I think the first time we thought of “virtual reality” was in 1987 when Gene Rodenberry brought us Star Trek: The Next Generation with the latest technology… The Holodeck. We saw a virtual world come to life as Commander Riker stepped on the holodeck, moving from a starship to a forest. There were many such adventures on all the Star Trek series to follow, as the holodeck was used to leave the doldrums of work behind and explore places we’ve never been or seen, from Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop to a 1920’s crime novel.
“Reality is incredibly larger, infinitely more exciting, than the flesh and blood vehicle we travel in here. If you read science fiction, the more you read it the more you realize that you and the universe are part of the same thing. Science knows still practically nothing about the real nature of matter, energy, dimension, or time; and even less about those remarkable things called life and thought. But whatever the meaning and purpose of this universe, you are a legitimate part of it. And since you are part of the all that is, part of its purpose, there is more to you than just this brief speck of existence. You are just a visitor here in this time and this place, a traveler through it.” ― Gene Roddenberry
This technology may be pure science fiction, but it is used quite frequently to transport people to fantasy worlds. Anime does that a great deal of exploration into these alternate realities (Sword Art Online, The Silver Guardian, Recovery of an MMO Junkie, Overlord, etc.) but its got to be more than just straight science fiction. You have to know how to use the technology, whether it be holograms or a virtual computer world.
I think one of the first virtual reality movies—in my lifetime—didn’t use either one. In the 1973 film Westworld, the rich vacationed in virtual worlds filled with androids. The virtual reality of choice here was a popular one from the 60s/70s… Westerns. The modern Westworld on HBO is more about artificial intelligence than virtual reality. I think we’ll see more about the “escapism” factor of virtual reality when the movie Ready Player One comes out.
Like science fiction itself, virtual reality gives writers a broad brush to paint with. You can make almost anything possible in virtual reality, but I think medieval fantasy (a.k.a. Lord of the Rings) are the most popular in the genre. Sword Art Online does it best with their virtual reality game ALO (Alfheim Online). Its a wonderful blend of science fiction and fantasy that any fan can slip into easily, whether its the anime or the manga.
Overall, I think this does make it doubly hard for the writer, to ensure that smooth transition from fantasy to science fiction and back again; but, at the same time, it gives you the chance to explore some philosophical questions about reality, fantasy, and the roles games (and their storytellers) play in the world today.
When you have horrific tragedy like the shooting at Parkland High School in Flordia, it makes one question how fast technology has advanced. Has technology gone so far that kids today are so desensitized to violence, and maybe reality itself, that they feel the need to kill others as a way of getting that kick? Its hard to pinpoint precisely where things like video games, virtual reality, take that step too far; but, I want to leave you with this quote from SAO’s Kirito to make my point.
“I thought that the closer the real and virtual world got, the better the future would be. But the more the boundary between them blurs, the more it starts to trick people.” – Kirito, Sword Art Online
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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon.