Bailenson, J.N., Yee, N., Kim, A., & Tecarro, J. (2007). Sciencepunk: The influence of informed science fiction on virtual reality research. In, Margret Grebowicz, ed. SciFi in the Mind’s Eye: Reading Science Through Science Fiction (pp. 147-164). Open Court Publishing.
The roots and lineages of many contemporary technologies are oftentimes concealed by their shiny, polished exteriors. And as their lineages are erased, the biases and worldviews that bore those technologies are also forgotten, and it becomes easy to portray current technologies – as well as the practices and research paradigms that involve them – as entirely modern and novel. Of course, ideas are never quite entirely new. For example, Turner has documented how the rise of the new economy, personal computing and virtual communities drew many of their ideals from the countercultural era, ideals that were shared by the Merry Pranksters and had brought forth events such as the Acid Tests and the Trips Festivals (Turner, 2005). In this chapter, we are interested in the roots of a different kind of “consensual hallucination” (to borrow William Gibson’s phrase) – the technology of virtual reality and, in particular, the empirical social science research that revolves around it. In the same vein as Turner, we trace the roots of many current research questions back to influential science fiction novels of the early 80s. We argue that many of the questions that were raised in cyberpunk novels about two decades ago are the research questions that current virtual reality researchers are trying to answer.