Virtual Reality: Where It All Began & How It Has Evolved

To understand how we have arrived at where virtual reality is today, it helps to look back at where it all began and how it has evolved.

You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been

This famous English proverb certainly applies to virtual reality, which is an idea that has been around for more than half a century.

Morton Heilig's Sensorama

Morton Heilig’s Sensorama

In 1962, Morton Heilig (often deemed to be the father of VR) built the prototype of the Sensorama. It was a rather large contraption in which one faced a screen that displayed stereoscopic, 3D images. The device included sound, smell, vibration, and wind. This pioneering effort attempted something that is only now becoming possible: the ability of technology to transport us experientially to a different place.

In 1984, William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer hit the shelves. It is widely credited with popularizing the term “cyberspace” and giving real shape to the concept of VR by making the Web a habitable place and turning computing into an all-sensory experience.

Unsurprisingly, the motion picture industry has brought the world numerous movies that have focused on VR. A classic one is The Lawnmower Man, a 1992 film starring Pierce Brosnan and based on a story by Stephen King. Featuring then-innovative special effects, it positioned its hero as an ordinary man who became a genius through the use of VR.

Then in 1999, the Wachowski Brothers and Warner Bros. Pictures debuted The Matrix, which along with two sequels grossed north of $1.63 billion worldwide. The movies portrayed VR as a powerful tool in the hands of villains, but truly illustrated the all-immersive power of virtual reality.

The video game industry certainly plays a key role in VR’s backstory, too. In the 1990s, those involved in virtual reality believed critical mass was soon to be at hand when Sega and Nintendo each created gaming headsets. Sega’s did not move beyond the prototype stage, while Nintendo’s was limited by the graphics technology at the time. Still, these offerings all created a foundation upon which VR as we know it today – and as it will develop in the future – was built.

In 2016, VR is much better understood to be a powerful tool that can be applied to a broad range of stories, anything in which a physically immersive experience that is highly portable could be useful, enjoyable, important, or interesting.

And most of all, as history will show in the not-too-distant future, VR is going to be a true game-changer for brands and all the marketing and communications pros who work with them.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s VR playbook – Let’s Break Tradition: Virtual Reality in Public Relations. For more information about VR and PR, contact: Jeff Melton, SVP, Global Technology & Platforms | e: jeff.melton@mslgroup.com | p: 1 (646) 500-7740