18.02.16 – Seminar: Defining Virtual Space

For this lesson we were split into groups and asked to read some research materials in order to try and come up with a definition for Virtual Space. The purpose of this seminar was to help us grasp the concept of Virtual Reality/Space which is important for us to understand well before getting started with our own research for our individual projects.

What is Reality?

PkdickPrior to this lesson, I unexpectedly stumbled across something whilst playing the video game Talos Principle. The game’s theme revolves around what is real and what is not and frequently presents the player with theories and supporting research. At one point, the game exposes us to American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick and provides us with his version of what reality is which is “Reality is that of which when you stop believing it doesn’t go away“.

This got me thinking: so wouldn’t Virtual Reality be the opposite of that? Ergo, once we stop believing in it, it does go away because nothing we do in that world directly influences us in our real world right?

If we were to shoot and kill someone in a virtual world, those consequences don’t carry over into the real world and become a part of our real lives. However, the same cannot be said if we had to kill someone in real life in which case we would have to pay for our actions by spending time behind bars.

Virtual Reality is something we choose to delve into and experience usually as a way to escape from reality and the problems it brings along with it.

Not only do we have the capability to enter this virtual realm whenever we want but we also have complete freedom to leave it whenever we desire even if it proves to be a more arduous task since VR can be quite addictive.


According to an excerpt ‘In Search of Architecture in Virtual
Space‘ (2008) written by Or Ettlinger, the question we should be asking ourselves is not “What is Virtual vs What is Real” but rather “What is Virtual vs What is Physical“. As an example he talks about a painting by Pieter Bruegel named The Tower of Babel and poses us with the question: is the painting itself virtual? Is the tower in the painting real or virtual?


The painting itself is a physical object made out of wood, canvas and ink and therefore is real as it physically exists in the real world. The tower itself however is a simulacrum or simulated object which means that it has similar attributes as the original tower but does not share its essence and therefore is a virtual tower. However, this doesn’t make it any less real. Virtual places are just as real as physical places are.
Ettlinger also mentions Rene Magritte’s painting ‘The Treachery of Images‘ which features a pipe and is accompanied by the statement ‘this is not a pipe’.

Margritti this is not a pipe

This makes the audience think about their relationship to the painting rather than the image itself. The pipe in the image is obviously not physically real and therefore Magritte is right in saying that it is not a pipe. It is in fact a virtual pipe, a simulacrum of a real pipe.

We also looked at some videos which showed examples of installations of virtual spaces that amalgamate with the real world and create a sort of augmented reality.


We then discussed our findings as a group with the whole class and shared what we each thought Virtual Space is. We soon discovered that this is not a simple task and that the definition itself alters according to one’s perception and beliefs.

Although my thoughts on this are still shaky, my “definition” of a Virtual Space is a stimulated environment (sometimes made to purposely mimic reality) in which we have the ability to freely explore without having to worry about consequences for our actions since they do not directly impact us. It is an immersive environment which can be considered to be an extension of reality because in certain cases it can prolong or enhance experiences you have already been through.


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