There are countless disciplines that discuss 3D virtual worlds, realities, interfaces, and spaces. Individuals in art, engineering, film, architecture, psychology, computer science, science fiction, and many, many more have all taken a turn at unlocking the future of virtual space. This list draws from them all to help designers of virtual spaces, those who not only model, code, and theorize, but also are willing to reach across disciplines and make leaps of faith.
There is an order to the readings; each section somewhat addresses issues found in its predecessor.
A Problematic Space
Bartles takes a common step of equating worlds with games which alters the nature of his answers. The issues he raises, however, remain interesting when viewed outside of game design. In the second text, D'Orazio playfully deconstructs the media landscape, the hype machine, and notes that the web became streams - not spaces. He also poses a simple question by RT@doeko, "what problem are we solving?”, which still lacks a good answer.
Manovich declares that copying reality is THE goal for most developers and this in turn situates the problems they focus on. Comically, these often brilliant developers focus on realism because they understand no other option. In context then, understanding your attachment to realism is required for successful VR design. Manovich offers good overview of issues and fun connections, as the history Society of Motion Picture Engineers is nearly interchangeable with the Association of Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. A deep dive into his sources and into game design (posted in the following sections) can help you go further.
Lastly is Benedikt, and you should buy the book...
Breaking the Myth of Total Cinema
Early movies strove to be a domain of perfect simulation, an immersive VR experience of total cinema. The editing of reality through jump cuts, close-ups, and flash backs was an unknown language needing to be discovered, developed and shared. The texts above offer insights into that process and the conceptual leaps filmmakers faced. Now, one hundred years later, this process of learning to edit reality reemerges in the domain of virtual space. Narrative is next explored in the lens of game design.
Videogames: Narrative & Interaction
The roles and relationships between interactivity and narrative form a foundation for much of conventional game design. While the days of academic contention between interactivity and narrative are largely over. It is clear that narrative and interactivity can clash within a game, and a good designer negotiates them to be mutually supportive. The first book listed, Half Real closes this past academic discussion in a reframing of the issue as rules and fiction. The second book, Fundamentals of Game Design situates them in a larger context for novice game designers. Combined the two articles offer insights into interactive and narrative conflicts as well as strategies for resolution from a game designer's and an academic's respective viewpoints.
Despite the ubiquitous nature of narrative and interactive theory in game studies, the matter has not (apparently) ever been used to describe the challenges of designing useful virtual worlds. The act of play and storybook otherworldness of games does trend away from concepts of practical, purposeful virtual spaces - and yet the multi-layered conflict between narrative and interaction is a major issue in the design of the virtual. The last text is an attempt pull HCI and usability issues out of videogames and is a starting point for understanding the role and conflicts of narrative and interactivity within the virtual. In the following section, computer scientists lean into interactivity and numerical evaluation, while later literary scholars hit on narrative, immersion, language, and signs.
Computer Science: A Numbers Game
Theirs is a data driven approach, Scheiderman being an extension of common HCI/Usability practices and Bowman hitting the user's movement in 3D as a means to control an interface. On the latter, it’s curious to note the abundance of science-fiction stories with table-top 3D holographic gestural interfaces. Only a handful of stories look to innovative interfaces within HMD's (Head Mounted Displays) despite the readily available technology.
Stories, Languages, & Signs
Narrative is the domain of signs and signifiers, to which the virtual owes much. Yet if the virtual truly maps (or merges) to the physical - from whence will referents arise? Granted, Post Structuralism is academically no longer the cat's pajama's, but frankly Post Humanism currently seems less helpful in the construction of virtual space.
Architects and Big Ideas
As a discipline, Architects seem to take great conceptual leaps which land them in other disciplines speaking an vibrant alien language.
Art, Community & Social Context
A mix of artist reflections, ideas, and some early thoughts.
Books, because we still like them...
Cyberspace: First Steps offers great articles on VR, some - like Benedikt's poetic writings and exploration of Isovists, are conceptually rich. Other articles serve as ground zero for many ideas you see today. If you dislike people reinventing the wheel, this book at least records the start of the wheel's technological turn. Space Between People documents some wonderful looking work in SecondLife circa 2008. By 2010, most of the sites listed had been taken down. The book Snowcrash is not listed as William Gibson dark abstract view of cyberspace is a substantially better starting point for developing both VR and pizza delivery.
Long before the Oculus Rift, Computers, Cinema, Photography, Panoramic Paintings ... there was the Camera Obscura
Described as early as 470 BC, by Chinese philosopher Mozi, this technology was known to Aristotle, Euclid, Ibn al-Haitham, and Leonardo da Vinci. Below is one account of early VR, note that despite the language, this application echoes how many today see the medium.
Natural Magick, Chapter 17 "Of Strange Glasses" - Giambattista della Porta (1537-1615)
"Now for a conclusion I will add that, then which nothing can be more pleasant for great men, and scholars, and ingenious persons to behold. That in a dark chamber by white sheets objected, one may see as clearly and perspicuously, as if they were before his eyes, huntings, banquets, armies of enemies, plays, and all things else that one desires. Let there be over against that chamber, where you desire to represent things, some spacious plain, where the sun can freely shine. Upon that you shall set trees in order, also woods, mountains, rivers, and animals that are really so, or made by art, of wood, or some other matter. You must frame little children in them, as we use to bring them in when comedies are acted. And you must counterfeit Stags, Boar, Rhinocerets, Elephants, Lions, and what other creatures you please. Then by degrees they must appear, as coming out of their dens, upon the plain. The hunter must come with his hunting pole, nets, arrows, and other necessaries, that may represent hunting. Let there be horns, Cornets, and trumpets sounded. Those that are in the chamber shall see trees, animals, hunters faces, and all the rest so plainly, that they cannot tell wether they be true or delusions."