A video parody of a book by an Englishwoman and a play roughly about an American religion by two Americans known for their animated television reflections on society and popular culture. Most of these forms are mature, but it took time from the first large scale introduction of a new media type to the point where a storytelling grammar emerged along with the story tellers who could use it.
Virtual reality is roughly defined as be some kind of multimedia experience that gives the user the impression they are physically present in some imagined space. It is usually considered to be computer generated, but a twelve year old deeply into Harry Potter might argue with that. The realities we sense are in our heads.
Depending on how you count we have perhaps a dozen senses producing information that is processed to give us a sense of our surroundings. Nature appears to be wonderfully rich and real to us, but what we sense is limited and heavily filtered. Vision is a good example. We only see a tiny sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum. Our eyes send signals very different from anything we'd call an image to the brain where an elaborate visual model is constructed and integrated with other sensory models. The amount of information that travels from our eyes to our brain is fairly small - much lower than the screen on your smartphone. Something similar takes to turn small, but rapid changes in air pressure into the sounds we hear. These models give a sense of the now - a reality that seems to be an instant with the past behind it as it constantly moves into the future. It is really a time segment about two seconds long that integrates information from various stages of processing. While we react to events with a reaction time less than 100 milliseconds, the models evolve fleshing out our perception, sensation, situational awareness and other components that make up what we call now.
In the early days of simulation it was thought that delivering images to the eye and audio to the ears would be enough to simulate a reality. Estimates of the bandwidth of senses were made, but they were found to be huge overestimates compared with how our brains create realities.1 Unfortunately current immersive VR only interfaces with our sense organs so we need high resolution, high data rate, low latency displays and transducers until we better understand hacks at the sensory input level.2
Go back to the twelve year old under her covers with a flashlight at three am with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The data rate of consuming text at one or two hundred words per minute turns out to be sufficient to generate a richly detailed virtual reality in her head. A reality seeded by J.K. Rowling, but special to the kid who won't finish for another hour. She is fleshing out a reality from earlier books and perhaps a movie or two. She can feel the wind, smell, hear, feel fear and elation. The world in her head may be richer than the more restricted storytelling of the movie.
Virtual reality in the service of storytelling suffers the disadvantage of immaturity. Even if you assume enough of the nagging little problems can be solved to make it widely available in the next few years like the Oculus and Sony people hope, it will be thirty to fifty years for real storytellers to emerge if history is a guide.3 For too many reasons to detail here I think it isn't the way out for communication spaces - Second Life++ will probably have to wait. VR may be great for high end games - the next generation of first person shooters, and for simulations. but here again I'm curious about what makes an immersive game. I can become totally absorbed in a simple puzzle and just my mind. One isn't necessarily better than the other, but the cost of support technology is vastly different.
More exciting are areas and some that probably haven't been invented. Particularly fascinating is how the technology can be used to study how we perceive the world - conjectures are becoming testable hypothesis. It is now straightforward to conduct social experiments with limited senses, out of the ordinary body sizes and more. Sensory augmentation can be useful and entertaining. Tools for those with impaired vision and hearing and other issues are emerging. There will be important developments we can't see now, but some perspective is needed. The science fiction visions of the Metaverse in Snowcrash and Star Trek's holodeck aren't going to happen any time soon.
This just scratches the surface, but I'm out of time. Go out and find a good book that let's you experience a rich virtual reality without a computational prothesis. Many of these will be rich enough that you can wander around on your own.
1 Usually the the estimates started off with stereo 4k-ish video, better color spaces and 60fps or higher... The real data rate from the eyes to the brain is (crudely) estimated to be on the order of 10 Mbps.
2 A nice sensory hack that works with audio is the psychoacoustic compression mp3 and aac provide. The brain works rather well with about ten percent of a stereo or mono signal. Some visual hacks work too - notably to only paint detail at where the eye is most sensitive to it.
3 latency, haptic feedback, sound field reconstruction, physical movement, etc. etc. etc.
I have a personal problem with the all of the head-mounted devices I've used which include current Oculus prototypes. They don't work with my synesthesia and aren't very immersive as a result. I also get nauseated easily, which is odd as I rarely do in the real world. My understanding is the nausea issue has improved substantially for most people with Oculus class displays.
I've had this recipe for a long time, but only tried it recently with a couple of modifications (shown). Such fun! What I did wasn't as precisely measured. Start with this but modify as necessary.
° an ounce panko
° half large granny smith apple
° 1/2 cup parsnip peeled and sliced
° 1 chopped shallot
° 1/4 tsp allspice
° 3 beaten eggs (I used fake eggs, but regular vegetarian might allow the real thing)
° 3/4 tbsp peeled ginger
° 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
° 1 teaspoon kosher salt
° shred the apple, dry in a paper towel, put in a large bowl
° shred the parsip and add to the bowl
° add egg, shallot, ginger and allspice, finally panko, pepper and salt.
° coat a skillet with oil, heat to medium
° about a quarter cup of batter for each latke . Flatten to half inch. Sauté about 4 or 5 minutes to golden brown each side
° sop up oil on paper towels
° top with fruit jelly or whatever...