Virtual reality as a mass or massive medium

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Joan Deppa


mass media

Subject Categories

Mass Communication


Virtual reality is a nascent communication technology that is in the early stages of adoption. This dissertation defines and illustrates virtual reality, then proceeds to make an assessment of this impact in several key areas. Finally, it suggests a research agenda that enhances understanding, maximizes benefits and minimizes any drawbacks of this emerging technology.

In defining and illustrating virtual reality, the works of a number of early virtual reality scholars and innovators are reviewed, as are a range of portrayals of virtual reality in existing mass media. Further, virtual reality and pseudo-virtual reality products are examined. In addition, a survey of those working closely with and greatly interested in virtual reality is presented. This survey, conducted on volunteers subscribing to the Usenet "Virtual Worlds" discussion group, provides a description of the view of and attitude toward virtual reality held by the respondents.

This is followed by a systematic review of mass communication and other related theory, and an attempt to see what it implies about virtual reality, and vice versa. One major conclusion is that virtual reality may be a "massive" medium, related to, but distinct from, traditional mass media. Subsequently, specific discussion of economic and safety aspects of virtual reality is presented. The economic aspects primarily relate to level and rate of adoption of virtual reality and its economic support structure. The safety aspects focus on addiction and behavioral/attitudinal change, as well as physiological impact, such as decreased physical activity or repetitive motion injury, that will affect that way virtual reality is perceived, accepted and used.

All of this leads into a research agenda that anticipates virtual reality joining the mix of media in society and attempts to provide an informed approach to understanding the role it will play. In examining virtual reality from a mass communication perspective, it is hoped that the author can provide a solid foundation for future inquiry as virtual reality becomes more widely available.


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