The Trajectivity of Virtual Worlds

The Trajectivity of Virtual Worlds

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7368-5.ch047
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This chapter will propose an ontology of virtual environments that calls into question the dichotomy between the real and the virtual. This will draw on the concepts of trajectivity and “médiance” in order to describe the way virtual environments, with their technological and symbolic features, take part in the construction of human environments. This theoretical proposition will be illustrated with the analysis of Arcadia, a virtual environment built in Second Life. Finally, a meso-criticism will be proposed as a new approach for the study of virtual environments.
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Researches into virtual worlds in the 1990s and 2000s are characterized by their tendency to consider them separate areas from the real world, betraying a perspective Nathan Jurgenson (2012) calls “digital dualism”. As Doel & Clarke (1999) and Latzko-Toth & Proulx (2006) point out, typi cal of this dualism are the epistemological postures making virtuality a degraded representation of reality or a solution to correct its flaws, the first reflecting a vision of the virtual as a simulacrum (Baudrillard, 1981), the second being put forward by techno-optimist authors such as Howard Rheingold (2000).

“Virtual” is a term whose meaning varies over history and from one researcher to another. In its long history, it has in turn been synonymous with the potential, the artificial and the simulational (Vial, 2014).

The virtual is known primarily as that which exists potentially, as opposed to what exists actually. Thus, in the eighteenth century, the science of mechanics called “virtual realities of the physics” the matrix of possibilities in which the empirical world represents an actualization (Latzko-Toth & Proulx, 2006). Following on from this, the virtual “is nothing other than an ontological regime, a particular way of being real, that which, in short, exists without manifesting itself” (Vial, 2014, p. 179, original in italics). Thus, the virtual is real without being actual (Deleuze, 1996; Granger, 1995; Lévy, 1998).

In the field of optics, the virtual is given a second meaning. For the physicists, the virtual image is an image perceived by the eye that comes from an optical instrument, as opposed to the actual image, which is present on a screen. According to Vial (2014), the term “real” here as opposed to “virtual” is inappropriate, since in both cases they are discernible realities; the virtual image is real, but artificial.

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