Greetings from the Odinson,
Evolution of Computer Cyber Worlds and How they may Affect Our Reality
For the Odinson, my introduction to the cyber worlds of computers began where it began for most GenXers, the Arcade. The arcade was a magical place filled with rows and rows of cabinets (monitors set in stand-up displays). It was a cornucopia of joysticks, buttons, and trackballs. The dimly lit atmosphere served only to accentuate the eye-catching and often mesmerizing, animated screens.
It was at the arcade the Odinson was introduced to video game icons like the sinister Space Invaders, the ravenous Pac Man, his beautiful gal pal, Ms. Pac Man, the hulking Donkey Kong, and the ever-elusive Centipede. The beeps, buzzes, whizzes, and zings of the arcade was music to my ears, and all I needed to enter the worlds within these beckoning cabinets was a single quarter. Well, except for Dragon’s Lair. This next-gen fantasy-adventure money vacuum required two.
I can Atari 2600, NES, and PlayStation, it with the best of them, but the Odinson is by no means an expert on computers nor on how they work. I barely know what a video card is, and I was not a forerunner at the dawn of the internet. I remember the frustration with my Commodore 64 and having to enter lines upon lines of code just to play Pool of Radiance. But I do have a fertile imagination, and I can appreciate the vision of those that made these cyber worlds buzz with life.
The best science fiction shows us worlds that are eye-opening, sometimes scary, reflective, and, as the decades have passed, they have shown things that were once thought impossible become possible.
How long before science fiction becomes fact?
For 40 years, the realms of science fiction have shown us some truly contemplative and visually stunning possibilities of what happens when human beings begin to explore, merge, and ultimately live beside/within the virtual worlds of cyber space.
What is the logical progression for interaction between man and machine? The answer, of course, is intersection.
Then what is the next step? Amalgamation.
Tron (1982) – Video game developer and computer programmer Kevin Flynn’s boundaries of what he thought was reality expanded when he suddenly found himself transported to the virtual world of programs. This is a world of Input/Output Towers and Light Cycles; sentient security programs, hacking programs, actuarial programs, and master control programs. It is a beautiful world of neon, but also a deadly plane of existence where the difference between life and derezzing (deletion, i.e., death) could rely on your skill with your Identity Disc.
As a User (a human being), Flynn discovers that he can interact and affect this virtual world in a way no program can. He can alter his appearance and rebuild broken virtual reality. The limits of what he can do isn’t truly explored but it is potentially unlimited.
Tron was the beginnings of Man physically stepping foot into the virtual world of computers, a merging of reality with the video game reality.
WarGames (1983) – Years before words like hacker and identity theft and cybercrime were in the greater lexicon, savvy troublemaker David Lightman, a wizard with a keyboard and the magic he can conjure with simple dial-up, shows just how powerful and dangerous the worlds of computers can be. What starts out as hacking into his high school’s CPU and changing D’s into A’s and swiping video games from companies months before they are made available to the public quickly turns into a potentially Apocalyptic event when David hacks into a super computer at NORAD and challenges it to a friendly game of Global Thermonuclear War, a game the computer begins to play for real.
WarGames shows the nightmare that could happen if the worlds of computers are not taken seriously, especially when A.I. is involved.
Weird Science (1985) – Wyatt and Gary are cliché Betas. No girlfriends, picked on by bullies and older brothers, and no social lives outside of their weekends congregating around the computer. But what happens when these teens combine the virtual reality of Wyatt’s computer with fertile imaginations, a copious amount of pop culture, and enough concede to believe that a nuclear warhead can materialize in your living room, your party can be broken up by rejects from a Mad Max movie, and everything will be okay before mom and dad get home in the morning?
Answer: Lisa, a super woman with the ability to reshape reality on a whim, and the best time Gary and Wyatt ever had.
Getting past the 80s teen hijinks, Weird Science is a thinly veiled motif of the Frankenstein-level troubles that may occur when man begins to play God and asserts control over the virtual reality of computers.
Johnny Mnemonic (1995) – In the far-off future of 2021, Johnny Mnemonic is a currier that transports sensitive information by downloading it into his brain, at the cost of his memories. When encrypted secrets and artificial intelligence are the side effects, Johnny must hack his own brain to decipher the code and save humanity.
Johnny Mnemonic is showing a closer merging of our reality and virtual reality. When you can’t tell the difference between them, who or what is to say which is real?
Which brings us to…
The Matrix (1999) – What if what you know is reality was a virtual computer world created by your robotic overlords to keep you docile and enslaved so they can transform you into the very energy that keeps them alive?
That is a very CliffsNotes explanation of just what the Matrix is.
The Matrix is an existential exploration of what is real and what is not, a tale of destiny vs. free will. It is a cautionary tale about mankind’s hubris and the ascension of A.I. A tale of what could happen if reality and virtual reality merged.
Humph. I guess you can be told what the Matrix is.
Tron: Legacy (2010) – The worlds between mankind and computer are drawn ever closer as Sam Flynn ventures into the virtual reality of the Grid to search for his missing father, Kevin Flynn. After an epic journey that mirrors his father’s own from years earlier, Sam returns to the real world, but he is not alone.
In Tron: Legacy, the roles are reverse when Quorra, a denizen of the virtual world, now crosses over into our world. The possibilities, and ramifications, of this have yet to be fully explored. That is unless you count 1995’s Virtuosity.
Pixels (2015) – I suppose the natural progression of the virtual world entering the real world could be this 2015 Adam Sandler film, when aliens use the knowledge gained from a time capsule that had been shot into outer space in the early 1980s inspires them to use pixelated kaiju versions of Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, and other iconic cabinet classics to attack the human race.
Ready Player One (2018) – If virtual realities were Batman’s arch foe Two-Face, then The Matrix would be the scarred half of Harvey Dent’s once handsome visage, the dark nightmare of what could be if virtual reality and reality merged. And the OASIS would be the unmarred, handsome side of Dent’s face, the bright beacon of possibility and the dreamlike fantasy potential of what this merger could become.
Free Guy (2021) – What happens when an NPC suddenly become sentient? That is exactly what happens to Guy, the blue-shirt citizen of Free City, a virtual video game world that merges The Sims, World of WarCraft, MineCraft, Grand Theft Auto, and Fortnite all together into the ultimate MMO.
Free Guy asks the questions what happens next, what are the responsibilities of the real world when they create artificial life? And, if this life is a thinking, feeling being, is the word “artificial” even an appropriate description?
At least we learn that anytime you can get a piggyback ride from a centaur it is a good day indeed.
Mankind has explored the lands to the ends of the earth. We explored the oceans and its depths. We have explored the heavens and, hopefully soon, we will expand beyond celestial horizons and explore the furthest stars. We are also exploring the virtual realities of computers and A.I., and the impact they may have on our future.
How long before those paths crossover and merge and what we all once thought was science fiction has now become fact?
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: For past entries of the So Sayeth the Odinson blog, over a decade’s worth of comic book and pop culture articles and reviews, click HERE. Also, be sure to check out my novels The Survivors and Autumn Dawn, which were inspired by 1980s horror – HERE and HERE