Why We Need to Ditch the Word “Virtual”

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From “virtual reality” to “virtual worlds,” the “v-word” is something we gamers and techheads know well. But real things happen in virtual worlds, and virtual reality is a reality all its own – which is why we should consider ditching it.

Language can be a very tricky thing for many reasons, not the least of which is that, on some level, it limits our understanding of things. White chocolate is not actually chocolate. Chinese Checkers is not checkers (nor is it Chinese). So, from a philosophical and etymological standpoint, argues Erin Hoffman in Issue 233 of The Escapist, maybe we should ditch the term “virtual” – the term that tells everybody that the very real experiences gamers have aren’t as real because they happen in “virtual worlds.”

The problem, as Ray Kurzweil points out, is that even though most people with access to computers know what a “virtual world” is, we still use the bridge term, mostly out of habit. It now carries baggage beyond its original intent and entirely separate from its linguistic bridge function.

“Virtual” itself is applied today more broadly than to online worlds, but the precise application of “virtual community” or “virtual file-hosting” only muddies the water further. The only commonality between those usages is a loose it’s-done-on-the-computer abstraction, an imprecision that continues to frustrate philosophers today.

To read more about why the word “virtual” needs to go, read “Ditching the V-Word” by Erin Hoffman in Issue 233 of The Escapist.

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