Two movies are being released this fall that in some way deal with elements associated with virtual worlds in some way, in some form, become activated as part of the real, physical world.
I have already written about the Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates, in which people can create android avatars that they send out to interact with the real, physical world, giving them control from the safety of their homes. The fantasies of the mind are lived in real life in this movie — its as if Second Life is made corporeal.
Also coming out this fall is the Gerard Butler movie, Gamer. In this movie, death row inmates are made to fight each other for the chance for parole. The catch is, they don’t control their actions — an unseen gamer is some how pulling the strings, just as s/he would control a video game character. If the inmate can survive a number of “sessions”, then that inmate is let go.
Both movies focus on the virtual world characteristic of controlling avatars for some purpose. In Surrogates it is to live a more “fantastical” life; the supposed motivations to have a surrogate would be those assumed important with having an SL persona: interpersonal interaction; different experiences; safe sex; complete customization of identity, from physical to personality.
In Gamer, the purpose appears more geared to the violence of a first-person shooter MMO, where you compete with others (mostly teenage boys, as this trailer shows). The hitch is that these “avatars” are actual people who have the ability to speak back and even disconnect from their master’s commands.
Whereas the first movie appears more to question what is identity and safety, the second movie appears more interested in violence, primarily, and questions about slavery and control. Right now the questions of the first movie are more relevant to how we analyze people’s engagings with virtual worlds. But should we ever develop true AI, the questions of the second are just as important, if not moreso (given everything Hollywood and science fiction has warned us about robots).
Another point of consideration is that these are two movies likely responding to the mainstream public discourse about virtual worlds, and MMORPGs in particular. As virtual worlds, and the 3D Web, become more predominant, will we see more public discourse on virtual reality, mirroring the earlier Hollywood cycle that resulted in Virtuosity, Strange Days and Lawnmower Man?