Unless you have been living under a rock these past few weeks, you’ll know what Pokémon Go is. Chances are, even if you haven’t played the game for yourself, you have become familiar with some new vocabulary such as pokestop:
And pokemon gym – even if up until now you were clueless as to what they might actually mean:
Pokémon Go is an example of augmented reality which, in the few weeks it has been available, has had an astonishing impact on our lives. It has brought social introverts out into the daylight, formed strange new friendships depending on which team you allege yourself to, and as we have just demonstrated, it has added some new vocabulary to our everyday speech.
But where does it stop?
Virtual, augmented and mixed/hybrid reality are becoming ever more popular, existing beside our real reality, creating experiences for which we are naturally going to assume new words. Is it going to get to the point where we cannot distinguish one reality from another, where we share secret tips on overcoming VR headaches or AR sickness, where in effect, we live in some kind of Matrix-esque world where none of us know Kung Fu?
Let’s take a look at these strange new versions of our world and see what kind of an impact these realities could have on our everyday language.
So firstly, what is the difference between these new realities? Well, virtual reality (VR) refers to a kind of computer technology that replicates an environment and allows a user to interact with that environment. Augmented reality (AR) is a live or indirect view of the real world where there are additional computer-generated sensory inputs for users to interact with or experience. Mixed or hybrid reality is sort of halfway between VR and AR – merging new and virtual worlds to produce new environments where both physical and digitally-created objects can exist side by side with one another in real time.
Interacting in a virtual reality tends to require a lot of equipment, at bare minimum a special headset that can be various levels of cumbersome. Essentially VR technology tricks the brain into thinking it is experiencing something that it isn’t, which if you think about it logically actually sounds quite frightening.
So before we scare ourselves by going off on that tangent, what about the new language that applies directly to VR?
Take a look at this article from the Guardian: VR sickness is already an expression widely in use amongst VR users.
And from the same article, blink mode:
And it seems that words are destined to suffer an abbreviation fate if this forum post is anything to go by, with headset becoming simply heads:
Perhaps until there are more VR platforms available, the main vocabulary changes we will see will be our regular verbs and nouns but with VR set before them rather as a sort of prefix. VR training for troops preparing for combat. VR therapy for those with mental health issues that mean face to face therapy would be too stressful. And we’re pretty sure you can come up with your own VR verb for what VR might bring to the adult entertainment industry…
Demolitian Man, 1993
As language people what really excites us about VR is its application as a tool for helping to learn languages. Teachers, you will relate to this, especially if you work in a language school; sometimes outdated textbooks and only the basics of realia that your imagination can conjure means that even with the best of intentions, lessons can be lackluster. But with a VR headset you could transport your student to a boulangerie in Paris to order that essential baguette, or Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro to order a cocktail. The possibilities are quite endless, and this makes us very happy indeed.
Augmented reality applications are somewhat less intrusive than VR ones, because instead of distorting your perception it is simply adding an additional layer to the world around you – as many a Pokémon Go player has already discovered for themselves!
For new vocabulary that is not related to catching and hatching Pokémons, we are going to have to stretch our imagination a little. Some of you may have heard of the expression heads up display, or HUD. This term is now being used in an AR setting in everything from teaching basic car mechanics to showing where to lay pipes in a sewage system. If an entire language can use loanwords from other languages to get their point across succinctly, then we do not see how a new technology cannot adopt the same principle.
But back to the Pokémons, because, well, everyone loves them. As well as your Squirtles, Mewtwos (if you’re lucky) and Charmeleons, there are a whole other host of words that have been adopted by the game and made new (sort of). Here are the most typical examples you’ve likely already heard: lure
We know there is more to AR than this somewhat simple game, but considering its impact on the world already it is one of the best examples we can give you.
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Mixed reality (MR) is the least well-known of the realities up for discussion, aiming to integrate the best of both VR and AR with the utmost of flexibility. MR already has some specific terminology that applies to using this particular reality, although these terms can be applied to both VR and AR on their own as well: Virtuality continuum
And mediated reality
The truth is, these are still somewhat new technologies, and even we, the language lovers that we are, do not have all the new lingo yet. Give us time!
Don’t be! The exciting thing about these evolving realities is that as they evolve, we, and the language they in turn create will evolve too, and we are sure there will come a day when we are casually referring to each of these different realities with words we haven’t even dreamt up yet.
Remember, the ideas behind these alternate realities are positives ones, and well-intentioned; think of what Pokémon Go did for the Muncie Animal Shelter, or the New York Times’ The Displaced did for raising awareness of the plight of refugees.
Times are a-changing, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing!