The purpose of this reading and viewing list is to help give a narrative framework for those that wish to participate in virtual worlds. It is both about the potential of virtual worlds and how to relate to the people and situations one can find in them in the here and now.
In Neuromancer, William Gibson coined the term and introduced the concept of cyberspace. Gibson’s cyberspace is not just an interface for interacting with computers systems and data, but an actual place where one can go, a different reality with its own rules and mechanisms.
In Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson imagines a virtual world known as the metaverse. The defining characteristic of the metaverse is that it is user-created. Users interact with the metaverse through an avatar -- a virtual representation of themselves. The metaverse is populated with user created objects such as vehicles, weapons, and buildings in a simulation of a physical environment. The metaverse has its own culture and idioms due to the limitations of a virtual environment, such as foregoing shaking hands in favor of bowing because of the difficulty in getting avatars to physically interact.
Ready Player One takes place in a near-future dystopia where natural resources are drying up and poverty is rampant. To escape the real world many spend their time in an MMO known as the OASIS. OASIS uses virtual reality and haptic feedback for an immersive experience. The basic equipment consists of a visor and haptic gloves and a computer to connect to the OASIS. But greater immersion is possible with haptic clothing, chairs, treadmills, and even a tower that presents scents. OASIS has its own economy and currency known as credits that in the world of Ready Player One is the most stable currency on Earth.
This two-part novel is about a computer program that reshapes society after its programmer’s death. Part of the mechanism the Daemon uses is an augmented-reality overlay of the real world. It recruits agents that participate in this augmented reality through a pair of special glasses. It uses gamification to assign tasks to agents and to interact with the augmented reality that has results in the real world.
This is a philosophical treatise on the nature of reality and simulation. It was one of the inspirations for the film The Matrix by the Wachowskis and given to actor Keanu Reeves to prepare for his role as Neo. It posits that simulation can be actually more real than what it represents creating a hyperreality, and that many of the things we perceive as real are actually simulations.
Inspired by the Future Shock book series written by Alvin and Jill Toffler, Brunner paints a future of deep reliance on computers and the information network they provide. for good and ill. It was perhaps the first book to predict the reach and impact the Internet would have years before it was more than a gleam in DARPA's eye. Its explorations of identity and intentions in a digital age tie in well with virtual worlds. When all you are to anyone else is pixels, who are you and who can you be? And should you?
Tron follows the adventures of programmer Kevin Flynn who had his work stolen from him and his quest to find the evidence of the theft in the computer system. Standing in his way is the Master Control Program which transports Flynn to the computer world. Flynn must navigate the game grid recruiting programs along the way to be allies to liberate his data and return to the real world.
Influenced by anime such as Ghost in the Shell and the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard this film explores the issue of living in a simulation so convincing that most of the inhabitants of this virtual world mistake it for reality. It contrasts the virtual world with the real one by the ability to bend the rules of reality in the Matrix by moving faster than humanly possible, jumping great distances, defying gravity, and stopping bullets.
What if you were trapped in an MMORPG with no way to log out, the only way to leave is to beat the game or die trying? Sword Art Online explores the issues of navigating a virtual world, creating relationships in a virtual environment, and how in-game actions have consequences in the real world.
The fourth episode of the third series of Black Mirror, San Junipero depicts a simulated reality of a beach town resort in the 1980s where the elderly and infirm visit for five hours a week as “tourists” and the deceased can live there permanently as “residents” made possible by a mind upload to a central server. They enjoy young, healthy bodies in this simulated reality. San Junipero explores the relationships that can be formed in virtual worlds, the implications of having to leave a virtual world or residing there permanently.
L. Christopher Bird
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