I love the idea of digital reality, the embodiment of a human within a digital space. By no means am I an authority on the subject, merely a person with an opinion on the proper way to describe simulated reality either in a fictional sense, or a realistic sense.
Virtual Reality. The term has been around for a while and has always sparked an interest to those of us who look to the future of entertainment, living and all manner of other ways to experience digital frontiers. However, virtual means almost real…almost. Now when I look at an apple, hold it in my hand, roll it around in my palm, smell it – the apple is real to me, because of the sensory equipment I’ve been blessed with (taste, touch, smell etc…). If I am catapulted into a virtual reality, I know that the experience I am having is virtual, that my natural sensory equipment is likely not to have any affect whatsoever in it, no matter how many virtual apples I hold.
Lets compare a couple of ideal stories(movies) to digest what I think Virtual Reality is, and what I think, isn’t:
The Matrix. Excellent flick, great production, however if you’ve seen the movie how do the characters interact with what they call The Matrix? To me, it is a virtual reality with the idea that the mind interprets sensory data in such a way that it is indistinguishable to the real world. However, once freed from the matrix, and thus not bound and hooked to tubes in the machine womb, how do such nuances such as having to goto the bathroom, or hunger affect the characters. Would they not piss in their pants in the real world, while in the Matrix they would use a toilet? How about eating? Wouldn’t they experience an unquenching hunger no matter how much they would eat in the Matrix, until the feeling was satisfied in the real world? While in the machine womb, they would be fed a protein and their bio waste filtered out as it was released. This comes from the notion that the two are interlinked in such a way that what happens in one reality can be or is affected from the other. If you die in the real world, you die in the matrix and vise versa.
Next, Tron. Heck yea. Tron is different, in that for me it is not a Virtual Reality per se but a reality of its own accord – a digital reality. The characters in Tron, or character if your thinking original motion picture, are plunged body and soul into a digital space. Their presence is no longer bound to the constraints of the physical real world, but are now instead in a different reality, a different place. They are not hooked to a chair with a headset on, or plugged in through the back of the head in The Matrix. If they eat or drink in the digital space, their bodies are satisfied. If they die, there is no body in the real world to claim. While the space they are manifest in, can certainly be dubbed Virtual (since it is a computer), wouldn’t everything within it be as real to them as it would be in the real world? The Matrix characters know that what they see or hear in the matrix is not real, but rather a simulation so advanced that their senses are unable to say ‘this is fake’ – unlike current virtual reality simulations where a person knows factually that it is not real. However they are still bound to physical reality or the real world. Even people who have not been freed from the Matrix are still bound to the real world.
Virtual reality is more of a reality than we think, merely our perception that it is not real, by our own definitions of reality, tell us it’s not. The connection to the physical reality will always be the determinate factor for what we perceive as virtual and simulated. If or when we progress to a time when we can travel into these digital realities body, mind, and soul; then it is no longer virtual, but as real as anything we experience here in the physical world, like travelling to an exotic paradise or blistering hell.