VR headset buzz accenting the predominance of virtual worlds in VR development

Watching a Second Life performance of Ballet Pixelle this summer

Watching a Second Life performance of Ballet Pixelle this summer

People have different reactions towards virtual worlds. One person I talked to asked, “but isn’t it geared only to certain kinds of people?” This would be the inference to gamers, and people who are immersed in MMORP (massively multiplayer online role playing) games. This is definitely a big part of the use of virtual world spaces, but not the only one.

Second Life (SL) is a virtual world created by Linden Lab in 2003. Their CEO Ebbe Altberg said in a recent interview that it is not a game. It’s a platform for users to build experiences on, and those experiences cover a broad swath of content—games, education, roleplaying, et cetera. I would add that a large participatory culture is the group of performance and new media artists. The aim to define the SL platform is important now as they are developing a next-generation, virtual-reality-built version of Second Life. Timing with the buzz around Oculus Rift has been key. Even though applications and uses for virtual reality have been developed since before the current reinvigorated market for VR headsets, the interest from the general public is a great temperature reader for the acceptance of virtual worlds and VR technology in everyday life.

Virtual reality simulates physical presence in virtual worlds or spaces. Motion capture technology allows individuals to affect movement to avatars in virtual worlds. This further physical interaction is key to the makers of dance and the audiences who are intended to experience it.

One of the essential characteristics of a virtual world is that its existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in. The value of the world is based on how it can draw and build a community to use and inhabit it. A virtual world provides a community in a shared space, collaborations, interactivity, and socialization–things that are important to artists. Although a virtual world like SL invites users to freely build and create, real-life users have the choice to build and create independent of a world, and simply use the shared online space for presentation of their works. Documenting the activities in a world and the events that occur in it can be sporadic. Users can choose the length of their existence by logging in and logging off, a behavior that Altberg has noticed in SL: “Today, there are too many users that hit these walls and bounce out. We have to figure out how to get people to come in, how to discover the things that are relevant.”

Artists who continuously present, create in, and manage aspects of the virtual world they live in are important community members in virtual worlds. Not only are they intimately familiar with how to interact with virtual world technology and objects, they build new works and spaces, and draw audiences from “in-world” as well as from the first-world by presenting programs, events, and exhibits. Hybrid-reality art provides access to those who are not active members in virtual worlds. Virtual reality headsets can provide users with a unique, personalized, immersive experience, but affecting movement on a virtual world avatar–somatically, in real time–still requires additional technology. Still, the interest from a wider audience is exciting to note, leading to a greater audience and discussion surrounding art and performance built on or presented in virtual world platforms.


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