The secret of TV's tactile power is that the video image is one of low intensity or definition and thus, unlike either photograph or film, offers no detailed information about specific objects but instead involves the active participation of the viewer. Marshall McLuhanThe experience of being an embodied avatar in a virtual world is facilitated by biological and psychological processes that transform a stream of sense impressions into the visceral sense of being there. The sense of presence one experiences within a virtual world is more a product of the mind than of software.
The external representation of Second Life depicted on a computer screen is a series of far-from-photorealistic images animated at sub-optimal frame rates. The internal virtual world within an active participant's mind is a deeply experienced reality including pseudonymous relationships that seem as authentic as those in the physical world.
A strong sense of immersive presence within a virtual world is because of, as much as in spite of, limitations of sensory information. The vacuum is filled by the engagement of the subconscious mind through active imagination. What is missing externally, is created internally. This integration of the actual and the imagined is often facilitated by text chat, which can help create a shared inner environment that extends and enriches the shared digital environment.
Erotic text chat is an exemplar of sense extension within virtual worlds. It can evoke sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations and actions that are otherwise difficult or impossible to create visually within the digital world. Intentional activation of the imagination can induce powerfully realistic experiences because the brain does not qualitatively distinguish between physically produced and intensely imagined sensory experience. For instance, studies have shown that the brain is activated by imagined smells and tastes in the very same way it responds to actual sense impressions.
Erotic chat shifts the balance of immersion from an external focus on computer images to an inward focus on the imagined experience. While the experience adds energy and substance to one's internal mental model, it also projects the localization of presence outward to the external virtual reality. It reifies the psychological experience as an external and independent entity.
In short, when two people get together, there are three worlds in the room: One is displayed on our screens; and one is within each of our minds. The use of text chat can extend the sensory range of our experience within a virtual world and harmonize our internal representations.