Definitions of Terms Used in This Blog

Image by PDPics on Pixabay

I think it’s time we settled on a few definitions of terms used frequently in this blog.

Virtual World

virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment which may be populated by many users who can create a personal avatar (see definition below), and simultaneously and independently explore the virtual world, participate in its activities and communicate with others. (Source: Wikipedia)

Celia Pearce, Bobby Blackburn, and Carl Symborski, in their Virtual Worlds Survey Report (2015), write about six key features that all virtual worlds share:

There are many different types of virtual worlds; however, according to Virtual Worlds experts from both academia and industry, virtual worlds have the following features in common:

  1. Shared Space: the world allows many users to participate at once.
  2. Graphical User Interface: the world depicts space visually, ranging in style from 2D “cartoon” imagery to more immersive 3D environments.
  3. Immediacy: interaction takes place in real time.
  4. Interactivity: the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content.
  5. Persistence: the world’s existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in.
  6. Socialization/Community: the world allows and encourages the formation of in-world social groups like teams, guilds, clubs, cliques, housemates, neighborhoods, etc.


The metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe. The term was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional space that uses the metaphor of the real world. (Source: Wikipedia)


An avatar is the graphical representation of the user or the user’s alter ego or character in a virtual world. (Source: Wikipedia)

This figure can be customized to a large extent; indeed, people often put a lot of time and care into how they are represented in virtual worlds.

Second Life avatar
An example of a Second Life avatar

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside (i.e. a VR headset or head-mounted display/HMD) and hand controllers. Virtual reality implies a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world, as opposed to augmented reality (see next definition). (Source: modified definition based on one taken from the Google Dictionary)

It is only within the past couple of years that VR headsets and hand controllers have become readily available to consumers, notably the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive products. It is anticipated that within the next decade, VR will reach wider mainstream adoption, especially as prices for the equipment continue to drop and as the number of applications continues to rise. While games and entertainment will form much of that market, business and educational uses of VR are expected to be an important application.

Note: sometimes, people loosely use the term “virtual reality” when discussing virtual worlds which do not support users in VR headsets. This usage of the term is becoming less common, but it can be found in older literature about virtual worlds.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. (Source: Google Dictionary)

Examples of augmented reality technology include the Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap One headsets.

Social VR

I’ve already written about how I’m not happy with most of the definitions of the term “social VR” that I have seen on the internet, so I decided to write my own:

Social VR (social virtual reality) is a 3-dimensional computer-generated space which must support visitors in VR headsets (and may also support non-VR users). The user is represented by an avatar. The purpose of the platform must be open-ended, and it must support communication between users sharing the same space. In almost all social VR platforms, the user is free to move around the space, and the content of the platform is completely or partially user-generated.