think about what it really means. The strong meaning of the term is simply self-contradictory(arealitythatisthatisn’t),butactuallythetermismostoftenusedassynonymouswith‘digital’or computerized. A ‘virtual bank’, for instance, simply means a bank on the Internet, not abank that provides you with fake money. This is the weak meaning of the term, as MichaelHeim pointed out (Ref. 2, p. 5). For Heim, Virtual Reality is simply a type of presentationaltechnology, an advanced form of interface, involving visual feedback derived from bodymovement, and three-dimensional (3D) graphics that simulate realistic surroundings of somekind.However, even if we abandon extracting an analytic meaning from ‘virtual reality’ (andmany researchers have, and instead use terms like synthetic environments or virtual worlds),there might still be some use for the concept of virtuality, if we can manage to deﬁne it ina way that is useful and not too hair-splitting.What kinds of phenomena does the term illuminate? Can anything be virtualized? Let metry to answer ﬁrst by pointing to a class of objects that cannot have virtual counterparts. Thesearephenomenathatexistprimarilyonametaphysicallevel.Takefriendshipforinstance.Thereis no such thing as a virtual friendship. You are either a friend, or not a friend. There are, of course, many degrees and kinds of friendship. In addition, false friends do exist, but they arenot virtual friends. They fall into the category of ‘not friends’. So ‘virtual’ is not the same as‘fake’.Another problematic phrase is that of the ‘virtual community’. This term is much used, butwhat does it mean? Perhaps a social structure that displays many of the symptoms of acommunity, but isn’t quite a community after all? The term is not used, as one might imagine,about artiﬁcial communities in a computer simulation (e.g.
), but about online meetingplaces where long conversations, romances, and friendships are developed and maintained. Itis almost a paradox that the people, such as Howard Rheingold, who most strongly advocatethe beneﬁts of these ‘virtual communities’
– which they often describe as better than oldfashioned, local communities – should use this term. For, while the differences between theonline and the local communities are mainly geographical distance and the medium of socialization, these properties are not what communities are based on. It seems to me that touse the term ‘virtual community’ privileges the physical (distance and medium) above thespiritual, and therefore, in effect, belittles the communities one tries to promote. An onlinecommunity, judging by the glowing acclaims by Rheingold
., is just as valuable to itsmembers as any other type of community, and therefore there can be nothing virtual aboutit. The word virtual is used in this context, I suspect, as in many others, simply because it isa fancier synonym for ‘computerized’ and not because the activities in the online communitiesare only virtually social.This list of unfruitful uses of ‘virtual’ could go on and on, but that is not very fruitful either.So let us examine what virtuality can offer as a descriptive term for something that cannot bedescribedjustaswell,orbetter,bycomputerized,digital,online,etc.Whattypesofphenomenaaremeaningfullydescribedasvirtual?Thisisabigquestion,notsuitedtoanexhaustiveanswerhere. I will instead point to a central group: whose systems are dynamic representations of anartiﬁcial world. There may be other meaningful uses of the concept of virtuality, but in therest of this paper I will conﬁne my arguments to this group. They could also be called(computer) simulations, but sometimes (e.g. a fantasy world) there exists no real counterpart