The concept of virtual life has existed much longer than the technology that today makes it a part of our daily life. The concept of the virtual has long infiltrated the minds of intellectuals in many forms, such as that proposed by Descartes.
However, it is only recently that the concept of the virtual has truly taken off. For the time being, with growing technology and a world that is more unstable than ever, the virtual world has evolved swiftly. The virtual is becoming increasingly similar to reality, and we may soon be unable to discern between the two.
While it is obvious that we now have some notion of the distinction between the real world and the virtual world, the differences are considerably smaller than they were previously.
Virtual Life vs Real Life
Traditionally, the distinction between the virtual and real worlds was based on the concept of complete physical identity or body – that in the virtual world, your mind was divorced from your body, and so the distinction between the virtual and real was the physical form.
However, the same way this viewpoint is gradually fading, and many people today believe that the virtual cannot be separated from the real in terms of embodiment or physicality. This is a viewpoint shared by the researcher, and it will be one of the essay’s key points of attention.
The concept of risk is another area that might be used to distinguish between the virtual and the real. Risk is one of the few ideas that appear to differ across the virtual and actual worlds, at least in some circumstances. Although this distinction is narrowing, it appears possible to distinguish between the virtual and actual worlds using the concept of risk.
The first section of this essay will examine how the virtual has supplanted many aspects of the real world in our lives, and how these regions can no longer be easily distinguished. These routine, everyday events are now both real and virtual at the same time, with no perceptible difference.
The second section of the essay will look at the concept of physicality in the virtual world and how evidence reveals that the virtual and real worlds cannot be separated by the identity of the physical body.
The final section of the article will demonstrate that, despite the convergence of the virtual and the real, some differences must be made.
The concept of risk is used to distinguish the virtual from the actual, albeit this distinction is also being diminished and may be completely destroyed with the advent of future technology.
2. Virtual, Information, and Branding
Information and branding are two areas of our lives that have undergone a major change from the real to the virtual in the previous ten years. Previously, information was mostly preserved in real forms such as paper books.
However, the majority of information is now obtained virtually, via computers, radio and television, and other digital/ social media. Books and music may now be accessible as digital facsimiles of the originals, and our world has transitioned from real to virtual in terms of information.
This trend has progressed to the point where there is no discernible difference between the real and virtual reality of information. We regard paper books and music in the same manner that we regard digital e-books and mp3 music. They are perceptually extremely similar and carry the same information. The real and local have given way to the virtual and global in our world.
In terms of branding, the move from real to virtual has also occurred. Many real-world products today have such strong brand conceptions that we no longer think of the real object itself, but rather associate the virtual brand as the primary identity.
The brand is a virtual representation of the actual real items, yet it is virtually indistinguishable, especially in language terms. Shields describes the virtual as moving from something simply transformational and ambiguous to something prosaic and the most commonly argued distinction. In some spheres of life, the virtual has permeated or even supplanted the real, and the virtual is now indistinguishable from the real.
While it may be claimed that these virtual forms differ from their actual equivalents in terms of physical form (i.e. the virtual item has no physical palpable shape, whereas the real form does), this distinction in physicality is too small to be discernible in the cases of information and branding.
The virtual or digital form of a book has a physical form in the sense that the information may be printed out or used in a physical manner, just like a genuine paper book.
This is also true for branding, where virtual brand names are so inextricably linked to physical goods that they cannot be separated. In some circumstances, the virtual has surpassed the actual, obliterating the distinction between the two. As a result, there is no actual separation between virtual life and the real worlds in this field.
3. Physical Form in The Virtual World
The concept of physical form and identity is the most widely debated difference between the real and virtual worlds. Many claim that in the virtual world, you do not have a complete physical experiencing identity, and that the separation of your mind from your physical body is the difference between the actual and virtual worlds.
In other words, you have no genuine identity or physical interaction in the virtual world, whereas you do in the real world. Although it appears that the physical qualities that define our physical selves are not clearly visible in the virtual world, the physical self is not fully abandoned, and physical manifestations within the virtual world.
As Katie Argyle and Rob Shields (1996) point out, ‘presence’ does not simply evaporate in the virtual world, and new technology only mediates our physical presence. With new technology as it is today, and as it is expected to evolve in the future, we may now act holistically within the virtual world using our bodies.
Although it may appear that our bodies are not a part of the virtual world, we cannot escape our bodies. In other words, we do not lose our bodies in the virtual world; rather, we experience and engage with it through our bodies.
Argyle asserts that the feelings we experience when participating in the virtual world are real and corporeal. She uses her online presence ‘Kitty’ (Argyle and Shields, 1996, in Kolko, p66) as an example, stating that the interactions she has with individuals, although being in a virtual environment, are real and felt in her body.
Argyle’s online connection reveals no separation from the body, implying that the actual body cannot be utilized to discern between real and virtual.
Ellen Ullman, who fell in love via email, agrees with this point of view. She only knew this individual through email and not through actual connection, but the virtual world provoked both real and physical sentiments in her.
Ullman distinguishes her online body from her ‘real’ one by stating that the love she felt was felt via her ‘virtual’ body, but she does not separate these two bodies, and the physical form remains tied to the online body or identity. (Ullman, 1996)
It appears that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to entirely separate your online persona from your actual and physical self when engaging online.
For example, in online games where players can send messages to one other in character, they may inquire about the person in ‘real life,‘ such as their age and origin.
People frequently become perplexed as to which ‘life’ the other person is referring to, therefore acronyms such as IC (in character) and IRL (in real life) have been developed to alleviate the misunderstanding (in real life).
This perplexity stems from the physical reality that there will always be a component of our persona within the virtual that cannot be separated, and hence the body cannot be used to differentiate between the virtual and the real.
Not only does the physical form persist within the virtual world as a result of its virtual interaction and emotions, but many of the rules and rights that regulate the real now govern the virtual.
Even if you wish to differentiate between a virtual body, such as an avatar or picture, and a genuine physical body, many of the effects are the same. The virtual rules and rights are increasingly reflecting the actual, further blurring the barriers between the two realms.
4. Virtual World’s Absence of Danger
While the traditional perspective of being able to discern between the real and the virtual by separating the mind and the body has been demonstrated to be erroneous, the concept of risk as a differentiating factor shows great potential.
The reasons for this include that danger can only be really experienced in the physical world without the intermediary virtual realm. Of course, certain dangers, such as financial risk and emotional risk, are feasible in the virtual world since these risks have identical, if slightly muted, implications.
However, the concept of bodily danger or terror is a trait that distinguishes the virtual from the real. Creating a virtual business with actual financial ramifications, for example, may appear to have the same characteristics as a real business, but there are distinctions.
All items may be evaluated, mapped, and made completely safe using the virtual environment before they are sold. Experiments can be carried out without endangering human life or property.
Aside from some of the same financial considerations of design expenses, the idea of risk is removed from the design process in many respects. In the virtual world, identities and attributes may be reused, re-hashed, or fully modified, reducing the chance of catastrophic failure.
However, arguably the most serious danger concern is that fear of physical damage is almost entirely absent in the virtual world. Emotions are still present, and a portion of us physically exists in cyberspace.
However, the hazards of bodily harm or property loss cannot be fully recognized in the virtual environment. In this sense, there are no hazards in the virtual world, although there are in the actual one.
It may also be observed in the rise of online dating and sexual play among people who would never engage in such activities in real life.
There are numerous groups of diverse role-players that act out fantasies that they would not do in real life in the fast-increasing virtual world known as Second Life (Linden Research Inc, 2007). This is not because it is hard for them to accomplish in real life (though some may be), but because of the risks involved.
The sentiments kids get from these encounters may be nearly comparable to what they would experience in real-world situations, but the key distinction is a risk.
While this does not influence the feeling in certain interactions, it does in others, such as those involved in pain or dominance fantasies. The risk component is what differentiates the virtual from the actual world.
5.1. What Are the Benefits of Being in The Virtual World?
The benefits of being in a virtual environment are as follows:
Everything is feasible. You may be a unicorn, fly like Superman, or be big and smash everything like the Hulk. There are no physical rules to follow.
You may experiment with extreme sensations without fear of repercussions: you can fly off a tower, die, and resurrect; you can personalize it to make you happy: real life is dull and full of issues. VR can be programmed to make you have a lot of friends, do exciting things all the time, and so on.
Some virtual worlds already exist (for example, Sansar and High Fidelity) However, in order to have anything similar to The Matrix.
5.2. What Is the Difference Between the Metaverse and Virtual Reality?
Both the Metaverse and Virtual Reality are tremendous technical advances, but Virtual Reality has technological limitations because it is exclusively about experiencing a virtual place and can only go so far.
It has no boundaries since it mixes many types of technology such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and others, all of which are combined into a full-fledged virtual environment in which your own digital avatar may wander and construct. A VR headset may be useful in many ways, but it is not required in this situation.
Virtual reality is typically limited to a fixed number of digital avatars, such as the number of players allowed by a gaming platform; however, the metaverse is an open virtual environment where anyone can travel, enjoy, and communicate with others in a shared virtual spaces across the entire internet; no boundaries are associated.
5.3. Will Virtual Reality Someday Replace Real Life?
It’s possible that our world is already virtual. If technological advancement continues at its current rate, we will soon be able to create virtual worlds that are indistinguishable from physical reality. Even if it takes 10,000 years, it is little in comparison to how long we have already been here.
If you examine the exponential tendency of technical growth seen throughout contemporary human history, it may happen considerably faster. If constructing virtual worlds is a natural, unavoidable component of human evolution, then we may already be on that route.
Instead of believing that this is the basic reality and that we are the first generation to go on to the next phase, it is more logical to suppose that our forefathers have already done so and that we are all simply copies living in a deterministic simulation.
While we currently live in a world where the actual and the virtual appear to be separate in most circumstances, this may be less true than we assume. The actual and virtual worlds of knowledge have grown indistinguishable, and new technologies have made the virtual world even more vast and believable.
Because of this development, it is now hard to distinguish our true physical identity from our virtual representation of ourselves in the virtual world.
However, one component that still distinguishes the virtual from the real is the idea of danger, which has yet to be completely realized inside the virtual world.
However, if virtual technology advances to the point where physical feelings can be completely experienced in the virtual world, then the actual risk to the body and other valuable goods will be feasible. If danger can be entirely duplicated in the virtual world, the two worlds appear to be nearly identical.