Maybe This Isn’t Reality 2019-10-31
※ The article was written on September 31st, 2019
<”The Matrix” poster (Source: Naver Film)>
Here is a man forced to make a binary choice. He is a successful hacker. A man appears in front of him. The man requests him to choose one of two pills. The man forced to make the choice is Neo, the main character of the movie “The Matrix”.
<The red pill and blue pill (Source: W.carter, Wikipedia)>
The man in front of Neo explains that his choice will be irreversible. The red pill will tell him the “truth”. The truth is that Neo is a savior who will save the world but his reality as he knew it, will collapse. The blue pill will maintain the reality he has been living in. Neo has had a somewhat successful life. He is a recognized hacker although he is being chased by secret agents who take him as an enemy of the state. Which choice should he make? How will his decision affect the world? You will be able to find out the answer to these questions in the first “Matrix” film which has become a major franchise.
| “Maybe this isn’t reality”
This type of thought has always been popular. Novelist Kim Man-jung’s 17th century novel “The Cloud Dream of the Nine”, “The Matrix”, and many modern novels touch upon a similar subject.
Works of this genre have influenced gamers and creators. The Cloud Dream of the Nine has been transformed into games like NeoAlice and <The Cloud Dream of the Nine ~ A Love Story of a Girl>. The Matrix has also been made into a game several times. It is very common for successful cultural products to be translated into games especially when it is about entering another world.
It has already been more than 40 years since games have become popular. However, we cannot talk about the impact games had on culture without “Ultima Online”, a game that coined the term “MMORPG”. This game made the PC PRG game, Ultima, into an online game. It launched in 1997 as a sandbox game which gives the player a great degree of freedom within the game.
<”Ultima Online: Tristan's Britannia Travels”. MMORPG gives the illusion of traveling through space and time through a large playing field where you can collaborate with other players>
It’s hard to call Ultima Online an MMORPG by today’s standards. At most, there were a few hundred concurrent users, and the storyline was very sloppy. However, it allowed for a skill system, hunting, farming, craft, murder, robbery, and real estate purchases. In this regard, it attracted many RPG gamers due to its high level of freedom. Players started to fill out roles and collaborate. Some played according to the storyline, some were farmers, and some specialized in PK. This inspired game creators to make MMORPGs of their own. Along came games like EverQuest, Lineage, Ragnarok, and World of Warcraft.
Currently, we are looking at literary, animation, and different genres of works based on game motifs. At its core, it features a repeated “labor” process for its main characters to grow, closely resembling the leveling up process in games. They all share the same system at their roots. MMORPG is based on growth and collaboration with others.
Variations based on the imagination of the creator have appeared as well. What if we had the technology to enter and live in a game as another reality? Sword Art Online, the light novel series, by the Japanese author Reki Kawahara is an example of this.
<Advertisement of “Sword Art Online Alicization Rising Steel”, a game inspired from works based on a game. Traditional Japanese animation introduction and game advertisement style>
It goes without saying that Reki Kawahara was an avid MMORPG player. He has played games for prolonged periods of time, enough to confuse them with reality, and has had closer relationships with players in his guild than friends in real life. Perhaps you have had a similar experience. These types of experiences are common for gamers. Everyday life is routine and boring. On the other hand, events in a game are very compressed and dramatic. Every decision makes a difference in the virtual world. It comes as no surprise that you might consider players in a guild closer than people in real life.
Let’s add another dimension of thought to this. How are our lives different than games? How can we distinguish them? Does “impossibility” dictate a dream as the main character from The Cloud Dream of the Nine, Sung-jin once said? Kind of like the way a friend request from a pretty girl in a game turns out to be from a spam account? We can differentiate games and reality by our senses. Games are experienced through flat monitors with low resolution and we are unable to sense smell or physical sensations. Therefore, reality presents us with an overwhelming amount of information when compared to games.
The game system in the novel Sword Art Online is a kind of VR system. Unlike reality, it sends signals directly to the human nervous system. It deceives the brain so that all human senses can be felt. Unless there is intervention from the game system, it's designed to feel identical to real life. Kirito, the main character of Sword Art Online, contemplates on how we can distinguish between reality and virtual reality if there is a sufficient amount of information.
Another work by Reki Kawahara, “Accel World” is based on AR games. The game system in the novel also sends signals directly to the human nervous system but at the same level of information density as real life. Would we be able to tell it is AR if it had the same picture resolution as reality? Disregarding the fact that this will never happen, of course.
So far, all of these settings in novels have been nothing but literary imagination. When these novels were written, VR devices only existed for experimental use and were not available to the public. In addition, they had very low picture resolution so that anyone could tell it apart from reality.
However, things are different now. Many companies are making VR devices. Among them, Microsoft, the world's highest valued company, and Facebook, which has mapped human relationships around the world. There is also Sony with the Spider-Man IP. Companies like Smilegate create VR environments based on these platforms.
<Oculus Quest, a standalone VR device made by Oculus acquired by Facebook. Although it provides the best experience of a VR device, users are reluctant to purchase it due to Facebook keeping a record of VR videos watched by users. © facebook>
People who have experienced a well-made VR game all feel as if they were in a different world. VR has developed to a level in which it can deceive people’s sense of vision. Well-made AR pictures or videos produce the same reaction. People feel as if the object was really there.
How will you be able to tell it’s a game if you were in a well-made game? By finding a bug in the system like Neo in The Matrix? What if you were able to utilize the bug for success? If you had to find out the real truth outside of this game, which pill would you choose? The red pill or the blue pill?