The VST in a Nutshell

The Virtual Space Theory rethinks the vague notion of ‘virtual space’ and links it particularly to the study of visual media; the result is a whole new way of seeing pictorial images. It may seem quite complex at first, but it is in fact extremely simple. It is a way of seeing which might take a while to fully get, yet eventually it becomes so natural and intuitive that it just seems obvious.

We are used to approaching images in one of a few ways. Sometimes we identify them with the visual content that we see in them or what they symbolize, sometimes we consider them to be physical or cultural objects, sometimes we think of them in terms of how they were made. Depending on the context in which we come across them, we usually pick the most convenient approach without even noticing.

The Virtual Space Theory takes the view that pictorial images are not defined by their content or meaning, that they are not necessarily important as objects, and that the technique by which they were produced is irrelevant. Instead, it proposes that a pictorial image is just a means of seeing space where in fact there is none. Then, it tries to understand what the nature of this space might actually be.

Indeed, if we think of any pictorial image we can see – a painting on a wall, a photo in a magazine, a program on TV, or a video game on our computer – and shift our focus only to the space that we see through them, we would realize that fundamentally, it is the same general space in all of them. We could then consider that what makes images different from each other is simply that they are presenting different segments of this larger space, and that what makes mediums different from each other is simply that they are allowing us different degrees of accessibility to this space. Yet as an overall phenomenon, it always remains the same space. It is this space that The Virtual Space Theory considers to be ‘virtual space’.

From there on, The Virtual Space Theory extends to address the whole range of questions that naturally arise once this interpretation is introduced: How does this space relate to the physical space we inhabit? How does it differ from the mental space of our imagination? What kind of technologies do we have for producing such a space and for providing access to it? What are the rules that govern this space, and what internal structure might it have? How would we design places for this space, and how would they affect our experience of it? What is the history of making places in virtual space, and what is being done nowadays? How does this way of seeing images contribute to our understanding of present and future mediums? How does this theory extend to other fields, and what else could it be good for?

It is the answers to these questions that constitute The Virtual Space Theory.