It is good to understand that the technical and artistic development of interactive virtual worlds is establishing, not just a interesting live location for 3D graphics, but a unique new medium. The value of a new medium, as opposed to simply a new venue, is that a new medium may enable expressions of beauty and meaning in ways that may not have been easy or even possible before. Perhaps the new language which is developed for the medium will make possible expressions which have the quality of furthering the thinking and feeling of people of this time, and representing a unique and historically characteristic understanding of the universal themes of our existence.
Suppose we think of this new medium more pragmatically as if it were a new musical instrument. Certain musical instruments are more effective at playing pieces in certain genres and 'styles'. If history is examined, often the particular style and its body of definitive works emerges because of the development of a new instrument or some technical advancement or variation of a previous one. The piano, electric guitar, synthesizer, and the computer, are examples. Due to the technical advances mentioned earlier we now have a new 'instrument' for our artistic purposes. We are at the stage of beginning to play more than simple exercises on this new instrument, and we are just beginning to hear and create the new pieces which will define and popularize a new genre and 'style'.
As with any new medium the audience will be built in stages as the ability to 'read' the works of the medium spreads throughout the culture. It is only now that the first examples can emerge that embody a new expressive grammar and vocabulary rather than relying on some restatement in interactive virtual terms of a set of grammars from the previously established media. These first works will also demonstrate the way to 'read' the artistic experience expressed in the new language.
The essence of this new language of interactive worlds is that it can present experiences similar to 'life' itself, but also with no sensory or material limitations, and hence no need to imitate what we charmingly refer to as 'reality'. The medium shares with cinema and theatre the ability to create a 'suspension of disbelief', a sort of Dream existence, but with an important difference. Unlike cinema and theatre we are able to maintain Will and maintain a self-navigating causal identity able to affect and modify our Dream-like experience.
Perhaps the new medium may help to break the final empty illusion of our time, that life is a finite sequence of linearly time-ordered experiences. We can only wonder what transformations will take place on this new stage of virtual worlds. What concepts and emotions and subtle aspects of interior character will its viewers discover and rehearse there again and again for beneficial use in a future existence outside of time.
Mark Rudolph is an interactive 3D artist and director, a Java designer and musician. He worked at Silicon Graphics in California as a VRML director and Java designer, and later founded the design and production company 'Lucid Actual.' He is involved in Web3D Consortium X3D design and arts activities, and heads a research project in interactive 3D funded by the Canadien NRC (National Research Council). He also has a Ph.D in Mathematics.