Social Impact and Challenges of Virtual Reality Communities

Social Impact and Challenges of Virtual Reality Communities

Rafael Capilla (Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-631-5.ch010


The phenomenon of virtual reality has crossed geographical and social barriers since virtual reality applications started to be used massively by non-expert users. The development of high-cost and complex virtual reality applications for concrete domains and highly skilled users have widened its scope to the general public, which exploits the Internet to create, share, and configure virtual communities of users and avatars that transcend organizational, political, cultural and social barriers. This chapter analyses the social impact of different software platforms and environments that can be used to create virtual communities, and also how these platforms provide different collaborative capabilities among their members. The author also analyzes how virtual reality technology impacts in the creation and use of virtual communities, as well as outlining the benefits and drawbacks in a globalized context.
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Background Virtual Reality Technology For Virtual Communities

Since Ivan E. Sutherland pioneered the computer graphics research, and implemented the first head-mounted-display (HMD) using wire-frame graphics (Sutherland, 1968), was not until 1989 when several VR developers, like Jaron Lanier used extensively the term of virtual reality to refer to computer technology that allows users to experience a three-dimensional environment which simulates the real world. Compared to traditional desktop applications, virtual reality is a complex and expensive software technology that uses special hardware devices to simulate the real world in which users are immersed in a virtual environment and they can interact with other avatars and virtual objects. Developing VR applications is not easy and flexible software architectures are needed (Capilla et al., 2008). Today, the complexity and specialization of current virtual reality applications (e.g.: military, health, simulators) has led to other type of VR applications that can be easily used by the general public, making virtual reality a massive and affordable technology for many. Presently, three kinds of applications can be used to create virtual reality communities, but this classification is continuously growing:

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