Virtual reality in fiction

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Virtual reality in fiction describes fictional representations of the technological concept of virtual reality.

Different forms of reality[edit]

According to Business Horizons, there are multiple forms of reality, most of which are used in an abstract sense and can be divided into three distinct categories, real constructs, virtual constructs and possible constructs.[1] Real constructs refer to physical, tangible objects, (i.e. books, pencil, dog). Virtual constructs are of a digital existence but are undoubtedly real and have the capability to be interacted with; (i.e. computer programs, virtual assistants, digital currency). Possible constructs are unique, since they possess the aspect that they do not exist, yet, in any forms of reality; (i.e. philosophy, metaphysics, ideas).[citation needed]

Separation and subdivisions[edit]

There are several different forms of virtual reality seen in works of fiction, some of which are listed below:

  • Augmented reality - Digital information overlaid or consolidated on the actual world of reality and vice versa.[2]
  • Virtual reality - Full digital render/ representation of the real world; our reality.[3]
  • Mixed reality - A combination of virtual reality and reality.
  • Augmented reality - Superimposes mixed realities to join, forming possible scenarios that behave as if real, while still maintaining virtual element(s).
  • Virtuality - A virtual portrayal of contingent or non-contingent possibilities.[4]


Many science fiction books and films have imagined characters being "trapped in virtual reality" or entering into virtual reality. Laurence Manning's 1933 series of short stories, "The Man Who Awoke"—later a novel—describes a time when people ask to be connected to a machine that replaces all their senses with electrical impulses and, thus, live a virtual life chosen by them (à la The Matrix, but voluntary, not imposed). A comprehensive and specific fictional model for virtual reality was published in 1935 in the short story "Pygmalion's Spectacles"[5] by Stanley G. Weinbaum. Other science fiction books have promoted the idea of virtual reality as a partial, but not total, substitution for the misery of reality, or have touted it as a method for creating virtual worlds in which one may escape from Earth. Stanisław Lem's 1961 story "I (Profesor Corcoran)", translated in English as "Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy I",[6] dealt with a scientist who created a number of computer-simulated people living in a virtual world. Lem further explored the implications of what he termed "phantomatics" in his nonfictional 1964 treatise Summa Technologiae.

A number of other popular fictional works use the concept of virtual reality. These include William Gibson's 1984 Neuromancer, which defined the concept of cyberspace, and his 1994 Virtual Light, where a presentation viewable in VR-like goggles was the MacGuffin. Other examples are Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, in which he made extensive reference to the term avatar to describe one's representation in a virtual world, and Rudy Rucker's The Hacker and the Ants, in which a programmer uses VR for robot design and testing. The Otherland series of 4 novels by Tad Williams, published from 1996 to 2001 and set in the 2070s, shows a world where the Internet has become accessible via virtual reality. More recently, the 2011 novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is about a virtual reality system called the OASIS that people use to escape from the grim reality of a dying Earth in 2045


The concept of virtual reality was popularized in mass media by movies such as Brainstorm (1983) and The Lawnmower Man (1993). The .hack multimedia franchise is based on a virtual reality MMORPG dubbed "The World". The French animated series Code Lyoko is based on the virtual world of Lyoko and the Internet.

  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1973 film Welt am Draht, based on Daniel F. Galouye's novel Simulacron-3, shows a virtual reality simulation inside another virtual reality simulation
  • In 1983, the Natalie Wood/Christopher Walken film Brainstorm revolved around the production, use, and misuse of a VR device.
  • The 1990 film Total Recall, directed by Paul Verhoeven and based on the Philip K. Dick story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"
  • A VR-like system, used to record and play back dreams, figures centrally in Wim Wenders' 1991 film Until the End of the World.
  • The 1992 film The Lawnmower Man tells the tale of a research scientist who uses a VR system to jumpstart the mental and physical development of his mentally handicapped gardener.
  • The 1993 film Arcade is centered around a new virtual reality game (from which the film gets its name) that actively traps those who play it inside its world.
  • The 1995 film Strange Days is a science-fiction thriller about a fictional virtual reality trend in which users buy illegal VR recordings of criminal offences recorded from the offender's point of view (POV).
  • The 1995 film Johnny Mnemonic has the main character Johnny (played by Keanu Reeves) use virtual reality goggles and brain–computer interfaces to access the Internet and extract encrypted information in his own brain.
  • The 1995 film Virtuosity has Russell Crowe as a virtual reality serial killer name SID 6.7 (Sadistic, Intelligent and Dangerous) who is used in a simulation to train real-world police officer, but manages to escape into the real world.
  • The 1999 film The Thirteenth Floor is an adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye's novel Simulacron-3, and tells about two virtual reality simulations, one in another.
  • In 1999, The Matrix and later sequels explored the possibility that our world is actually a vast virtual reality (or more precisely, simulated reality) created by artificially intelligent machines.
  • eXistenZ (1999), by David Cronenberg, in which level switches occur so seamlessly and numerously that at the end of the movie it is difficult to tell whether the main characters are back in "reality".
  • In the film Avatar, the humans are hooked up via advanced technologies with avatars, enabling the avatars to remotely perform the actions of the humans.
  • Surrogates (2009) is based on a brain–computer interface that allows people to control realistic humanoid robots, giving them full sensory feedback.
  • The 2010 science fiction thriller film Inception is about a professional thief who steals information by infiltrating the subconscious. He creates artificial thoughts that are so realistic that once they are implanted in a person's mind, the person thinks these are his own thoughts.[7]
  • OtherLife (2017) - about a form of biological virtual reality.
  • The 2018 movie Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg is an adaptation of Ernest Cline's novel of the same name about a VR game known as the OASIS.


  • The Doctor Who serial "The Deadly Assassin", first broadcast in 1976, introduced a dream-like computer-generated reality, known as the Matrix.
  • British BBC2 sci-fi series Red Dwarf featured a virtual reality game titled "Better Than Life", in which the main characters had spent many years connected.
  • Saban's syndicated superhero television series VR Troopers also made use of the concept.
  • The holodeck featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of the best known examples of virtual reality in popular culture, including the ability for users to interactively modify scenarios in real time with a natural language interface. The depiction differs from others in the use of a physical room rather than a neural interface or headset.
  • The 2012 series Sword Art Online involves the concept of a virtual reality MMORPG of the same name, with the possibility of dying in real life when a player dies in the game. In its 2014 sequel, Sword Art Online II, the idea of bringing a virtual character into the real world via mobile cameras is posed; this concept is used to allow a bedridden individual to attend public school for the first time
  • Accel World (2012) expands the concept of virtual reality using the game Brain Burst, a game which allows players to gain and receive points to keep accelerating; accelerating is when an individual's brain perceives the images around them 1000 times faster, heightening their sense of awareness.
  • The episode San Junipero of the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror features a simulated reality set in 1987 that the characters can inhabit, even past death.


  • In 2009, BBC Radio 7 broadcast Planet B, a science-fiction drama set in a virtual world. Planet B was the largest ever commission for an original drama programme.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Go boldly!: Explore augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) for business". Business Horizons. 61 (5): 657–663. 2018-09-01. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2018.05.009. ISSN 0007-6813.
  2. ^ O’Reilly, Battelle, Tim, John (2009). "Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On" (PDF). Web 2.0 Summit. Special report: 15 – via
  3. ^
  4. ^ "The UAE released a VR tour of the first city on Mars". Futurism. 2017-11-29. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  5. ^ "Pygmalion's Spectacles". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  6. ^ "Ijon Tichy – Series Bibliography". Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  7. ^ Eisenberg, Mike (May 5, 2010). "Updated 'Inception' Synopsis Reveals More". Screen Rant. Retrieved July 18, 2010. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible—inception.
  8. ^ Hemley, Matthew (2008-09-30). "BBC radio launches major cross-station sci-fi season". The Stage. Retrieved 2009-04-09.