Virtual Reality Worlds in Anime (Part 2.1) – A Brief History of VR

In Part 1, I listed some examples from Japanese animation of series that were set in virtual/augmented reality worlds. In Part 2, I will be discussing the use of VR or AR in anime, and what comments they make about the relationship between those fictive worlds and, what we might refer to as, the real world. First, though, here is a very brief history of virtual reality.

With the advent of devices like the Oculus Rift, purchased by Facebook for $2 billion in 2014, and similar devices produced by companies such as Sony, Microsoft, HTC and Samsung, to name a few, one might think that the concept of virtual reality gaming was a new one. But back in the 1990s there were products like the iGlasses, the Nintendo Virtual Boy and similar gadgets that tried and failed to tap into this market.

Before that, Morton Leonard Heilig patented the Sensorama in 1962, a device that he believed would provide an immersive cinematic experience.

sensorama morton heilig virtual reality headset
Unfortunately, the cost of making films to suit the Sensorama proved to be too much, and so the project was discontinued

A few years later, in 1968 Ivan Sutherland, the award winning computer scientist, created The Sword of Damocles, a very grandiose name for a cumbersome, and primitive VR and AR device, which to its credit, was the first of its kind.

sword of damocles virtual reality headset
Much like the original Sword of Damocles, the VR device hangs conspicuously from the ceiling

Also, from the early 1900s there have been works of fiction that sought to examine ‘alternative theories of place.’

Isaac Asimov, who famously set out the “Three Laws of Robotics,” wrote the Foundation series of books (1942 onwards), which explored themes of empire and individualism under a cyberpunk backdrop. Frank Herbert’s novel Dune (1965) is often compared with Asimov’s series of books, since they contain similar themes of ‘the world’ versus ‘the individual.’

In 1935, Stanley G. Weinbaum wrote a short story called “Pygmalion’s Spectacles,” where a virtual reality world could be seen behind specially crafted goggles.

In the 1990s, many works of fiction featured simulated worlds, like Philip K. Dick who wrote a short story called “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966), which was adapted into the 1990 film Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The writer also wrote a novel called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), which went on to become 1982’s Blade Runner starring Indiana Jones Harrison Ford.

blade runner harrison ford
This poster looks a lot like a Star Wars poster, surely a coincidence…

More recently, “Crystal Nights” (2009) by Greg Egan, tells the story of a group of scientists who create a cyber world, in order to study evolution.

While earlier writers alluded to VR worlds, advances in technology over the years has meant that, now more than ever, VR is literally becoming more real.

2 comments

    • Cool, I’ll definitely check that out. Thanks for your interest. I love SAO, and I’m also trying to write a novel, so I’m looking forward to hearing about the progress of your book – keep me posted ^^

      Liked by 1 person

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