Virtual Worlds & Virtual Reality

Tamita Island, Kingdom of Irukandji on InWorldz virtual world, 2013

What is a virtual world? Or virtual reality? These terms are thrown around a lot and often used interchangeably, but what do they mean?

Some great articles defining virtual reality have already been written but the simplest way of looking at the two concepts side-by-side is this:

A virtual world is the platform itself, the actual world you are visiting, while virtual reality is the most immersive way of interacting with that world.

A virtual world is a digitally rendered artificial world, into which you can enter as a played character and interact with the environment inside that world. Your played character is often referred to as an avatar or sim. You control your character’s actions with a mouse and keyboard, a joystick or keypad. You might use text or voice or both to communicate with other players.

The most obvious examples of a virtual world are The Sims 4 and Second Life.

Virtual reality uses that exact same principle except that your interaction uses VR goggles and body sensors. This makes your engagement with that world more direct, and isolates you from your real environment, thus making your engagement with the game much more complete. There are pros and cons to virtual reality which is beyond the scope of this article for now.

The Sims 4 is an interactive virtual world
The girl on the treadmill is a played character alongside NPCs in The Sims 4

So my game is a virtual world?

If you are represented in the game by an avatar which you control with either a keypad etc or VR goggles, then yes, your game is technically a virtual world.

The main difference between traditional virtual worlds and commercial roleplaying games, is that games have a goal. By playing, you are working towards achieving something, be it a high score or a new weapon in return for reaching a certain goal in the game.

Virtual worlds on the other hand, whether accessed via keyboard and mouse or VR goggles, usually just exist for people to explore or experience. They might have an educational, artistic, or even psychological goal, but their purpose is more about interacting with the experience of being inside that world, rather than winning a prize.

Also, many users of virtual worlds are creators rather than players. They use the virtual world to build things and/or build social networks for users of that world, and sometimes as an extension of groups, projects, or businesses in the real world.

Content Creation

Speaking for myself, the big draw to virtual worlds for me has always been content creation. Since I began building in 2006, I’ve created around 13000 different items for other users to buy or download, most notably in Second Life and OpenSimulator under the brands Xay Tomsen Creations and IruMoto.

Another aspect of creation is building the actual landscape, the simulated land and features that your virtual world will occupy. An example of this is the Irukandji continent that I built in Second Life in 2007. It still exists today, fifteen years later, on a smaller scale on the DigiWorldz grid.