Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Incantatory VR

All three works for this week involve Virtual Reality, and feature the almost magical power of words in the creation of VR. On the one hand, this is obvious, that words have power in a construct made out of words. But with Neuromancer, the forms of interaction with VR were so visual, so tactile, that they almost obliterated the foundations of that interaction. Coding is words. Maybe some numbers, but in its purest form, is communication with a computer (add this, xor those).

In Snow Crash, the concept of the nam-shub becomes recast in computer terms, as it is the only present world in which it works in the same way as it did in the thousands of years past. The Metaverse looks like a globe with roads and buildings, but in its "actual" form is just blocks of code. When Hiro built his house, what he was building was text that described how he wanted the house to act, what he wanted it to look like, what capabilities he wanted it to have. When Hiro and his friends built the Black Sun, Hiro coded the sword-fighting algorithms and the tunnel system, both mechanisms that he uses (if not frequently then prominently in the novel). Having coded these gives him power over them.

In "A Rape in Cyberspace", the MOO is a virtual world entirely made of text. Every interaction with this environment happens through text (typical early MUD/MOO). The power of using text usually remains with the player, and part of the violation of the rape in cyberspace is the removal of that power from the player's hands. The player is reduced to an observer to the actions that their virtual body enacts. This position, however, is a parallel position to that of a reader or viewer, except for the attachment to the virtual body as a representation of their self.

In eXistenZ, there is that moment where Allegra and Ted are looking for a "country gas station", and then they find a "Country Gas Station". This moment reveals the power of words to affect the (virtual) reality in which they find themselves. Either their words affect reality on an instantaneous level (what they say becomes real), or their words reflect their construction of reality (whoever wrote the game knows its parts).

In Virtual Reality, more so than in Real Reality, words have power because the world is a construction that depends on words to exist. All of the texts for this week reflect this power, some more directly than others (I'm looking at you, Snow Crash).


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