Virtual Worlds in Novels, Movies, and TV

second life class meeting

Now that we’ve had our class meetings in Second Life, this would be a good time to talk about virtual worlds in novels, movies, and TV (‘cuz that’s how I roll). Long post after the cut.

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Augmented Reality in Fiction

We’re talking about augmented reality games in class this week. We’re also going to be discussing Ender’s Game soon, which is a novel that explores themes relevant to this class. In that spirit, here are four novels from the last decade that feature augmented reality as themes or important plot features.

The first is William Gibson’s Spook Country, which features augmented reality in the form of locative art. These are art installments, tied to a place by GPS technology, that require a virtual reality rig to access. In the novel, the installments are about augmenting the experience of visiting a given space.

Spook Country is a great novel, but it isn’t about games. The next three are.

Rainbows End Cover

Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End is about games and education. The protagonist is Robert Gu, who at the start of the novel has been cured of Alzheimer’s disease. He has to relearn a lot and to learn many new things including wearable computing and augmented reality interfaces. His granddaughter is well-versed in these technologies and uses them for school and play. Their different takes on the same technology are interesting in terms of what we’ve been discussing in class. Another compelling idea in the novel is the idea of belief circles, which are competing virtual realities.

Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and its sequel, Freedom(tm), are techno thrillers dealing with network security. The second novel in particular is relevant to our interests, as it’s about a shadow U.S. economy that takes the form of a Massively Multiplayer game. People earn reputation in the system, which translates into power. They access the system using wearable computing. It’s life itself as an augmented reality game.

Rainbows End is a novel that takes place in the future, but both Suarez’s novels and Spook Country take place in the present. It’s fascinating to watch the interplay between how available technology plays out in fiction and how fiction influences technology.

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