Theories and Metaphors of Cyberspace- Abstracts

The Social Trajectory of Virtual Reality: Substantive Ethics in a World Without Constraints

By Michael Cranford

  • University of Southern California
  • Department of Religion/Social Ethics
  • Los Angeles, CA 90007
  • Abstract:

    While the emerging scientific and educational applications of virtual reality (VR) receive a great deal of attention, these should not be confused with the psycho-social impact of the medium itself. This article explores the trajectory of the medium's social influence independent of discrete applications. VR technologies are directed at enjoining a participatory engagement in a virtual world which leaves the user unconscious of the interface. Virtual worlds are constructed to promote increased participation; the worlds are created with a sense of incompleteness, which draws the user into the world experientially, seeking to explore and be fulfilled. The experience of VR not only requires the removal of physical constraints, but also any sense of risk and consequence--constraints which undermine a participatory engagement and mitigate both the interface's transparency and the user's satisfaction. Moral responsibility constitutes a constraint which not only mitigates a virtual worlds experience, but which may prove antithetical to the medium's long-range social