Remember SIMS? Well, virtual worlds are not a thing of the past. In fact, more than 1 million users get on virtual worlds such as the popular website, Second Life, everyday. While not all of us partake in these alternate realities, they are a growing part of our society and what some researchers deem the Internet of the future.

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What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality is a computer generated 3D environment in which users can interact with each other. Many believe these online platforms are escapes from reality, but  according to Nick Yee these virtual worlds are not escapes. Rather, “they are in fact perpetuating the status quo [… and] powerful psychological tools for shaping how we think and behave.” Something he calls the “Proteus effect.”

Is virtual reality considered a game?

Under typical consideration, it is logical to deem virtual worlds as games, and thus a form of media entertainment. However, virtual reality users raise controversy when others limit their usage to merely a game. Users prefer to view this alternate reality as a community, specifically verbalizing Second Life and other platforms role in meeting the opposite sex. This function is as depicted clearly in the documentary Life 2.0, below.

Why use virtual reality as a dating site?

Kristina Dell says it has to do a lot with confidence. If you feel your avatar is attractive, you can more easily approach someone in Second Life. Even if you have a negative body image and are deeply insecure in the physical world, virtual worlds create a new online community where you can shape who you are. Building these new communities is what Vivian points out as a key function of any medium including the Internet.

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Why does this matter?

While virtual realities have been popular for many years, as these realities are developed into to business models and presented as ways to generate profit, they will only become larger. The popular social media site, Facebook, recently acquired the virtual reality company, Oculus VR. Their newest contribution to the virtual reality world includes portable headsets that connect to Internet apps on smart phones.

So while these new innovative technologies are surely advanced, we must ask ourselves, at what cost? We must find a balance between reality and virtual reality. Avatars and megapixels should not replace the invaluable physical interactions which make us uniquely human.

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“Virtual Worlds Are Real”

“Life 2.0” documentary

“How the Second Life Affects Real Life”

“Facebook sees Oculus Virtual Reality Headsets Shipping This Year”