Elizabeth Reid Steere

Cultural Formations in Text-Based Virtual Realities

Elizabeth Reid
University of Melbourne, 1994

Beginning with an understanding of virtual reality as an imaginative experience and thus a cultural construct rather than a technical construction, this thesis discusses cultural and social issues raised by interaction on 'MUDs', which are text-based virtual reality systems run on the international computer network known as the Internet. MUD usage forces users to deconstruct many of the cultural tools and understandings that form the basis of more conventional systems of interaction. Unable to rely on physical cues as a channel of meaning, users of MUDs have developed ways of substituting for or by-passing them, resulting in novel methods of textualising the non-verbal. The nature of the body and sexuality are problematised in these virtual environments, since the physical is never fixed and gender is a self-selected attribute. In coming to terms with these aspects of virtual interaction, new systems of significance have been developed by users, along with methods of enforcing that cultural hegemony through power structures dependent upon manipulation of the virtual environment.