A Brief History of Virtual Worlds – the Sumerian Period

1956.  Morton Heilig creates the Sensorama, a multisensory hardware device, resembling one of today’s arcade machines.  Patented in 1961, it places the person in a one viewer world full of color films, motion, sound, wind and smells.

1968. Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) launch the creation of virtual reality applications.  The Sword of Damocles is widely considered to be the first VR and augmented reality (AR) head-mounted display system.

1975.  MUDs and MOOs were the first text based virtual worlds.  This is all before Doom, Ultima, Rouge or even Zork, before Second Life, and World of Warcraft.

1982.  Tron was the first CGI based full length motion picture visualizing immersion.  Steven Lisberger wrote and directed Tron.  This is virtuality, in other words, where virtual and reality come together as a visualization that immerses.

1986.  Habitat from Lucas Films is the first on-line commercial game-based virtual world connecting avatars.  This was a role-playing game.  Randy Farmer and Chip Morningstar were the pioneers.

1992. Snow Crash offered the “multiverse” as a vision. This vision would succeed at envisioning what happens after the Internet — a world in which we could not tell the difference between real and virtual. Either you were a player or you’re not.  Sounds a lot like today.

1995.  Alpha World combines social interaction and content creation.  Alpha World has slowly morphed into Active Worlds.  Nice way to stick around, change your name, and keep on creating content.

1998.  Bruce Damer produces Avatars 98 and economical conferences in virtual environments begins.  It was built in Alpha World, where users simultaneously navigate and interact in a trade show conference, an art gallery, a webcam wall, a worlds portal.  This sounds so normal now.

2005.  Second Life.  This is not a note about when it was created, but a note that not only did Phillip Rosedale take content creation to the next level, but in September 2005 alone, commercializing digital goods equaled $3,596,674 USD and it’s still climbing.

2007.  Open Source decentralized development, enabling convergence.  Open Cobalt, Open Wonderland and OpenSim.  Business models notwithstanding, this is an opportunity for creativity.

We are at the five year point now in looking backwards, and very few people have NOT seen a virtual world, if they are on the Internet.  Why?  Virtual Worlds are everywhere: they are twitter, email, texting, contact lists, e-bay, facebook, youtube. And as a 3D interface, they are Second Life, Open Sim, Club Penguin, InWorldz and on and on, as K-Zero points out.

Why are virtual worlds increasing in importance as the interface of the future?   Our brain requires 3D to process information effectively.  There is no text in nature, and biology rules our adaption.  Currently, our brain compensates and we create the familiar as we move from one virtual scene to the next. It doesn’t matter how realistic the environment is, how many polygons it supports.  What is real is the social connection, the visualization ability and the amazing creativity unleashed   And, because our avatars move through the environment, they create visual pleasure, through the use of buildings, landscaping, clothing, water sources – it’s amazing.

The history has just begun, and we are in the early stages of it that is to say the Sumerian stage.

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