233: Ditching the V-Word

Ditching the V-Word

The term "virtual reality" has many inaccurate connotations. An investigation of the Latin derivation of the phrase, its philosophic meaning, and how it seeped into modern usage suggests that this "bridge term" is limiting our understanding and growth. Erin Hoffman demonstrates why "virtual" needs to go.

Read Full Article

Beautiful. I love it. You've got philosophy, etymology, even a bit of psychology in there. Articles like this are why I love the Escapist. Bravo.

there ain't a way to persuade the masses they shouldn't use virtual for what is not virtual. they have their idea of it's meaning and that blocks a space for change like an empty column covered by one block in tetris. that is for the offline virtual things.

there will always be the parents who say mario wrong or pokEEmans
they dont care about this!
but i do becuase when i play my mmo its like a second job, not a virtual fantasy

that was delicious..

but I feel the burning of the bridge has been taking place for a while.. and will do so of its own accord... as population grows..

you feel "virtual" is not the right word because you see from the present into the (somewhat long term) future.. in the future where population will have grown, and "online" will be the only used term..

as the present progresses into the future.. so too will population grow.. and more and more ppl (who only think of the present and short term future) will feel that "virtual" is not the right word

Ray Kurzweil:
"Artificial intelligence" is real intelligence.

Ray Kurzweil lost my attention when he said this. He was probably just ranting and brought up a not-quite-a-tangent, but it sounds like he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Anyhow, "virtual" as used today, at least in a professional context, still holds a great deal of meaning. In all computer-related context as well as others you quoted right up until "virtual reality" it serves to mean as the distinction between the logical and the physical, or the method in which they are separated; a bridge of sorts between what we us and the way we organize our thoughts and the world around us. "Virtual space" is not physical space, it is an abstraction thereof, a representation of what we see and perceive, itself seen (and represented physically) differently by different people - virtual. Which agrees with Deleuze, by the way.

A lot of the problems brought forth by this article is that "virtual" has also come to mean, in common parlance, effects that take place through and of such realms. A "virtual romance" is not indeed "virtual" but is of or through "virtual space".

However, I will concede that some uses are a bit out of hand, such as "virtual colonoscopy" which only describes taking an image through non-traditional means. Such things are probably just a means by which to distinguish techniques or from a legacy meaning. In the case of colonoscopy, probably to separate the non-invasiveness of the new technique from the infamous "hands-on" traditional technique.

In any event, it is not uncommon for words to balloon in meaning up until they fall in disuse, usually when one or more new and popular words take up the meanings. Such is the organic nature of language.

Excellent article. I agree:

Flionk:
Articles like this are why I love the Escapist. Bravo.

I still believe the biggest problem with "virtual reality" has to do with these things:

I think "online" will offer a similar hurdle because of these things:

I don't think virtual is a poor word, just one that is socially misunderstood and I feel online suffers from similar misconceptions. I also don't believe that the sometimes-negative connotation of virtual is a terminal flaw. But the article does make a good case for the graceful tone of online: I need to check my e-mail box online. Iambic pentameter, tasty!

I have no problem with the word "virtual" in the context of games. What bugs me is game journalists saying, "You can literally do X," or "You can actually see Y". No, you literally and actually cannot do or see X and Y in a video game, because X and Y are pixels. When I shoot a rocket at an enemy NPC, turning him into blood and flames, those elements are not literal or actual. That virtual rocket merely transformed an unreal human into another pattern of two-dimensional dots of colored light, to represent an explosion. Not real. Virtual.

Am I the only one who thinks its stupid that we are arguing the definition of a word and the way to use it, and then your trying to pave a way for us to do it?

Are we going to arrest these wrongdoers? This article was informative but the meaning of a word does not matter. Words change definition. Trying to sway us otherwise is like changing the tide.

An extremely thoughtful reminder of why I read the escapist. Thanks!

Eh, it's just a word. Wouldn't your average American from 60 years ago be able to walk home and tell his mom he was very gay because he had found a job?

Plus, it is a virtual world. If Kwolds Golddagger, Golden Barbarian ceases to exist, John Truman, Expert Accountant will continue to exist. If John Truman ceases to exist, so does Kwolds Golddagger. One might probably think about 'virtual friendships' and how such as real, but odds are that if someone is really your friend you'd end up having other ways to contact him, which makes it less virtual (even if through a virtual medium, as one of the fellows above me said). If your best pal is Kwolds Golddagger, and suddenly you need help for your mom's surgery, either he will reveal himself to be John Truman to help or suddenly stop contacting you.

There might be something about 'virtual economy', and how you are spending real money on fake things, but then again the money you are spending are bits and bytes on a bank's website that have now gone to the company's bank's website. Even though we spend money as real, most of it is really virtual, based on the promise that the government and banks will pay up if we need it, even though they don't actually have that many money. It works the same as real money - but a few years ago there was a rumour that the Argeninian peso would suddenly become devalued, so thousands of people rushed to trade their pesos in for dollars, and the government and banks didn't have enough dollars to pay and it all ended up throwing the country into a recession. So you have the money, you can use the money to buy stuff, but if you try to take all the money out it's not really there. It's real, but not quite.

I had an idea for a book that started with a violent war scenario. Then at the end the main character would say he'd need to log off and disappear. The next chapter would show him working at a drab desk job. At the end of it, he'd say he'd log off and disappear. The war scenario was a game inside a massive, worldwide simulation; even though they're both as 'real', the job he works in is what pays his sallary, while the war scenario had no long-term consequences. Now that would make me wonder.

In before "virgin".

I wish I had more to contribute to the thread, but...I don't. All I know is that I want to eventually be in the game.

For some reason, that article was like greek to me. I read two pages of it before I couldn't force myself to continue. Maybe I'm just too sleepy to focus, but it felt like I was reading a monologue, and a boring one at that. I wish it was a bit more concise and to the point, it felt like it was all over the place. What's the point? You don't like the incorrect use of a stupid word? So give me an example of what an incorrect way of using it would be, what a proper way of using it is, and then some motivation and a few references, as well as some suggestion to what you should do about it, if anything. No need to write three pages about it in my opinion. But I guess I'm a bit cranky due to my sleepiness...

well, there is an important philosophical difference between real and virtual; real phenomena having attendant noumena whereas virtual phenomena do not.

This is all very good and all but you forget that terms like "chinese checkers" and "virtual reality" don't exist because if miss-communications or memes. They exist because no word existed for that specific thing. Words have to be adapted, created, or synthesized from other words.

For example: Circuit. A circuit is a closed loop or track often used in terms of racing. It had nothing to do with computers. But a word was needed to describe the new thing that someone invented. The word computer. Something that computes, or calculates. The first computers were nothing more than calculators. So the word compute was adopted into computer. They do far more than compute now a days.

Words evolve, change along with language as new usages are needed. Thats why they call it a living language. And thats why scientists use Latin to catalog things that need to remain the same in meaning. Because Latin is a dead language. It no longer memetically evolves.

So your article is worthless. Virtual reality needs to stay the way it is. Its a synthesis of terms used to describe something that don't have a word to describe them.

Despite what i said, i am opposed to memetic evolution of words like gay and queer. I still use the word queer for what its meant to mean. It has a meaning, and it was stolen. Thats different than say, synthesizing a new word out of two, like virtual reality. Or simply adding a meaning like circuit.

Flionk:
Beautiful. I love it. You've got philosophy, etymology, even a bit of psychology in there. Articles like this are why I love the Escapist. Bravo.

We need more of this to be honest.

Shurikens and Lightning:
Am I the only one who thinks its stupid that we are arguing the definition of a word and the way to use it, and then your trying to pave a way for us to do it?

Are we going to arrest these wrongdoers? This article was informative but the meaning of a word does not matter. Words change definition. Trying to sway us otherwise is like changing the tide.

Welcome to a living language, where the definition of a word can change over time.

CaptainStupid:
I have no problem with the word "virtual" in the context of games. What bugs me is game journalists saying, "You can literally do X," or "You can actually see Y". No, you literally and actually cannot do or see X and Y in a video game, because X and Y are pixels. When I shoot a rocket at an enemy NPC, turning him into blood and flames, those elements are not literal or actual. That virtual rocket merely transformed an unreal human into another pattern of two-dimensional dots of colored light, to represent an explosion. Not real. Virtual.

How does this apply to other media, then? If a movie literally depicts a man getting sliced in half, can that even be "literal"? Where does one end and another begin? Moreover, can you argue that a "virtual relationship" is indeed "virtual", as in not real?

grimsprice:
For example: Circuit. A circuit is a closed loop or track often used in terms of racing. It had nothing to do with computers. But a word was needed to describe the new thing that someone invented. The word computer. Something that computes, or calculates. The first computers were nothing more than calculators. So the word compute was adopted into computer. They do far more than compute now a days.

I'm a little confused by this. "Circuit" originally meant "a going around", which of course lends itself to loops and the like. When electricity was discovered, it was only found going around in closed loops, and indeed is a fundamental property of electricity today. Computers comes from "one who computes", going back to Newton's time. Back when he was alive and screwing about with logarithms and calculus he actually employed various human computers to do compute functions for him; nowadays the profession has been usurped by the electronic variety, who can do the same work a billion times for efficiently. Basic computers have evolved to support much more than just basic computing.

Also, "Chinese Checkers" did have a name before it was called that: "Stern-Halma".

In any event, while semantic drift can indeed occur, it is extremely rare to see a word to subverts its original meaning; I'm not sure that can be done without destroying the meaning of the word entirely, in which case we're left with a void in language. Usually, this isn't a problem since there's typically a wide selection of words for any given topic in English.

Furthermore, while science may invent specific terms using Latin and such, it was my understanding that was for universal application rather than strict nonchanging usage, since the nonchanging kind can be applied to words coined from other languages as well: for example, a disk drive has a very specific definition despite being coined from English words. I'm not entirely sure where that comes from, but I believe it refers to the original disk drives and its circular shape and the motion applied to it, and despite the fancy new (solid state) drives that are neither circular nor in motion, the meaning has a very specific usage. Or even "virtual colonoscopy" has a very particular meaning. Also, as mentioned above, "virtual" has a particular meaning in a philosophical context.

In any event, even if "virtual" does drift away from its original meaning, so long as that meaning has relevance there will be a need for a word to represent that.

300lb. Samoan:

I still believe the biggest problem with "virtual reality" has to do with these things:

^^This. I'm reminded of something I read in a William Gibson novel, either "Pattern Recognition" or "Spook Country". I wish I could recall it verbatim, but one of the characters said that 'the idea that virtual reality is something that needs a helmet or a plug in your brain is already an old paradigm. We're already entering virtual reality just by using computers the way we do now.'

I once spoke with a woman, a mother of two sons only a few years younger than myself, and she asked me if I understood why they could spend hours online, looking at websites and typing in chatrooms. We talked over our different points of view for a while, and the final glaring difference that popped up was that I (and presumably her sons) thought of the internet as a "place" that you "go" to, much in the same way you go downtown to go to a restaurant or to meet your friends. She didn't have that concept at all, and saw the computer and the net as just tools and information.

Whether the word "virtual" or not needs to be phased out is probably out of our control; language can almost never be controlled that way. But I think that idea-space that Hoffman mentions is already becoming the dominant paradigm. Give it another generation or two, and I think all the old baggage on the word will ditch itself.

Meaningless and meandering.

A filler article, at the very least. Mentions some very important things... that aren't in any way related to the subject.

Great work is being done in this area by Anthropologist Thomas Malaby, who actually just released a book on Second Life. He argues, essentially, that 'play' is harder to separate from reality than many might think. His 'Beyond Play' is probably the landmark academic article for these issues, and has a lot of great further reading for anyone interested.

I'm currently working on a piece for gamasutra that explores the physical side to this - that in a very physiological sense our gaming experiences are more fluid with reality than what's commonly thought. I personally argue for something called 'Real Illusion,' so a similar concept to some of thse described, although pulling on a lot of contemporary work from the hard sciences.

Thanks, all, for your comments -- greatly appreciated.

@pneuma08: Kurzweil is likely talking about a different kind of "artificial intelligence" than we're commonly familiar with in games. "Artificial intelligence" is another one of those bridge terms that has diverged into multiple meanings that start to make it vague. In games, we have "real" "artificial intelligence", where we are creating an artistic semblance or experience of intelligence that we know is not real. However, one of Kurzweil's primary interest sectors is what used to be called "artificial intelligence" and is now called "machine intelligence", and that's the kind of intelligence he means is "real". We are now at the point in computational or machine intelligence where we are replicating entire brain functions, effectively creating digital "versions" of the same things our brains do -- I think MIT will have a complete digital rat brain in 2011. The ability to do this represents a paradigm shift and it will be within our lifetimes necessary to address whether machines have "real" intelligence or not, and imminently become a civil rights issue -- so that "artificial intelligence" term when applied to computational neuroscience will have real repercussions. But I think in games we will always have "real" "artificial intelligence" as well, because we don't need real machine intelligence, or at least even when we have it there will still be an artistic need for simpler expressions and simulations. Still, even in this case one could argue that what we have is instead very simple intelligence, rather than "artificial" intelligence, which was only called that because philosophers insisted on arguing that it wasn't real.

@neilsclark: I like Tom Malaby and his work, but I'm not sure I'd agree with "Beyond Play" being the landmark here, unless you're talking about within the domain of anthropology specifically, and then I'd still turn to predecessors like Study of Games (Elliott Avedon) from the late 70s. Malaby attaches a lot of heavy terminology that may be useful to particular denizens of that anthropological domain, but I find the other founders of Terra Nova a lot more accessible and insightful -- Castronova (even though I until recently disagreed with him on many points -- he's recently come around with regard to democracy and rights in online worlds), and Julian Dibbell especially. But thanks for pointing out the additional reference in the space. Those interested should definitely pick up the _State of Play_ collection of essays.

And thanks, Samoan, for the apt pictures, which, by standard conventions, added 2000 words' worth. :)

We all do have power over our language and expression, is all I'll say to wrap the rest. :)

At this point, I think we need to ditch the term, "Game."
Its connotations are grossly inaccurate to what we've done with our... games?

The part I liked best about this was it was just above a post labled "Japanese Engineers Create Virtual Reality Buggy". Irony.. I love it.

On topic, it isn't going to go away any time soon. White chocolate isn't chocolate, it doesn't contain cocoa. Yet try argue that point and count how many people will listen. =P

Listen to an mp3. You aren't listening to the music, you're listening to a digital reproduction, a virtual copy. Photons bounce off objects and into your eyes, thus what you're seeing is technically only a mirage, a reflection, virtual.

Trick is not to think about it too much. =P

I keep my language as technically accurate as I can, but I count linguistics and nitpicking as hobbies so...

Does anyone still use the term "virtual?" Is it 1996 again?

I'm half and half on this. While yes I think we shouldn't use 'virtual community' because really it's a community regardless of it's technological constraints. Yet I feel 'virtual reality', 'virtual world', virtual world', etc all make perfect sense. It's meant to replicate life but isn't quite life, etc.

I must disagree.

"Virtual" separates that which is directly detected by our senses, and that which is conjured for our senses to detect.

When you watch a movie, you are being entertained by a virtual world.

When you play a game, you are interacting with a virtual world.

These are different, vastly different, from actually being trapped in the middle of a 'blockbuster firefight' and actually cutting down zombies with automatic screaming death firearms. Thus, Virtual, or "being such in essence or effect to simulate reality, though whose existence is inferred from indirect evidence"

the antithesis:
Does anyone still use the term "virtual?" Is it 1996 again?

It has been a while. The conversation could largely be moot as the term will fade off on its own. I still maintain my above state points as contradicting the 'push' to see the term dismissed.

@ErinHoffman: Hmm, I still quite can't agree. Until we prove/solve P=NP (which as of right now I'm convinced isn't even true/possible) computers as we know it will never break the barrier from being exceedingly complex state machines and having actual reasoning and intelligence. That is to say, replicating entire brain functions is one thing, but unless I'm grossly mistaken there are as of yet many functions of the brain that cannot be replicated even in entirely theoretical space using computers that can't even be physically built. (It's not impossible that I'm mistaken; it has been a couple of years since my university days, and I'm sure Computer Science has progressed leaps and bounds since then.)

Beyond that is the semantics of what, exactly, "artificial" or "machine intelligence" comprises and how it can be "real" or compare to "real intelligence". If there is a such thing as a "real" "artificial intelligence" then the terms start falling apart and the problem I have then is communicating meaning rather than verifying meaning. But I digress.

I thought this article was going to be about vaginas.

Digital or artificial is far better then virtual in most cases.

Erana:
At this point, I think we need to ditch the term, "Game."
Its connotations are grossly inaccurate to what we've done with our... games?

But they are games. Doesn't matter if you dislike the term or hold personal bias to its meaning.

According to Merriam a game is an "activity engaged in for diversion or amusement" and that's exactly what video games do. You wouldn't ask to change the name of movies because they have delved into topics like love and helped to investigate the human condition since their conception as ways to show events in movement--because they are still moving pictures (movies).

Games are games. Music is music. Movies are movies. They can all be lots of things, but they will always be games, music and movies.

Grey Day for Elcia:

Erana:
At this point, I think we need to ditch the term, "Game."
Its connotations are grossly inaccurate to what we've done with our... games?

But they are games. Doesn't matter if you dislike the term or hold personal bias to its meaning.

According to Merriam a game is an "activity engaged in for diversion or amusement" and that's exactly what video games do. You wouldn't ask to change the name of movies because they have delved into topics like love and helped to investigate the human condition since their conception as ways to show events in movement--because they are still moving pictures (movies).

Games are games. Music is music. Movies are movies. They can all be lots of things, but they will always be games, music and movies.

necropost aside, what we have come to accept under the umbrella of "Video games," encompasses a new art medium. Video games can do more than simply be a game, for example. Even with a title like Resident Evil, as campy and silly as it is, the ink ribbons and poor controls lend themselves to the overarching experience of surprise, anxiety and vulnerability.
That is beyond "game." And I'm not going by the Merriam-Webster, because one definition in a dictionary is completely insufficient to address the specialized ideas we're talking about here. The greater connotations around games in the realm of fine art is that, on their own, games are not art. Baseball is not an art, just as a scientific photograph is not art. It needs someone to identify a set of connotations with which others can view it with a greater understanding.
Sure, Bejeweled is thoroughly a game, as all of its elements are set up to facilitate action dictated by a set of rules, (Which your definition of "game" fails to mention) but what of Heavy Rain, or Mass Effect or The Path? What we call "Gameplay elements," become in these examples the means through which we interact with this constructed world. Hell, in games like those made by Tale of Tales, there is no way to "win," no real rules or anything like that.
Games is a misnomer because that thing that makes video games video games doesn't mean its a game. And then you have to deal with the connotations of "Game," which are generally trivial, for pleasure, and are not art. If the term for books were, "Fun books," or the term for movies were, "sit shows," or something like that, you can bet that books and movies would at least have a formal, alternate name that would accurately encompass the broader medium. Not all books are fun, you don't have to watch film while sitting, and the experience of video games is not limited purely to the element of "game." And if that blind guy who beat Oddworld has anything to say about it, the "Video," element can even be called into question.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Registered for a free account here