Document Type



It is often assumed that the problem with ‘virtual reality’ – the concept, its various technological deployments and the apparently oxymoronic phrase itself – has been our understanding, or perhaps misunderstanding, of the virtual. The real problem, however, is not with the virtual; it is with the real itself. This article investigates the undeniably useful but ultimately mistaken and somewhat misguided concept of the real that has been routinely operationalized in investigations of new media technology. The specific point of contact for the examination is the avatar. What is at issue here is not the complicated structures and articulations of avatar identity but the assumed ‘real thing’ that is said to be its ultimate cause and referent. In addressing this subject, the article considers three theories of the real, extending from Platonism to the recent innovations of Slavoj Žižek, and investigates their effect on our understanding of computer-generated experience and social interaction.

Publication Date



This is the preprint (version 1) of an article whose final and definitive form has been published in New Media & Society, Vol. 12, No. 1, February 2010, pp. 127-141.

Original Citation

New Media & Society, Volume 12, Number 1, February 2010, pages 127-141.


Department of Communication

Legacy Department

Department of Communication






SAGE Publications



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