“Ready Lawnmower Player Man One”, or VR’s persistent future

For the last couple of years I have given a lecture that takes the “Virtual/Real” distinction and deconstructs it using various bits of geographical theory. I also talk about the enduring trope of the sort of eschatological narrative of VR, tying it back to a little bit of history, mainly focusing on how this has been propagated in pop culture. This year, for fun, I have decided to be a little bit more creative than resorting to my usual trick of showing the trailer for Lawnmower Man or Ready Player One – I’ve made a quick mashup of the two, which I think show quite nicely how the underlying narratives of the ‘virtual’ somehow counterposed to the ‘real’ but also in some way ‘crossing over’ is an enduring theme.

The other enduring theme here is that the forms of gameplay drawn upon are characterised as highly masculine (and normatively heterosexual – no queering of the digital here, sadly), which is something I will try to also blog about sometime…

Other film examples might include:

Revisiting a 90s future: AHRC/EPSRC Next Generation of Immersive Experiences

glitches image of a 1990s NASA VR experience

Emails have been circulating this week about this so it may already be familiar, but ‘digital’ academics may be interested in this… The below is more or less the text of the emails I’ve seen.

Sources: Teeside / AHRC

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) offer support to interdisciplinary research partnerships with the potential to create new knowledge and address major challenges for the development of the next generation of immersive experiences.Proposals are invited from interdisciplinary research partnerships in the areas of:

– Memory – how can new immersive experiences extend the access, interpretation and reach of memory-based institutions such as museum, galleries, archives and collections?
– Place – what new experiences can be created by the combination of immersive technology and place based services?
– Performance – what new creative practices are enabled by immersive technology, what new experiences can be offered to audiences and how can this transform or extend models of performance?

One of the primary aims of this call is to build interdisciplinary capabilities, collaborations, and partnership which will be well placed to take advantage of future opportunities for research and innovation (both from UKRI and beyond). As such AHRC expect partnerships funded through this call to have a life beyond the end of the funding period.

It is expected that the outputs from the funded projects and the wider cohort will include:

  • Interdisciplinary partnerships including academic researchers and creative economy partners;
  • The potential research questions within this space to have been further developed and refined;
  • Sufficient proof of concept(s) / prototypes / visualisations to have been developed by researchers;
  • Tangible advances in creativity, insights, knowledge and understanding in the area of immersive experiences across one or more of the themes;
  • Working with AHRC, EPSRC, IUK and other funders to understand the complexities of funding research in the immersive experience space and potential barriers to exploitation and scaling up of research outputs.

All outcomes should ensure that the UK creative economy can be a world leader in the conceptualisation, design, production and distribution of commercial and cultural immersive experiences in the future.

This call represents an initial stage of investment in the next generation of immersive experiences. AHRC are currently scoping what form further stages of investment might be, and the outcomes of this call will help to inform these further stages.

The maximum value of applications at 100% FEC is £75,000; the deadline for submissions is 5 October 2017. For further details, see the AHRC website.

The Call Document (PDF, 239KB) provides further information on the context and aims for, and the scope of, the call as well as information on how to submit applications.

The AHRC are running a series of engagement events in early July 2017 to cover this call. Details of these events can be found here

VR… ‘das opium des volkes’? Adam Greenfield on Oculus

Nice blogpost by Adam a short-while ago reflecting on VR as a means of keeping the precariat/proletariat sated with simulation:

As VR’s leading developers straight-up admit in the piece, its function is to camouflage the inequities and insults of an unjust world, by offering the masses high-fidelity simulations of the things their betters get to experience for real. Here’s the money quote, no pun intended: “[S]ome fraction of the desirable experiences of the wealthy can be synthesized and replicated for a much broader range of people.” (That’s John Carmack speaking, for future reference.)


The idea that all we can do is accede to a world of permanent, vertiginous inequity – inequity so entrenched and so unchallengeable that the best thing we can do with our technology is use it as a palliative and a pacifier

All reminiscent of William Gibson’s rendering of the “Sim/Stim” industry in the Neuromancer trilogy… for example, this passage from the 23rd chapter of Count Zero (the 2nd book):

The interior of the JAL shuttle vanished in a burst of Aegean blue, and she watched the words TALLY ISHAM’S TOP PEOPLE expand across the cloudless sky in elegant sans-serif capitals.

Tally Isham had been a constant in the stim industry for as long as Marly remembered, an ageless Golden Girl who’d
come in on the first wave of the new medium. Now Marly
found herself locked into Tally’s tanned, lithe, tremendously comfortable sensorium. Tally Isham glowed, breathed deeply
and easily, her elegant bones riding in the embrace of a musculature that seemed never to have known tension. Ac- cessing her stim recordings was like falling into a bath of
perfect health, feeling the spring in the star’s high arches and
the jut of her breasts against the silky white Egyptian cotton
of her simple blouse. She was leaning against a pocked white balustrade above the tiny harbor of a Greek island town, a cascade of flowering trees falling away below her down a
hillside built from whitewashed stone and narrow, twisting
stairs A boat sounded in the harbor

“The tourists are hurrying back to their cruise ship now,” Tally said, and smiled; when she smiled, Marly could feel the smoothness of the star’s white teeth, taste the freshness of her mouth, and the stone of the balustrade was pleasantly rough against her bare forearms.

I continue to be surprised by the return to and rehabilitation of the Modernist vision of VR… perhaps I’m not cynical enough?!