How Does Virtual Reality Work? Your Guide to the Technology of the Future

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Virtual reality has been a staple of science fiction books and films for decades, and these mediums have yet to lose their fascination with it over the years. Shows like Black Mirror and novels such as Ready Player One all focus on the incredible potential found in virtual reality. However, the inevitable day has finally come, and science fiction has become science fact. Though it’s mainly used for video games at this time, other uses for the technology have already formed or are underway; the future of the world may have very well been changed forever by the invention of these gadgets. But how does virtual reality work?

What Is Virtual Reality?

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty details of how VR functions, it might be helpful to go over what really constitutes a virtual reality experience. Virtual reality is the attempt to create a totally digital environment which users can explore and interact with by wearing certain headsets, glasses, or goggles that project images that fill the user’s field of view and thus create a totally immersive experience. In other words, virtual reality simulations essentially construct digital worlds that you can function in and manipulate in various ways. Generally, these computer-generated worlds are produced by PCs and smartphones.

While at this point the capabilities in VR are very limited, great strides are being made in the field to allow you to have more control over the digital environment and simulate more realistic experiences. Likewise, like any gaming system, the graphics (computer-generated animation and imagery) are always being experimented with in attempts to improve realism and believability. While there’s still a long way to go, there’s also been a lot of progress; some VR systems come with controls and sensors that pick up hand movement, allowing you to engage in sword fights, drive cars, grab, throw, and grip just like in the real world.

Virtual Reality Systems

How does virtual reality work? While that question may have a generalized answer, the truth is that different systems use different technology to generate their computer-generated environments. Some VR systems make use of smartphones to create their digital worlds; others use PCs. You may have heard of some of the most popular systems, such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Even Playstation has their own virtual reality system that’s compatible with the PlayStation 4 gaming console. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and all are a long way off from ever being the VR you know from science fiction.

As of now, these types of virtual reality are mostly used as types of head-worn gaming consoles. Sure, you can watch videos on them, but what home gaming console doesn’t give you that ability? While there are other current uses for VR, as of now, VR is most closely associated with video games. When other uses for VR are created or start to become more mainstream, there’s always the question of whether you’re still not just technically playing a video game. When you’re interacting in a purely computer-generated environment, that question lingers.

The Potential of Virtual Reality

While there are some truly incredible experiences to be had in the current world of virtual reality, there are tons of different things this technology can be applied to and enhance a hundredfold. How does virtual reality work and how will virtual reality work may be two totally different questions, but understanding the present basics will help to understand where this tech is going and how it can be expanded upon and reworked moving forward.

Video Games

Though this is currently the thing that VR systems are capitalizing on, there is still a lot of progress to be made. Though some games have extremely good graphics, there’s still room for things to become more lifelike, and learning how to flawlessly recreate objects in a virtual world that move and respond to how they do in real life will go a long way for future games. Though actors have had their likenesses digitalized through motion capture and high quality animation, finding a way to make it feel like it’s actually them in the game will be a major breakthrough that’s probably coming in the not so far off future.

Likewise, finding ways to improve what you’re capable of doing in VR is something that’s constantly being implemented. While as of now, VR can easily track your steps and let you use your hands to interact with a variety of objects, there’s still so much for virtual reality to accomplish in this arena. Only until you’re able to move and function in every way available in the real world will the VR experience be truly complete. That being said, most gamers are probably more interested in moving and functioning in ways they can’t in the real world, and finding innovative ways to give them that is also on the VR itinerary.

Job Training

Virtual reality is already revolutionizing job training and will continue to do so in the future. By putting trainees in virtual environments, they can learn the tricks of their trade without the risk of messing anything up. Imagine a surgeon who learns how to remove tumors, retrieve bullets, and perform neurosurgery in virtual environments. Police and army personnel can become sharpshooters and learn how to handle dangerous situations effectively without ever putting their lives in danger or needing a cast of role players. Virtual reality has the potential to provide workers with all the practice and experience they could ever want.


Controlled exposure has been a therapeutic technique used for a long time to help patients overcome phobias; VR is helping this method of therapy reach its full potential. Likewise, those with depression or anxiety may benefit from going to certain virtual locations and having certain virtual experiences. Virtual reality could totally change the way we handle mental health and transform behavioral medicine.

Education and Religion

What better way to teach your class about geography than to transport them to that very location with a virtual reality headset? VR can give students hands on practice in their fields of study and the ability to see, hear, and interact with the subjects under discussion in class. And secular learning isn’t the only thing that could be affected by enhancements in VR. For instance, imagine going to church, putting on a headset, and find yourself sitting in a boat with the apostles and watching Jesus walk on water. Or perhaps you’ll find yourself witnessing Siddartha’s interaction with the demon Mara on your next trip to the temple.

To put things plainly, all forms of education and storytelling have the potential to be enhanced in unknowable and unforeseen ways with VR. How does virtual reality work? We have a basic understanding of it at the moment, but it’s impossible to tell the way the current tech will change and advance in the coming years.

How Does Virtual Reality Work?

We could talk all day about the endless possibilities associated with this tech, but we still haven’t given a concrete answer to how does virtual reality work? Like any case of sophisticated gadgetry, laymen probably won’t be able to comprehend all the ins and outs of VR. However, all of us can understand the concepts behind the technology without having to exert too much brain power.

The Tech

When you put on a VR headset, you’re putting either one screen or two directly in front of your eyes. They are made to fill your field-of-vision, giving you the feeling that you’re actually in the virtual environment. Using sensors (most come as part of the headsets instead of making use of external systems nowadays), your computer or smartphone can track your movements and change the images you see at a rapid rate to make it seems as though you’re actually maneuvering through your virtual environment.

Some VR systems also use controllers with sensors on them, meaning they pick up on your hand movements, allowing you to touch and move objects or engage in sword fights or other activities. The tech also has to have a certain refresh rate (at least 60 fps), and if it doesn’t, it can result in what’s being called cybersickness, which is a lot like motion sickness. Some arcade VR games involve special types of treadmills that utilize similar sensory technology and allow users to explore their virtual environments to a greater degree.


VR has really just gotten off the ground, and the implementation of this technology is still in its early phases. However, new uses for VR systems are being found every day, and they’re currently in the process of revolutionizing the way people play video games, train for jobs, undergo therapy, and learn in educational settings. While how it works may seem like wizardry, it’s really just a simple process of generating images that change as the sensors on your headset and controllers track your movement. Advancements in VR are definitely coming, and it will be amazing to see how this tech changes our world.

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