Virtual reality and the museology of consciousness

A familiar trope of science fiction is that journeys into alternate realities leave neither the travellers nor their worlds unchanged. In Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall an implanted memory of a fantasy holiday to Mars sets in train a sequence of events through which construction worker Douglas Quaid becomes a secret agent who terraforms the planet’s atmosphere. In Tron software engineer Kevin Flynn, digitised and ingested into the virtual worlds he creates, finds he is able to change the system from within, defeating the Master Control Program and ultimately finding justice for himself in the real world. When Alice goes through the looking glass she is promoted from child to monarch, usurping the Red Queen’s rule over her domain. The portals through which the characters move have a destabilising effect, and each traveller wonders whether their actions were the dreams of another. But there is a common thread: when narratives are formed where consciousness is a medium, the system itself becomes the subject.

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