Virtual Reality: Fictional all the Way Down (and that’s OK)

Jesper Juul 1
  • 1 Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design,


Are virtual objects real? I will claim that the question sets us up for the wrong type of conclusion: Chalmers (2017) argues that a virtual calculator (like other entities) is a real calculator when it is “organizationally invariant” with its non-virtual counterpart—when it performs calculation. However, virtual reality and games are defined by the fact that they always selectively implement their source material. Even the most detailed virtual car will still have an infinite range of details which are missing (gas, engines, pistons, fuel, chemical reactions, molecules, atoms). This means that even the most detailed virtual object will still have fictional aspects. Rather than argue that virtual objects are, or aren’t, real, it is preferable to think of overlaps and continuities between the fictional and the real, where even the most painstakingly detailed virtual reality implementation of a non-virtual object is still art: a human process of selection and interpretation. Virtual reality should therefore not be philosophically understood just as a technological implementation on a trajectory to perfection, but as a cultural artifact which derives its value in part from its simplification and difference from its source material.

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