Jonathan Steuer Stanford University
Virtual reality (VR) has typically been portrayed as a medium, like telephone or television. This new medium is typically defined in terms of a particular collection of technological hardware, including computers, head- mounted displays, headphones, and motion-sensing gloves. The focus of virtual reality is thus technological, rather than experiential; the locus of virtual reality is a collection of machines.1 Such a concept is useful to producers of VR-related hardware. However, for communication researchers, policymakers, software developers, or media consumers, a device- driven definition of virtual reality is unacceptable: It fails to provide any insight into the processes or effects of using these systems, fails to provide a conceptual framework from which to make regulatory decisions, fails to provide an aesthetic from which to create media products, and fails to provide a method for consumers to rely on their experiences with other media in understanding the nature of virtual reality.
Theoretically, these inadequacies are manifest in three ways. First, a technology-based view suggests that the most salient feature in recognizing a "VR system" is the presence or absence of the requisite hardware.2 In____________________