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Virtual Reality


            Technological advances since the 1960s have stirred creative minds worldwide. Computer scientists continue creating new ways to captivate our imagination with virtual reality as a guide. All may immerse themselves in a virtual environment filled with colorful characters fighting for intricate beliefs in unknown worlds – creating vivid and intriguing stories to capture gamers and keeping them logged on. The computer has offered a creative, innovative way to use virtual reality to indulge our imagination.

            Virtual reality is a realistic interpretation of an environment using three dimensional designs by means of interactive computer software and hardware. This allows people to interact with a wide range of animated characters and scenarios. Three parts contribute to the creation of this system. A reality simulator acts as the computer that can run the program quickly and effectively between the user and the actual program. The graphics board produces the visual three dimensional environments with sound effects and the controllers for input and output devices that connect the user to the virtual environment. The second part of the system consists of the effectors, which are the input and output devices that are created in many different ways such as joysticks or particular keyboard functions. The third and most essential part of the system is the user that controls all the actions that are projected on the screen. The idea of controlling the happenings of the virtual world is particularly significant to the players because it gives them the authority to do what they please in the virtual world (Ceruzzi 68).

            Before entering our homes through our personal computers, virtual reality was first developed separate from the computers we know today. In 1833, Sir Charles Wheatstone invented a stereoscope viewer. The device resembled a pair of goggles resting on a rod that measured about 12 inches. A frame held a stereo picture at the end of the rod. A camera with two lenses would take pictures that would create two separate pictures a little more than 2 inches apart. It was measured with a two-inch distance in order to match the distance between two eyes. Prismatic lenses were installed into the eyepiece, which would create the illusion of the two separate pictures blending into one and creating a three-dimensional image (Wyborny 17-30).

            During the 1960s and 1970s, new interactive, three-dimensional programs were developed because of the computer. Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist that studied and experimented with computer graphics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963, discovered new developments in the yet-to-be navigated field. Computer-generated flight simulators, used and created by the Department of Defense, were complicated and demanded advanced skills to operate properly. Sutherland was determined to find a way for the average person to operate computers. The creation of the sketch pad was the first step toward modern computer graphics. It was composed of a light-emitting pen to draw simple designs on a cathode ray tube (an electronically operated vacuum emitting a focused beam of electrons) that essentially forms the display screen on your computer monitor. Most importantly, it could store many different types of information in the computer, such as graphics or actual text. Sutherland was convinced that one day the computer would be able to use those graphics to create a virtual world (Davis 133-165).

            Sutherland’s The Ultimate Display, an article published in 1965, describes the marriage between the computer and virtual technologies. He articulated his belief that a computer can be operated by anyone. He thought this type of device would aid in mathematical computations and scientific theories by using graphics as a visual guide. In the article, he claims that:  


The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked. 


            Before any major technological advances were made, information was usually carried on paper punch cards with patterns of perforated holes that symbolized information that could only be interpreted by a computer operator. The “Sword of Damocles” was a device Sutherland created in order to create basic line images that appear to be floating. The helmet and goggles hanging from the ceiling of the laboratory were named the Sword of Damocles with respect to the Greek myth about a sword that hung from the ceiling by a single hair. This made it possible for recognizable images to be created by computer-generated data. Though it was expensive and limited in its use, it sparked the creation of future inventions in the realm of the virtual world (Davis 178-179).

            Virtual reality began to take public interest with the release of the first commercial virtual reality system. The “Reality Built for Two” (RB2), was created in the late 1980s. It could be used through an Apple Macintosh computer accompanied with an HMD and wired gloves. The wired gloves used fiber optic sensors to send tracking information of hand movements to the system. It had difficulties with the quality of the images portrayed and body tracking. Costing $400,000 for a two-person version (and $250,000 for a one person version) the program was unaffordable to the average person. Despite the price and a few imperfections, the RB2 was the first system to intrigue the public into virtual reality (Wyborny 92).

            Many technological advances have been made since the late 1980s. Today anyone can delve into virtual reality through his or her own personal computer or at the local arcade. Using the mouse, joysticks, or HMDs we are allowed to become part of another world. From battling enemies of any of the World Wars to jumping back into history and witnessing a memorable occurrence, we are invited to step out of our reality. The systems are attractive to the most imaginative minds because it intrigues the senses. Depending on the system, most senses can be reached with the exception of taste. Found in a variety of places, virtual reality is an exciting form of entertainment.

            Modern games include three-dimensional characters in vibrant and colorful environments. With the creation of computers, gamers are allowed to explore new ideas. In Guild Wars, the average person is given the opportunity to become a hero. The epic begins with the downfall of a kingdom, the banishment of a prince, and the struggle to defeat dark forces that threaten to destroy all of known civilization. Choosing among a variety of skilled warriors, players mold their heroes into personalized characters. Because they created the character, the players feel a sense of ownership. Special features like creating and customizing their own character, playing with multiple people, and the option to play according to their schedule keeps players devoted and intrigued (<>).  

In one of Disney World’s theme parks, Adventure Island, visitors of this magical land are invited to ride roller coasters and massive machinery that could appeal to most of their senses. A popular cartoon character such as Spider-Man is features in a ride dedicated to capturing some of his many notorious villains. The guests are seated in a cart holding about three rows of four people. Powerful 360 degree turns force the bodies in all directions. It appears that they can jump from tall skyscrapers in the big city. People of all ages can feel the wind as Spider-Man clumsily loses his grip of the cart giving the illusion that they are plunging straight down toward the sidewalk of the dark streets. They can bounce back as Spider-Man casts his web to catch them before meeting the gravel. He can talk to them as he stands on the cart and jumps around them. Feeling the heat from explosions, guests feel as though they are part of the attraction. Costing $200 million dollars, Spider-Man’s replicated world is the most expensive theme park attraction because of the complicated virtual reality simulators installed (Pausch 193-203).

            What seemed like reality in a science-fiction novel has become reality. More advances are anticipated. Hapatics is a developing concept in virtual reality. Translating from the greek language the word literally means “touch.” These advancements will help stimulate the sense of touch in many ways. Scientists expect to create a glove that, with the use of tiny air sacks at the fingertips, helps gamers experience what objects feel like. They also hope to create a system that will let the user move objects around physically (Davis 268).

             Entertainment is a crucial component of many cultures. Recreational activities offer an escape from reality and an opportunity to explore extraordinary worlds. Since the 1960s, scientists have been committed to discovering new technology and creating systems that can enhance the virtual experience. Computers will continue to evolve and will aid in the creation of new systems. From major theme parks to laptops, the average person is capable of tapping into a realm of illusion that can stimulate the senses and awaken the imagination.