Do you consider that when you go online, you already immerse yourselves into a virtual reality?
This version, of course, is a shallow concept, and we are already in the infancy of what we would call true virtual experiences, but...the bones of this idea- the important part- have already been in the works for thousands of years. And by this, I mean the willingness- if not the need- for the mind to escape pure reality.
All stories are a virtual experience. They not only immerse our minds, but alter the way we see the world. They pull us away from actual reality and into a subjective perspective of reality. But so can things like romanticism, poetry, politics, idealism, plain misunderstandings, or desires that corrupt our ability to see what is in favor of what we want. I've kind of argued that with the rise of ubiquitous and deeply immersive forms of media interaction, we have increasingly been departing a true perspective of the actual world we live in for one that is narrated by both our own desires and perspectives and those external to us. We're already living- in part- in a fantasy world. We just believe that we known and understand what is real and what isn't.
However, what I was really thinking on was if writing, itself, can be so immersive as to pull the reader into a virtual existence. And I would say, resoundingly, YES, and I go back to the most powerful form of literature. Religious scriptures around the world.
Who can argue that religious interpretations have not shaped the world dramatically? And I think the reason for this is clear. In psychology and in policing (not sure if that is actually the term...) there is a thing called "bridge building". The mind is wired to construct things into a flowing narrative- a story. This is why you hear politicians always give answers in the form of a story and why news stories don't give you facts but stories. Stories are easier to digest. However, because of this, we tend to take a scattering of things and connect them in a way as makes- to our minds- the best or most acceptable story. If you read murder mysteries, you'll know that authors play with this feature of our minds- throwing us red-herrings or leading us on false trails because they know our instinctive nature is to immediately connect things and the more evident and "obvious" the connection, the better. Superstitious people who have "lucky rituals" often gain them by correlating this lucky action to a particular success in their past. They think that this action was vital to that success because they connected what was consciously evident to them, and so they repeat it and this belief can have an impact on their performance. The Roman' of old realized that the northern barbarians of the Nordic and hyperborean regions were so fierce in battle because they believed they were fighting for a place in an afterlife. Our beliefs create a virtual existence distinct from reality and, more so, we seem to be biologically inclined to live within an alternative reality. This alternative reality need not be so aloof from reality that one can be categorized as "clearly insane or extremely delusional", BUT we are all, to some degree, deluded.
Odin, the Norse God of the Nordic peoples, had been a avid, ruthless pursuer of power, but he prized, above all, magic power. This magic was not necessarily the fantastic sort such as can be found in the likes of Harry Potter series. Odin sought, among things, runes. Runes were written symbols and symbols have great, great, great power. Like letters and numbers. Imagine our world without these things. It shows you the irreplaceable importance of communication. But not only that, it is the projection of ideas. What is the law but a collection of ideas that we believe are real? Our belief in the law modifies our action. If a court makes a decision, we must obey it because it is lawful. We believe things that are written down because we associate formal writing with truth and sophistication. When we want to be or appear truthful, we adopt this vernacular to be more convincing.
Looking on this, I realized that the most convincing stories- the most immersive virtual existences- where those of the ideological, political, or social context. Ones that create a simile of real life, but altered just so much to achieve a desired reality. Religion is like this. And I come to this because I think that people do not understand that religion is not just about Gods, spirits, and death. It is the veneration of an idea. A person can be in the "religion of democracy, of communism, or ambition, or sex, or dog-eat-dog, or self-love, etc". I think religion is so powerful because I believe we are not inherently logical. Some are born with a predisposition to be more logical than others, but we are all instinctual and emotional. Logic is what comes with time and experience and knowledge and we learn to discipline ourselves against our impulsive and emotional inclinations. But these instincts and emotions are the rawest part of our natures- the truest part- and no matter how logical we consider ourselves to be, our instincts and desires are more powerful. Because of this, these are why stories have so much power. Stories reach into that desire beneath the armor of logic and reason. They connect with that visceral, vital, searing furnace of energy of emotions, desires, instincts, dreams, and such that we try to put a suit and tie over. Why do so many people believe so many strange stories? They can't help it. While we may point at one person and mock them for their idiotic beliefs, we, ourselves, believe our own set of idiotic beliefs, but in classic form, there's always a reason or excuse why or delusions are better.
But, you see, this is the power of storytelling. This is the power of a thing that has grown men dressing as Jedi's and people more or less convinced that at some level there is something called ESP or psychic awareness and they can "feel" a person out. This construction of narrative is what the most successful con-men, advertisers, speakers, lawyers, and such dwell upon. It is why people make bad decisions- because they were drawn into a narrative of reality rather than reality itself, and they were drawn because the narrative appealed to their desires. How many young kids are wooed into paying for ridiculous degrees in the earnest desire to secure a future for themselves? How many people get into problematic relationships because they were either fed a narrative or constructed their own. Maybe they were told how great this or that is by a friend, an authoritative figure, etc.
I hope the point is getting through- if, indeed, it is valid. Stories are awesomely powerful. They are like spells- some being immediately potent while others work you over time. The need and the desire to not live in bare reality is exceedingly potent. And it was because of this that I was putting so much thought into making a world that was...just as powerful. Not an escape, but...a "reality". Not something you imagined or entertained yourself with, something that you changed your life by. A tale so powerful because you didn't think it was a tale at all...you thought it was the truth. The secret truth of all existence hidden in a paperback. The current constructors of the virtual experience are appealing to sensory immersion in order to bring their world to life, but I think this- while at some point necessary- is actually the least important. Make a person desire the virtual experience above all- get them to believe, ideologically, that this experience is more real than reality- and they will smell the salt from an unreal sea whether it's their or not. They will imagine the reality in the fathoms of color and smell in a rose that never, ever was. They will know the scope of the universes and the infinite verses beyond that...if they believe they do.
When will virtual reality get here? It is older than the oldest history. Can writing create a powerful virtual experience? Writing is a powerful, virtual experience. What do I need to do to make the greatest story ever told? A person must believe your writing is the greatest story ever told. Simple, good writer.