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Lecture Library

Intertwining Virtual Space and Reality
by Survey of Interactive Media

by: Paris-Lapaz`elle Moore

It seems that in media, dreams and/or technology** and the reality of the real world are becoming more and more intertwined. Whereas previously, dreams and/or technology and real life existed in separate realms, they are now seeping into each other. Technology is becoming so realistic that one could confuse it for the real world, and real life is becoming so interlaced with technology that one can't seem to get by without it, especially in Western societies. This speaks to obvious uncertainties about this interplay between the two realms, but also possibilities and opportunities because of it. One can be anything or do anything in virtual space that isn't so possible in the real world.

A very potent clip from "Final Nightmare - Freddy's Video Game Kill", shows this wonderfully. In this clip there's not only the nightmare that Freddy kills Spencer in, but also a video game that he uses to do so. While watching TV Spencer gets sucked into the world of the TV and accordingly the video game, while Freddy sits in another part of the dream and plays him on the controller. Meanwhile, in real life, the teen is sleepwalking and acting out the events that Freddy has him playing in the video game. He's running around faster than normal people, breaking walls, bouncing up and down and crashing his head into the roof... If it were real life, one would think that this would actually kill or seriously injure him before Freddy even got the chance to carry out his final death trick. However, the reality of this world actually feels quite unreal, compared to the dream. In the dream, Spencer is sitting in a normal looking house watching a normal looking show on TV. The background changes and he becomes enveloped into the TV and played on a video game... but even this is a pretty common trope that we as the film audience are used to. In the 'real world,' however, this teen is bouncing off the walls and being controlled through his dream while his friends run around trying to help him. Since it's supposed to be real life... it actually feels far more unreal and gimmicky than even the surreal dream experience felt, with all the technology interplay within it.

And perhaps this phenomenon isn't so uncommon after all. In the recent movie Inception, it is also the case that the dream world feels highly real, so real that one can't really tell the difference between a dream and reality. The only fail-safe way to know for certain is to carry an object from the real world with you while you went into dreams. Obviously when used as a vehicle within media, dreams and technology are quite potent and so real that it's almost frightening.

Another clip that demonstrates just how much reality has seeped into technology and technology has seeped into real life is the Guild's music video "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?" The members dress up as World of Warcraft characters and sing about having a virtual relationship online... A line that's repeated is "And [my avatar]'s hotter than reality by far," stressing this idea that having an online relationship is actually better and even more exciting and vibrant than a real-life relationship. There are the variety of things that one can do online, far more than in real-life. An avatar can go anywhere, be anything that the other character desires, can have virtual sex without disease, etc. Also, if one wants to end the relationship, there's no messy break up that they would have to go through; they can just log off. In this circumstance, reality obviously interplays with technology a lot, but technology oversteps it by being even more interesting than reality.

The clip "Farmville - Scam Expose" demonstrates this as well, but in a far more negative way. This is a video about players of the game who have filled out offers to get more in-game cash and credits, who wind up scammed by those very offers later on as they manifest in their real lives. In the instance given, someone was scammed by a cell phone company they put their information in and charged $10/month for 5 months straight. The original game, Farmville, has first demanded that the player step outside the game and rely on outside offers to have a fuller experience of it, and then that in turn leads to actual real life consequences like money being charged out from the player's bank account. No longer can the player escape from this game technology in their everyday life.

Following this, there is understandable anxiety about this level of interplay between technology (or dreams as vehicles of technology) and the real world. But even beyond anxieties about financial or social consequences, there's fears of irreversible physical deformities that may occur. This  is demonstrated well in the clip of "Virtuosity Fail Safe," where two men fight against each other in a very technological world, where people disappear and change into other people. But  after information overload occurs, the brains of two men immersed in the world suffer damage, and one guy participating even dies. This reflects all the anxieties over how technology is affecting our brains and the possible damage it might eventually have to them. Already researchers have determined that human brains have changed, even in what type of films they find enjoyable versus which ones would have been enjoyable in the past. There are threats of radiation and cancer from cell phone usage and of eye strain from computer over-usage. Naturally these threats and anxieties come through in the media that portrays this as well.

So on the one hand, while the ever-increasing interplay between reality and virtual space as depicted in media is described as a good thing--it's helpful and in some ways even better than real life--at the same time it's feared as negative and contrary to a natural, healthy society. Perhaps after some time these anxieties will fade away, or perhaps it will shift its form and expand on the next big, technological invention, as all human minds tend to. But for now, it seems as if media will continue to display this intertwined interaction between the two as technology and our relationship to it continues to change.

-Paris-Lapaz`elle Moore


**(On a clarification note, I am comparing dreams to technology, because it is used quite similarly to technology in cinematic media. In dreams, anything can happen. One is free to do anything, be anyone, live out a fantasy. In technological spaces, this can occur as well. Essentially dreams are like VR technologies produced by our own bodies.)


The Final Nightmare - Freddy's Video Game Kill by Rachel Talalay (1991) Freddy stars in his very own video game and uses it to kill Spencer.
The Guild - Do You Wanna Date My Avatar? by Felicia Day (2010) A music video promoting Season 3 of the webseries.
Farmville - Scam Expose by Newsydotcom (2009) Farmville's CEO admits that he did "every horrible thing in the book just to make money."
Virtuosity fail safe by Brett Leonard (1995) Why do the "fail-safe" mechanisms on VR simulators always seem to go out at the worst possible time?