Humans have a tangibility complex. If something isn’t present in our physical world, many don’t consider it “real”.
There’s a quote in Harry Potter, when Harry asks, “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” Dumbledore then responds, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
In Free Guy, a story about A.I. characters in a video game, there’s a character named Buddy, who says “Hey, I’m here with my best friend, trying to help him through a tough time. If that ain’t real, I don’t know what is.”
To quote one more time from pop culture, in the end of Ready Player One Wade Watts says, “That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.”
Outside of pop culture it’s also discussed in many religions and general philosophy.
In today’s world of fake news and A.I. generated scenes and characters (remember the media obsession over deepfakes?), it’s become increasingly prioritized to find what’s “real” among the noise. Hallucinations or psychosis from hallucinogens or schizophrenia aren’t considered real because they are sensations, images, and sounds created by the mind, and not accurately translated from our physical environment. Dreams aren’t considered real for that reason.
Even our physical world is filtered through our perceptions. Colors don’t exist the way we see them outside of how our eyes and brains interpret them. We still agree our world is real because we all are interpreting it in real-time relatively the same. We don’t know for sure that our physical world isn’t an advanced simulation. What if our laws of physics are just very advanced code?
Extended reality (XR), dreams, and hallucinations can be considered on a spectrum of reality. Physical reality is sometimes referred to as “meatspace” in the extended reality industry. Or being “offline”. Meatspace is the realm of reality most outside of our control. Meanwhile, XR is the middle ground of our imagination and physical world. Software modifies the laws and physics.
A virtual world still has real ideas, real conversations, and real experiences.
“Virtual reality is a self-created form of chosen reality. Therefore it exists.” – Joan Lowery Nixon, American journalist and author.