Communication Research on Consumer VR
Carrie Heeter Michigan State University
This chapter is about consumer-oriented virtual reality (VR), which in the early 1990s includes a handful of commercial entertainment experiences such as Virtual World's BattleTechTM Center, Virtuality's mall-based science fiction games, and FighterTown'sTM military simulators. Other start-up companies are working to open their own VR entertainment centers in malls or amusement parks. Museums will be another source of VR experiences, offering entertaining educational content. Virtual travel centers will allow people to visit (and shop at) faraway places. Health clubs will offer workout programs and physically challenging virtual games in exotic virtual environments. Eventually schools and even homes will have VR technology, and interactive distribution of experiences will occur over phone and cable lines. Virtual communication environments will bring friends and strangers together for communication experiences.
Although consumer VR will include a diverse set of experiences, those experiences will share some common parameters. Humans will enter these virtual worlds with the intent of engaging in a synthetic experience, with a goal of experiencing the synthetic world instead of or in addition to the real world for a period of time. Some VR will be individual experiences but most will link two or more people into the same virtual environment. Unlike dreams, these experiences will exist on computers, external to the minds of the participating humans. Each human will experience that external world from his or her own point of view, usually under his or her own control.
Data from five Comm Tech Lab studies of virtual reality are used to revisit classic mass media effects issues (such as uses and gratifications, cultivation theory, effects of violence, etc.) in the context of consumer-