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Teenage sex and violence clubs in VR

by Critical Commons Manager

In this prequel to the 21st century Battlestar Galactica TV series, the planet of Caprica is figured as a kind of digital Sodom and Gomorrah, whose debauchery suggests that its destruction by Cylons may have been justified. The VR programmer genius daughter of "holoband" inventor Eric Stolz, Zoe has created a nearly perfect digital replica of herself, who exists in a virtual reality club scene ruled by extremes of sex, drugs and violent spectacle, including human sacrifice ("beyond that is the really gross stuff"). Interestingly, in these sequences, the teenagers themselves have transcended the base hedonism of the VR clubs to look for a more spiritually fulfilling way of being in the world.

In the Caprica pilot episode, Stolz plays a grief-stricken father who has lost his daughter in a terrorist attack, only to discover that she left behind a nearly perfect avatar in Virtual Reality, accessible via the holoband. Stolz downloads the girl's metadata and manages to implant it in a prototype Cylon centurion body, creating the first bridge between the virtual and physical worlds that would eventually lead to a Cylon-human war, the destruction of the planet and the launch of the Battlestar Galactica series. These scenes also suggest that the Cylons' spiritual orientation and monotheistic tendencies may have originated with teenagers who grew weary of repressed human weaknesses for sex and violence within a pantheistic but spiritually anemic culture.

The holoband technology itself closely mirrors virtual reality systems accessed via headmounted displays and VR goggles, crossed with a cinematic imaginary that emphasizes increasingly lightweight, but still cerebro-ocular oriented data transmission. Access to the virtual spaces is enabled via an encrypted, gestural electronic paper interface (also used to send text messages), still a nascent real world technology at the time Caprica was produced.

The existence of a nearly perfect human replica of a girl who was killed in the real world also occasions protracted debates and consternation about the difference between real and virtual humans and the status of avatars as digital beings who may or may not be deserving of civil rights. Typical televisual and cinematic discourse on the subject hinges on questions of agency, sentience and autonomy. In Caprica, avatars are constructed through the reassemblage of personal metadata, distributed across multiple information systems in the world, databases that preserve the traces of human and biological existence through which humans and their digital surrogates are constituted.

Ultimately, the virtual/real divide is bridged by implanting the "300MB of data" that a human brain is capable of storing into a prototype of a Cylon Centurion. The first attempt fails and threatens catastrophic data loss, followed by the Cylon discovering its existence in the physical world by speaking in the voice of a teenage girl. The scene of self-realizations is formally reminiscent of the Michel Gondry music video for Bjork's All is Full of Love, in which a distinctly female cyborg falls in love with another female cyborg.

A VR avatar explains how metadata constitutes being

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A VR avatar explains how being is constituted through metadata held in databases

from Caprica (2009)
Creator: Remi Aubuchon and Ronald D. Moore
Distributor: Syfy
Posted by Critical Commons Manager
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