A semiotic analysis of virtual reality

Wayne D Belanger, Salve Regina University


The research question addressed by this dissertation is: How might semiotics (i.e., the study of signs) assist in understanding the cultural and possible political ramifications behind virtual reality? Because human culture is an expansive subject, the proposed research specifically assesses it in terms of virtual empiricism, which is the difficulty associated with interpreting meaning from cultural interactions and subsequent experiences with the signs of virtual reality media. Virtual empiricism concerns the dependency between the mind of an observer and the phenomena produced by virtual reality technology (VRT), when considered as signs which resemble real-world objects. VRT is viewed as a sign system similar to language. As an idea, language has comprised the first form of virtual reality. As a technology, virtual reality forms a bridge between human senses and computer outputs. Because the relationship between general media and culture is complex, the use of an analytical tool is necessary to understand its workings. Semiotics is an effective means by which to analyze virtual empiricism because it acknowledges meaning derived from both this technology's content and its unique expression. A semiotic analysis will be conducted here on three types of case studies, including cinema, advertising and video gaming. Virtual empiricism is further examined in terms of phenomenology and symbolic realism because the meanings derived from virtual reality technology's signs are interconnected with perceptions and social interactions. The examination reveals a capitalist ethos that pervades VRT manifested as the dual thread of competition and consumption. This ethos has ideological ramifications in that it assists in the forging of an unequivocally secularized world-view. Capitalist ethos is exposed as a motivating agent behind the meaning of virtual reality technology's signs. It is further revealed that by championing alternatively false renditions of mythology, capitalist ethos clashes with and tends to trivialize the guiding principles of traditional myths. In conclusion, the analysis reveals a tightly coupled synergism between the signs of virtual reality and culture, which, precipitated by the underlying capitalist ethos, distorts the significance of tradition.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Mass communications

Recommended Citation

Belanger, Wayne D, "A semiotic analysis of virtual reality" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI3376468.

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