Virtual Reality and Modern Cyberpunk Pt. 3

Time freezes and your visual panorama retreats to reveal that it is only a display, one of many on a timeline. They are the image-frames depicting your life. You swipe left and watch them fast forward to the future, to the classic cyberpunk dystopia.

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Dirty streets, endless rain, oppressive overcrowding, neon seduction in every direction and dark alleyways promising neural implants and bizarre virtual reality pleasures. You speak the word “play”, and the image fills your view. Time kickstarts and the scene fills your senses. You can feel the rain rapping against your hat and the sewer steam wafting by is putrid and rank. Police sirens howl down an intersecting road and you feel the immediate need for a firearm. You’re out in the open; it’s time to get off the street.

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You hustle into an sheltered alley where the eaves block the falling rain. Near the end, shadowed in a corner, is a door and single neon sign coated in dust: “Virtual Escapes”. It’ll have to do. After checking the open end of the alley for followers, you pull up your coat collar and enter. A single row of virtual reality chairs re-purposed from turn-of-the-century dental chairs line the back walls. In several of the chairs are men in dirty clothes with headsets strapped to their skulls, a flickering blue glow pulsates from the crack between the mask and their eyes. One is moaning sorrowfully in a deep, gruff tone; another one speaks softly in some unintelligible gibberish; and another lies still, occasionally twitching. At the end, an empty chair. You pay the gentlemen reading a dirty old newspaper two quid and slide into the empty seat. He reclines it for you and pulls the VR headset over your eyes.

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The blank screen flickers. A blue dot in the center of the screen turns into a blue line, and then expands to fit the screens. There is a short list of options.

PICK:

1. PHYSICAL TRAUMA
2. SEXUAL DREAMS
3. VIRTUAL VISTAS
4. RANDOM

You clear your throat, “Virtual Vistas, please.”

“–Error. Please speak more clearly.”

“VIRTUAL VISTAS, PLEASE.”

“You have chosen…. Physical Trauma. Please relax and enjoy your experience.”

“No, no! VIRTUAL. VISTAS. PLEASE!”

“Apologies. You have chosen… Virtual Vistas. Please relax and enjoy your experience.”

And what follows is something you could never imagine, as you sit nice and comfortable in the very politically correct year of 2015.

We like to think that we are advanced in that way, that we’re coming close to exploring all the unknowns that there are in terms of film and video games, although nothing could be further from the devastating truth. We know absolutely nothing about what virtual reality is capable of whatsoever. Our films have all followed the same rigid plot structures and have seldom ventured out of so-called “safe” territory. Even the most disturbing films we can think of are tinker-toys compared to the kinds of bloodshot-eyed psychosis that will be available direct-to-virtual in 50 years. It’s the same with our video games. We like to shoot-us-up some aliens and re-enact WWII. We like our quaint puzzle games and “man vs. machine” plot-lines and vibrating controllers because we think it’s realistic.

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But what we haven’t considered is what the fringe programmers will do with fully-immersive virtual reality at their fingertips, and what kind of thrills we will be able to download and trip on when the spread of the electronic lifestyle hits an unmanageable level of cultural saturation. We can feel it coming just around the corner. The cyberpunk paradigm is not seeing a renaissance because it’s “good fiction”. It resonates with us because more and more it is the world that we are living in and the future that we are expecting whether we accept it or not. When we combine this disturbing future and the potential of virtual reality to usher us into a new realm of human consciousness, we realize that it may not necessarily for the best, but that will never stop us.

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Once we get all of the normal crap out of the way, the “first-person Pokémon” and the “Halo 19” and even some of the more immersive virtual smut and violence, the real show will begin. We will strap on our headsets to experience cosmic voyages to bizarre alien worlds where we can feel what it’s like to be a spined slug having a nightmare under an Andromeda sun; mind-shattering trips into parallel dimensions where everyone on the planet is a clone of yourself and they all want to eat your guts out; the ability to soar through virtual vortexes into new understandings, and tear apart your own psyche into its constituent parts; the ability to examine your own neurons and reassemble your past into one of your choosing; to crash planets into each other and examine how the inhabitants deal with immediate extinction; to know what it feels like to be in the heat of an actual battlefield and take a man’s life in all the ridiculous and gory detail. And to know that even now in our current digital adolescence, we are salivating at the thought of these engaging scenarios and hoping that there will be more that push the boundaries further into unknown territory.

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There is absolutely no limit to how desensitized we will become, how criminal and insane our imaginations will become (if the current gaming trend is any indication), and no boundaries to what will be possible once the technology has been perfected for several decades. Will it be possible for us to maintain any shred of humanity as we know it? Will empathy simply vanish into thin air? And at what point will we, if we ever do, say THIS IS ENOUGH? I’m not sure we could.

I would definitely like to hear your opinions about it, and whether you have any mind-bending VR ideas that could top mine. What sort of VR experiences do you crave as a cyberpunk fan??

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