Introduction

Virtual reality is typically defined as three-dimensional, simulated alternate worlds or realities that are enabled through real-time animation generated by a computer and controlled by a user with a stereoscopic head-mounted display (HMD) and wired gloves or position tracking software and hardware (Coates, 1992; Greenbaum, 1992; Krueger, 1991).

However, virtual realities embody much more than just the technology that enables us to enter virtual worlds that are separate from our everyday lives.  ‘The key to defining virtual reality in terms of human experience rather than technological hardware is the concept of presence’ (Steuer, 1993).  Rather than defining virtual reality by software and hardware, it makes more sense to understand it as the perceptions of our surroundings in mediated i.e. a generated, virtual environment, rather than our immediate physical environment.

Social Informatics is the study of design, uses and consequences of information communication technologies (Kling, 1999) as well as their impacts on society and society’s impact on technology (Williams and Edge, 1996; Sawyer, 2005).  Since virtual reality can theoretically allow us to generate worlds and defy physics and morality, it creates a wealth of ideas and problems to discuss within the lens of social informatics.

To understand the impact that society has on a technology it’s important to trace its history back to its origins so we can see how the technology has evolved over time in response to the needs and wants of society.

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