Virtual Reality in sci-fi

Before engineers start working on a problem, the problem has to be defined.
In tech it usually happens through science fiction.
Sci-fi creates desires and set expectations for technological innovations. VR in the ’90s, was never widely available, so sci-fi played a crucial role in defining the narrative around it.

The Twilight Zone – Where Is Everybody, 1959

Pilot of the series. Talking is a bit of a spoiler.

World on a Wire, 1973

by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
At a technology institute a new supercomputer hosts a simulation with thousands of AI who live as human beings, unaware that their world is just a simulation.
Revelation: the world in which the simulation is hosted is also a simulation.
Based on the same novel as the movie 13th floor.

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
-Philip K. Dick

Simulated reality is a very rich thread in fiction (i.e. Philip K. Dick), so I’m going to focus on the prefiguration more specific to VR as we know it.

Tron, 1982

Programmer enters a computer/computer game, trying to reclaim his intellectual property. Saves the world from self aware AI.

Star Trek’s Holodeck
First appearance in 1987, conceptualized earlier but used more extensively later, in ST:Voyager.
The device inspired Janet Murray’s seminal essay on interactive narrative.

Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1986

First appearance of the word “Cyberspace”. Starts the cyberpunk genre.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, 1992

“Metaverse” a multi user immersive 3D internet, inspired by an early MMORPG called Habitat (LucasFilm).

Cyberpunk is more than a literary genre, it links counterculture and the emerging cyberculture of Silicon Valley

Mondo 2000, 1989
Link to issue 1
Magazine/fanzing. More anarchist version of Wired
Drugs+Cyberpunk+Tech+Underground Music+Esoteric stuff

Related magazine: Future sex
Emerging online porn business, teledildonics…

Lawnmower Man, 1992

Mad about you, Virtual Reality, 1994

The idea is popular enough to be incorporated in comedy.

Johnny Mnemonic, 1995

Based on a Gibson novel, typecasts Keanu Reeves for Matrix. More about human storage drives.

VR goes mainstream, tropes crystallize…

Good collection here

-Simulating sex and violence.
Everyday people turning into heroes, showing their dark side, techno anxiety etc…

“…VR provides an excuse for Hollywood cinema to simultaneously indulge in the excesses of such visual pleasures, while distancing itself from the technology that is diegetically responsible for presenting such content to audiences. ”

-Blurring the boundaries of simulation and reality.
Hollywood philosophy: what is reality?
Am I looking at the diegetic reality or the simulated one?

-Information architecture as 3D space
Gestural interfaces.

The most interesting speculations in the genre don’t actually involve simulated worlds. More Google glass than Oculus…

Strange Days – Kathryn Bigelow, 1995

Not VR but recordable First Person experiences, resold for entertainment.
Same tropes but more interesting in the social repercussion of these technologies.
Empathy rape scene, short circuited sex.

Sleep Dealer, Alex Rivera, 2008

Directed by a media artist.
Drone warfare, telepresence as outsourcing, emotional labor (selling experiences)

The Entire History Of You, Black Mirror, 2011

Full episode here

In class exercise?
Write a scenario (a few paragraphs) for a non-ironic, non-pastiche movie about Virtual Reality.