Last month, on my birthday, I watched “The Martian” on the moon. I went surfing in Hawaii. I flew over an active volcano. My family gets me! Well, sort of. It was breathtaking, but very, very safe. I tried to jam a pencil into the lava flow – next best thing to poking hot lava with a stick, right? – and that’s where the illusion, slightly pixellated, ended. I stopped just short of impaling my thigh. The only heat came from a spot just over my nose and eyes, where my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 was working overtime to run the Samsung Gear VR – Virtual Reality Headset unit I’d snapped it into.
The key to virtual reality isn’t creating the perfect illusion. The key is enabling viewers, like readers of fiction, to suspend disbelief long enough to immerse themselves in the experience of the environment or story and to forget, momentarily, that it is not a rational or realistic experience. It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who coined the term:
Poetry and fiction involving the supernatural had gone out of fashion to a large extent in the 18th century, in part due to the declining belief in witches and other supernatural agents among the educated classes, who embraced the rational approach to the world offered by the new science….Coleridge wished to revive the use of fantastic elements in poetry. The concept of “willing suspension of disbelief” explained how a modern, enlightened audience might continue to enjoy such types of story.
“… It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth on the other hand was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us …”
A human interest and a semblance of truth that lets the viewer, or the reader, play along, as a child plays “make believe.” For children, it’s easy. As we grow older, it takes a bit more skill from the writer, or the filmmaker, or the producer of virtual worlds. As we grow older, still, it comes down to motivation – that occasional desire, or need, to be lifted out of the ordinary and transported to other worlds when all we can afford, in time or money, is a staycation and the price of a book, a movie, or a virtual reality headset. Looking at it this way, is it any wonder that multiplayer video games and virtual environments, like Second Life, are popular? In a grown-up world that’s all too real – where we’re supposed to have outgrown the need – it’s a socially acceptable way for our inner children to meet and say, “Let’s play make believe…”
 Wikipedia contributors, “Suspension of disbelief,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Suspension_of_disbelief&oldid=716301850 (accessed April 28, 2016).
Latest posts by HollyJahangiri (see all)
- A Brand New Blog with a Fresh Perspective! - September 15, 2017
- If We Were Having Coffee, I’d Tell You to #WriteBravely… - August 12, 2017
- A Taste of Home for the Next Generation (Interview with Sapna Anu George) - August 9, 2017