In this book, we’ll see
that this description becomes part of the very definition of VR. Like oral communities, especially those of old, it is not surprising
that our digitally savvy youth choose the compelling mystery of
a fantasy world over their mediocre and mundane “real” world.
For many, VR “makes reality seem like a poor substitute for the
realms of the imagination.”13 Amazingly, traditional scholars and artists prod them on. For
conventional intellectuals have rediscovered a “metaphor” that
lies beyond a mere figure of speech. In a language identical to
VR, this metaphor turns out to be the building block for all the
____________________
Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms
http://tinyurl.com/3dz283f
12 “Orality,” Search.Com Reference, http://tinyurl.com/44puz58
13 Pagan Kennedy’s review of Gilsdorf,
http://tinyurl.com/3zr4nyz
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arts,14 the only hope for abstract thought,15 and “the most fertile
power possessed by man.”16
urely we understand by now that we’re living a lifestyle of
serious make-believe. It’s an “intuitive leap over the
traditional step-by-step logical chain.”17 Our musing mind
operates beyond conventional constraints. VR draws us into a
type of reflective thinking that flows from nonliteral images and
the call to participate. Through VR, we contemplate the unknown more than the
known, the awe more than the ordinary, the mystery more than
the mundane. We watch the instinct more than the intellect, the
content more than the form, the message more than the
medium. We feel the ecstasy more than the discipline, the
compelling more than the control, the artistry more than the
technique. In other words, VR marks a major shift from informed
opinion to inspired intuition and from the literate to the
visionary. It seems people no longer live doctrines. They live VR. They no
longer find renewal in the didactic, instructional rhetoric of
Western ethics. They find it in VR. It’s too late to tie them to the
last “official” answer. Consider, for example, how they review
14 Carl Hausman, Metaphor and art: Interactionism and
Reference in the Verbal and Nonverbal Arts (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1989) pp. 5, 111, 198.
15 Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied
Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (New York, NY: Basic
Books, 1999) pp. 58, 59.
16 José Ortega y Gasset, GoodReads, http://tinyurl.com/4xjuuoj
17 Heim, p. 96.
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I. Introduction
7
their reviewers—comment on their commentators—create
shows about shows—read news commentary about
news—follow TV guides about TV. They link, link, link, and their
“evidence” becomes a simulation of a simulation of a simulation. This brings with it, of course, blurring boundaries between
“reality” and “virtual reality.” It creates a fuzzy feedback loop
between the actual and the imagined. In this refuge of fantasy,
we feel an increasing tension between fact and fiction,
technology and art, real space and cyberspace, real time and
“real time.” It is a tautological dialogic that can easily confuse or
disorient virtual reality’s participants as it bends and distorts our
sense of reality.
Since VR embeds itself in today’s sensuous technologies, we live
the duality of science and sense—the fusion of facts and
feelings. Indeed, we are becoming cyborgs!—blending
cyb(ernetics) with our org(anism). How often we collide with
spacey pedestrians wearing an iPod over one ear and a cell
phone over the other. Still more amazing, VR is not so virtual anymore. Companies are
paying real money for virtual real estate, and they are making
real money from virtual commerce. Surfers and gamers are
spending real time—dozens of hours each week—in virtual
environments. Couples are finding real love without having ever
met. And our soldiers are playing video games with real results,
flying real airplanes (drones) on the other side of the Earth and
killing real people.
We can’t call it “virtual” anymore. ommunication—including everyday language—further
confirms these facts. Language has always been about the
sharing of symbols and meanings, and today’s lingua franca is no
different. Worldwide communication increasingly reflects the
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The Age of Virtual Reality
8
language of VR. Its virtual venue has become the “turf of choice”
upon which people collaborate.18 This should not surprise us. Language has always changed, and
it’s quickly changing in this century. Through the ages, the way
we think has faithfully reflected the tools we use to think with.
Writing, for example, has restructured the “realities” of entire
civilizations. That’s why people differ among differing cultures.
“For 500 years, Western culture has been a ‘left-brain,’
print-based, communication culture. But now technology is
rapidly changing this ‘print culture.’ When the medium changes,
the message is changed too.”19
For instance, VR is becoming the “dominant communication
system of our culture,”20 but we are talking about more than
“communication.” Both online and offline, VR is ushering in the
world in which we will live. For the moment, it’s an “alternative
world.” Yet, for those who spend most of their waking lives in
VR, it has become a “habitat.” And for the rest of us, it is not
far-fetched to suggest we are gradually migrating into virtual
space, whether we are ready or not. e are not ready for this journey! We have neither the skills
nor the caution to “call those things that be not as though
they were.”21 VR, after all, is not a safe zone. Every advancement
in technology both gives and gets. Further, there will always be
18 Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas
Survive and Others Die (New York: Random House, 2007) p. 122.
19 Hipps, Shane, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your
Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009) pp. 42-44.
20 Hipps, p. 17.
21 Romans 4:17, King James Version of The New Testament.
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I. Introduction
9
VR gurus who are driven by greed. There will always be those
who seek power and control over others. So it is important to
make ready by exploring the protean parameters of virtual
reality, which is what this book sets out to do. A book about VR challenges any author. In the first place, this
era has already proven an unstable moment. Ours is a
postmodernist world where certainty has been shattered. In
other words, we face the ontological crisis of trying to establish
reality: “How do we know that we know?” Meaning has become
fluid, constantly changing. Everything is “subjective.”
Secondly, VR has become “one of the most bizarre phenomena
of the twenty-first century.”22 For example, it is “the first
intellectual technology that permits the active use of the body in
the search for knowledge.”23 As a result, we stagger under a
subject that seems strange, exotic, and even alien to traditional
thinkers. This book, however, promises a new veracity, a new
authenticity, and a new credibility for the virtual experience. In
other words, readers will learn to test, discern, and ground the
“evidence” of their experience, and they will learn to use this
experience creatively in a world that demands their
participation.
22 Tim Guest, Second Lives: A Journey Through Virtual Worlds
(New York: Random House, 2008) Product description:
http://tinyurl.com/6m559v
23 Heim, pp. vii, viii.

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