How do you define reality? If something is standing right in front of you to see, is that enough to mean its real? Virtual reality banks on the notion that the appearance of being immersed in a different reality is enough to trick your brain into feeling like it is, and the popularity of this futuristic concept recommends that notion.
Everything Is Not What It Seems
In the simplest terms, virtual reality is an advancing technology that uses a computer-generated environment to simulate a different reality. Through the use of a headset that completely engulfs the eyes and often some sort of large joystick as well, virtual reality (VR) is able to give users the sensation of being on other planets or in other times without leaving their own living rooms.
VR works to simulate as many of the senses as possible, but its primary tools are sight and sound. In fact, humans interact more frequently with sight than with sound, so a VR simulation can’t be truly immersive if it hasn’t done extensive audio work.
A Long Time Coming
The argument can certainly be made that the first shades of virtual reality popped up in the 19th century, with inventions like the stereoscope. This device allowed users to experience both depth and immersion with two photos posted side by side. The same technology is actually still used in low-grade VR headsets today.
In 1929, the first flight simulator was invented and is an early example of the practical applications for virtual reality, one that is still just as relevant today. The first VR experience that slightly resembles modern ones came in the 1950s, with something called a sensorama where a large chair-like device topped with a covered screen would convey every sense to the user as they watched films.
The first VR headset came about in 1960, but it wasn’t interactive—that development didn’t come for another 10 years or so. Of course, the term virtual reality wasn’t actually used until the founder of the visual programming lab coined it in 1987.
Since then, the field has made rapid strides, thanks largely to the advancement of computer graphics. Now, virtual reality seems truly on the brink of a breakthrough as major tech companies throw their weight behind creating the best possible products.
Seeing The World Differently
Virtual reality is still an important tool for simulations and training exercises, but it’s fast becoming a favorite form of entertainment as well. Oculus, Nintendo, Sony, and HTC put out some of the most popular VR headsets, with price tags that match the advancing technology.
There are quite a few books and movies that have described a reality similar to the one it appears modern society is headed toward, where most everyone escapes their real lives by entering VR regularly. Perhaps the most famous of these is Ready Player One, a book and movie that details the trials and tribulations of young people living almost exclusively in a virtual reality.
Humans trying to escape their norms and alter their realities is nothing new. In fact, it’s the basis of almost every recreational activity or form of entertainment. As virtual reality becomes more accessible and more advanced, it may prove the newest drug of choice for escaping (or enhancing) the human condition.