Sign In

Communications of the ACM


It Is Time to Let Go of 'Virtual Reality'

word-based image of terms related to virtual reality and mixed reality

Credit: Alicia Kubista / Andrij Borys Associates

It seems as if the list of terms used to describe immersive experiences—here we use "immersive" very broadly to refer to computer systems that do not use a traditional 2D display plus keyboard and mouse interface—multiplies daily. At the IEEE Virtual Reality conference held in March 2023, one needed only to look at the titles of the workshops to see a representative sample: The terms virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), eXtended reality (XR), inter-reality, immersive environments, and metaverse all appeared. (We acknowledge that the "metaverse" generally refers to some or all of a cluster of technologies—not only VR/AR, but networked sociality, interoperability, NFTs, and more—but note it normally assumes the use of AR/VR for presentation.) The workshops at the 2022 ISMAR Symposium added mixed reality (MR) and cross-reality (CR). This proliferation of terms is not without consequences: Researchers may be unable to find relevant research, their own research may have limited impact, or there may be disagreement over what is or is not in scope for a given publication venue; practitioners may not be able to find relevant research and may not be able to market their products or solutions effectively; the average end user is left to scratch their head in confusion and, too often, throw their hands up in frustration. These harmful consequences undercut the progress and potential of this research community and contribute to the simmering "VR is dead" discourse.

Augmented reality—and virtual reality—are subtypes of mixed reality.

We believe there is a way out of this unfortunate situation. As it stands, there is a large and increasing number of competing and overlapping fiefdoms. We propose to unite them under one organizing principle, to the benefit of all. In Skarbez et al., we argued the term "mixed reality" should include all of what has traditionally been carved out as "virtual reality."3 This column seems to us the natural consequence of the argument begun in the previous work. Note that while we specifically argue for the utility of mixed reality as the organizing and unifying concept, we believe the principle—the field would be better served if we could harmonize our discordant voices—is more important than "winning" the terminology war.


No entries found

Log in to Read the Full Article

Sign In

Sign in using your ACM Web Account username and password to access premium content if you are an ACM member, Communications subscriber or Digital Library subscriber.

Need Access?

Please select one of the options below for access to premium content and features.

Create a Web Account

If you are already an ACM member, Communications subscriber, or Digital Library subscriber, please set up a web account to access premium content on this site.

Join the ACM

Become a member to take full advantage of ACM's outstanding computing information resources, networking opportunities, and other benefits.

Subscribe to Communications of the ACM Magazine

Get full access to 50+ years of CACM content and receive the print version of the magazine monthly.

Purchase the Article

Non-members can purchase this article or a copy of the magazine in which it appears.