Tuesday, 4 September 2007

MS-352 Virtual Life week 3

3. ’6pm. Today’s Special: Virtual Reality TV Presents “The Kennedy Assassination”…’ : Virtual Realities, Virtual Worlds, Virtual life

"6pm. Today’s Special. Virtual Reality TV presents “The Kennedy Assassination”. The virtual reality headset takes you to Dallas, Texas on November 22nd 1963. First you fire the assassin’s rifle from the Book Depository window, and then you sit between Jackie and JFK in the Presidential limo as the bullet strikes. For Premium subscribers only – feel the Presidential brain tissue spatter your face OR wipe Jackie’s tears onto your handkerchief." J. G. Ballard, ‘A Guide to Virtual Death’ (1992)

We begin our consideration of the impact of new media upon humanity by looking at the concept of ‘virtuality’ and our production of virtual experiences, virtual worlds and virtual reality. Although early precedents can be found (such as in Huxley’s Brave New World) it is in the postwar period that the idea of an electronic virtual reality begins to attract attention. By the 1960s sci-fi authors such as Daniel Galouye and Philip K Dick are exploring the idea of a full, immersive electronic reality and its impact upon our experience and knowledge of the real. Vinge’s 1981 novella ‘True Names’ developed the idea of a realm globally accessed by individuals through personal computers but it was William Gibson’s coining of the term ‘cyberspace’ and his description of it in his 1984 book, Neuromancer, that popularised the idea. Television and cinema have also explored virtual reality, from ‘the matrix’ that appeared in Dr Who in 1976, through Tron, Lawnmower Man, Strange Days, Existenz, The Thirteenth Floor and The Matrix, producing some of the most famous explorations of the concept. Real virtual reality, however, remains at a limited stage of technical and commercial development, although advances in processing power and simulation still hold out the possibility of its eventual take-off. In the meantime what has taken off are a range of other virtual experiences, from the ‘3D realism’ of videogames and online virtual worlds such as WOW and Second Life, through to the ordinary online experience of the virtual world of ‘cyberspace’ and the ‘hybrid’ realities we see on everyday media such as television (in the development of ‘virtual newsrooms’ and their graphic presentations combining different modes of realism and animation). At the heart of these ideas of virtuality is the simulation of modes of experience (whether possible or fantastic). Thinking about these processes and their possible future and its implications returns us to the questions of reality, knowledge and embodiment posed in week one and allows us to begin to think more deeply about the new media world we experience.

On Human-Computer Interaction:

Wiener, N. (1965) Cybernetics, London: MIT Press [1948]
(1988) The Human Use of Human Beings, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press [1950]

Licklider, J (1960) ‘Man-Computer Symbiosis’, at: http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/psz/Licklider.html

Licklider, J. and Taylor, R. (1968) ‘The Computer as Communication Device’, at:

Engelbart, D. (1962) ‘Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework’, at: http://www.bootstrap.org/augdocs/friedewald030402/augmentinghumanintellect/ahi62index.html


Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

Daniel F. Galouye, (1964) Counterfeit World [Also known as Simulacron – 3], the story The Thirteenth Floor was based upon – this world exposed as VR 35 years before The Matrix!

Philip K Dick (1959) Time Out of Joint
(1963) ‘The Days of Perky Pat’, short-story
(1964) The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (the ‘perky pat’ layouts)
(1966) ‘We Can Remember it For You Wholesale’, short-story
(1968 ) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the empathy box)
(1969) Ubik
(1969) ‘The Electric Ant’, short-story
(1970) A Maze of Death
(1980) ‘I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon’, short-story

James Tiptree (Karen Sheldon) (1975) ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’, in Warm Worlds and Otherwise, New York: Ballantine.

Vernor Vinge (2001) ‘True Names’, in Frenkel, J. (ed.) True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, pp. 241-330 [1981]. An on-line version is available at http://home.comcast.net/~kngjon/truename/truename.html -and it is essential reading!

William Gibson (1995) Burning Chrome, London: Harper Collins [1986], including ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, Johnny Mnemonic’, ‘New Rose Hotel’ and ‘Burning Chrome’.
(1995) Neuromancer, London: Harper Collins [1984]
(1995) Count Zero, London: Harper Collins [1986]
(1995) Mona Lisa Overdrive, London: Harper Collins [1988]
(1994) Virtual Light, London: Penguin [1993]
(1997) Idoru, London: Penguin [1996]
(2000) All Tomorrow’s Parties, London: Penguin [1999]

Neal Stephenson, (1993) Snow Crash, London: Penguin, especially chs 3 and 5, pp. 18-25; 33-41 [1992]. The defining cyberpunk novel of the 1990s.

Jeff Noon, (1993) Vurt, London: Pan Books. A major headf… Trainspotting Meets Neuromancer. Manchester druggies get off on vurt feathers which transport them into a virtual reality somewhere between a filmic and game experience. Just go and read it …

Vendetti, R. and Weldele, B. (2006) The Surrogates (Graphic Novel), Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.


Dr Who ‘The Deadly Assassin’, Dr Who, BBC TV (1976)

Rusnak, J. (1999) The Thirteenth Floor, Columbia Tristar [DVD]

Cronenberg, D. (1999) eXistenZ, Alliance Atlantis [DVD]

Bigelow, K. (2001) Strange Days, Universal Studios [DVD]

Wachowski, A. and L. (1999) The Matrix, Warner Bros. [DVD]

Leonard, B. (2002) The Lawnmower Man, Prism Leisure Group [DVD 1992]

Lisberger, S. (2002) Tron. 20th anniversary Collector’s Edition, Buena Vista Home
Entertainment [DVD 1982].

On Virtual Reality:

Bukatman, S. (1993) ‘Terminal Space’ and ‘Terminal Penetration’, in Terminal Identity, London: Duke University Press, pp. 103-82; 185-240.

Lister, M. et al (2003) ‘New Media and Visual Culture’, in New Media: A Critical Introduction, London: Routledge, pp. 97-163 (especially 107-138)

Heim, M. (1993) ‘The Essence of VR’, in The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 109-28.

Rheingold, H. (1992) Virtual Reality, London: Mandarin.

Zizek, S. (1996) ‘From Virtual reality to the Virtualisation of Reality’, in Druckery, T. (ed.) Electronic Culture, New York: Aperture, pp. 290-95.

There’s much available on the web about VR though make sure it’s what you want – it can vary from technical and factual information about the systems available and contemporary research to wild theorising about its potential. Try the following as good ways in http://beard.dialnsa.edu/~gpagano/ - a good page with simple information and many links, and http://www.insead.fr/CALT/Encyclopedia/ComputerSciences/VR/vr.htm - lots of links, many of them useful on the technical side.

On Cyberspace:

Davis, E. (1998) ‘Cyberspace: The Virtual Craft’, in Techgnosis, London: Serpent’s Tail, pp. 190-224.

Heim, M. (1993) ‘From Interface to Cyberspace’ and ‘The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace’ in The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 73-82; 83-108.

Mitchell, W. J. (1997) City of Bits, London: MIT Press.

Wertheim, M. (1999) The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, London: Virago.

Benedikt, M. (2000) ‘Cyberspace: First Steps’, in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 29-43.

Robins, K. (2000) ‘Cyberspace and the World We Live In’, in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 77-95.

On The Matrix

There’s obviously a huge literature by now on The Matrix and its representation of VR so here’s a sample reading list should you want to follow up on this.

Clover, J. (2004) The Matrix, London: BFI Publishing (BFI Modern Classics)

Couch, S. (ed.) (2003) Matrix Revelations: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to The Matrix Trilogy, London: Damaris Publishing.

Condon, P. (2003) The Matrix Unlocked, Contender Books.

Corliss, R. (1999) ‘Popular Metaphysics’, in Time Magazine, April, Vol. 153, No. 15, 1999, http://homes.acmecity.com/thematrix/trinity/279/philosophy4.html

Faller, S. (2004) Beyond The Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations, London: Chalice Press.

Garrett, S., Garrett, G., and Seay, C. (eds.) (2003) The Gospel Reloaded. Exploring Spirituality and Faith in The Matrix, Pinion Press.

Haber, K. (ed.) (2003) Exploring “The Matrix”. New Writings on The Matrix and the Cyber Present, iBooks.

Horsley, J. (2003) The Matrix Warrior. Being the One, Gollancz. (absolute Rubbish but still significant …)

Irwin, W. (ed.) (2002) The Matrix and Philosophy. Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Open Court Publishing Company.

Kapell, M. and Doty, W. G. (eds.) (2004) Jacking Into The Matrix Franchise: Cultural Reception and Interpretation, London: Continuum.

Lawrence, M. (2004) Like a Splinter in Your Mind. The Philosophy Behind The Matrix Trilogy, Oxford: Blackwell.

Lloyd, P. B. (2003) Exegesis of The Matrix, Whole-Being Books.

Merrin, W. (2003) ‘“Did You Ever Eat Tasty Wheat?”: Baudrillard and The Matrix’, in Scope – An Online Journal of Film Studies, April,

Baudrillard, J. (2003b) ‘The Matrix Decoded’ (translation of interview in Nouvel Observateur, 19th June 2003),

Campbell, D. (2003c) ‘Matrix Films Blamed For Series of Murders by Obsessed Fans’, in The Guardian, May 19th, (accessed February 2004), http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,958840,00.html

Yeffeth, G. (ed.) (2003) Taking the red Pill. Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix, Chichester: Summersdale Publishers Ltd.

Wachowski, A. and L. (1999) The Matrix, Warner Bros [DVD]
(1999) The Matrix Revisited, Warner Bros. [DVD]
(2000) The Art of The Matrix, London: Titan Books.
(2001) The Matrix. The Shooting Script, New York: Newmarket Press.
(2003) The Animatrix, Warner Bros [DVD] – especially ‘Matriculated’
(2003) The Matrix Reloaded, Warner Bros [DVD]
(2003) The Matrix Revolutions, Warner Bros [DVD]
(2003) The Matrix Comics, London: Titan Books.
(2005) The Matrix Comics. Volume 2, London: Titan books.
(2004) The Ultimate Matrix Collection, Warner Bros [DVD] 10 disc set.

On William Gibson:

Neale, M. (2003) No Maps For these Territories: On the Road With William Gibson, New York: New Video Group [DVD], script on-line at http://columbia.edu/~caw39/nomaps.html

Bukatman, S. (1993) Terminal Identity, London: Duke University Press, chs. 2-3.

Butler, A. M. (2000) Cyberpunk, Herts: Pocket Essentials.

Cavallaro, D. (2000) Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson, London: Athlone.

Clark, N. (1996) ‘Rear-View Mirrorshades: The Recursive Generation of the Cyberbody’, in Featherstone, M., and Burrows, R. (eds.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk, London: Sage, pp. 113-33.

Fitting, P. (1991) ‘The Lessons of Cyberpunk’, in Penley, C. and Ross, A. (eds.) Technoculture, Oxford: University of Minnesota Press.

Kellner, D. (1995) ‘Mapping the Present From the Future. From Baudrillard to Cyberpunk’, in Media Culture, London: Routledge, pp. 297-330.

McQuire, S. (2002) ‘Space for Rent in the Last Suburb (On William Gibson’s Neuromancer)’, in Tofts, D., Jonson, A., and Cavallaro, A. (eds.) Prefiguring Cyberculture: An Intellectual History, London: MIT Press, pp. 166-78.

Olsen, L (1992) William Gibson, Starmont: Mercer Island (available on-line at:
http://www.cafezeitgeist.com/gibson.html )

McCaffery, L. (ed.) (1991) Storming the Reality Studio, London: Duke University Press.

Sterling, B. (1988) ‘Preface’, in Sterling B. (ed.) Mirrorshades. The Cyberpunk Anthology, New York: Ace Books [1986]. [reprinted in McCaffery].

Tomas, D. (2000) ‘The Technophilic Body: On Technicity in William Gibson’s Cyborg Culture’, in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 175-89 [1989].

I’d recommend the following on-line:

http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/index.asp - Begin with Gibson’s official site and follow the links.

http://www.voidspace.org.uk/cyberpunk/gibson_index.shtml - ‘The Works of William Gibson: Articles and Resources;, including his first six books and his short story collection on-line.

http://www.angelfire.com/ia/televisionsky/gibson.html - ‘William Gibson’ - especially good for Gibson articles and for the interviews I discuss in class.

http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/science_fiction/neuromancer.html - ‘Study Guide For Neuromancer’.

http://www.virtualmatrix.org/ - the ‘Virtual Matrix’.

http://o.webring.com/hub?ring+williamg – the William Gibson Web Ring, giving access to lots of Gibson sites.

On Video Games and Virtual Worlds:

Castronava, E. (2005) Synthetic Worlds, London: University of Chicago Press

Carr, P. and Pond, G. (2007) The Unofficial Tourist’s Guide to Second Life, London: Boxtree.

Dovey, J. and Kennedy, H. W. (2006) Game Cultures, Open University Press.

Guest, T. (2007) Second Lives. A Journey Through Virtual Worlds, London: Hutchinson.

Taylor, T. L. (2006) Play Between Worlds. Exploring Online Game Culture, New York: MIT Press.

Poole, S. (2000) Trigger Happy. The Inner Life of Video Games, London: Fourth Estate.

Marshall, P. D. (2004) New Media Cultures, London: Arnold, ch 5.

Wolf, M. J. P. (ed.) (2002) The Medium of the Video-Game, New York: University of Texas Press.

Wolf, M. J. P. and Perron, B. (eds.) (2003) The Video-Game Theory Reader, London: Routledge.

Newman, J. (2004) Video Games, London: Routledge.

Krzywinska, T. and King, G. (eds.) (2002) Screenplay: Cinema, Videogames, Interfaces, London: Wallflower Press.

Kline, S., Dyer-Witheford, N., and De Peuter, G. (eds.) (2003) Digital Play, New York: McGill-Queens University Press.

Atkins, B. (2003) More Than a Game. The Computer Game as Fictional Form, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

DeMaria, R. and Wilson, J. L. (2002) High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, New York: McGraw Hill.

King, L. (ed.) (2002) Game On: The History and Culture of Video-Games, New York: Lawrence King Publishing.

Kent, S. L. (2002) The Ultimate History of Video Games, New York: Prima Life.

Burnham, V. (2003) Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age, 1971-1984, New York: MIT Press.

Herz, J. C. (1997) Joystick Nation, New York: Little, Brown and Co.

On the Prehistory of VR: Panoramas, Phantasmagoria and Stereoscopes - A History of Immersion…

Merrin, W. (2005) ‘Buckle Your Seat-Belt Dorothy: Cause Cinema’s Goin Bye-Byes’, in Furby, J. and Randell, K. (eds.) Screen Methods. Comparative Readings in Film Studies, London: Wallflower Press.

Merrin, W. (2006) ‘Skylights Onto Infinity: The World in a Stereoscope’, in Visual Delights II: Exhibition and Reception, Luton: John Libby Books.

Oettermann, S. (1997) The Panorama. History of a Mass Medium, New York: Zone Books (read the introduction and chapter one).

Comment, B. (1999) The Panorama, London: Reaktion Books (chapters 1-5 give the history; chapters 6-14 discuss the form).

Mannoni, L. (2000) The Great Art of Light and Shadow, Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Schwartz, V. R. (1998) Spectacular Realities, London: University of California Press.

Heard, M. (2006) Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern, Hastings: The Projection Box.

Robinson, D., Herbert,, S., Crangle, R. (2001) Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, London:
The Magic Lantern Society.

Crompton, D., Franklin, R. and Herbert, S. (eds.) (1997) Servants of Light. The Book of the Lantern, London: The Magic Lantern Society – read Thomas Weynants’ essay, The Fantasmagoria’.

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