Virtual reality, a term coined by computer programmer Jaron Lanier in 1988, has been used to describe a variety of methods for turning computers into something other than glorified typewriters. The phrase conjures up images of people plugging into their computers with display goggles and interactive controllers that allow them to experience and move within artificial environments in ways similar to—or utterly different than—those of the real world.
As Lanier originally meant it, and as many people understood it, the term VR is a shorthand way of referring to a combination of highspeed computers, advanced programming techniques, and interactive devices designed to make computer users feel they have stepped into another world—a world constructed of computer data. There even is a form of Web-based virtual reality that has been around, in one form or another, since the mid-1990s—VRML, the Virtual Reality Modeling Language that allows Web surfers to manipulate three-dimensional objects or move through on-screen worlds with mouse, trackball, or joystick. Over a brief time, though, other people began using the terms virtual reality and VR for just about every type of computerized presentation of data, including text-only multiple-user dungeons, or MUDS, and the chat rooms of the World Wide Web.