by Mark Rudolph, Ph. D.
The new medium of interactive virtual worlds is currently at that critical point of development when all the technical means now exist to enable the definition of the unique 'language' of the medium. It is at a similar point as cinema was about ninety years ago when directors discovered the freedom of time and space made possible by film editing, and the ability to merge interior thought and exterior action into a seamless whole. The language of cinema became defined by a grammar of 'montage' instead of a flow of continuous experience within the bounds of Aristotelean dramatic unities.
The language of this new medium will be based on a non-linear topology for narrative navigation and discovery, as well as active participation within the flow of action instead of a passive witnessing. The artistic nature of the medium allows for an interactive weaving of many sensory threads able to create a powerful 'suspension of disbelief' perhaps even more powerful than cinema since it is able to provide willful activity and discovery within a cluster of retraceable yet changing paths, a condition which mimics the experience of 'life' itself. In addition the experience can be shared 'live' with other participants as well as fictional 'characters' sometimes indistinguishable from living participants.
The primary basis and most sophisticated development of this new medium is the combination of VRML (Virtual Reality modelling Language) and Java, but I would like to discuss the technical and artistic basis of the medium in general terms.