This project has received funding from the European
Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon
2020 research and innovation programme.
Grant agreement No. 834033 AN-ICON.

2022 Presence




Virtual reality and pictorial seeing

Grant Tavinor Lincoln University, New Zealand

When philosophers have approached virtual reality, they have almost always done so through the lens of metaphysics, asking questions about the reality of virtual objects and worlds, about the value of such things, and indeed, about how they may reshape our understanding of the “real” world. In this paper I argue that this approach is fundamentally mistaken and that much of the cultural and metaphysical hype around virtual reality is undeserved. But this does not mean that virtual reality is illusory or uninteresting; on the contrary, it is significant for the altogether different reason that it overturns our understanding of how representational media can function and what we can use them to achieve. VR is a picturing technology, and stereoscopic VR headsets involve a kind of picturing in which users see visual scenes through a depictive surface. However, a problem for this account is to explain whether and how VR visual media involve a kind of “seeing in” typical of some “twofold” theories of picture perception, given that virtual media differ in certain important respects from other pictures. I will argue that these differences can be accommodated by a theory of VR picturing, but that this accommodation may necessitate changing our assumptions about how pictures can function.

Grant Tavinor is senior lecturer in philosophy at Lincoln University, New Zealand. He is author of The Art of Videogames (Wiley, 2009) and The Aesthetics of Virtual Reality (Routledge, 2021), the editor with Jon Robson of The Aesthetics of Videogames (Routledge, 2018), and has published various other papers and book chapters on digital technology and aesthetics.