On October 22, 1998, Osamu Sato, a digital artist, released his fourth video game on the Sony Playstation- LSD: Dream Emulator. The game was only released in Japan and quickly fell into obscurity due to its esoteric and experimental nature, but it remains a cult classic among internet media culture. The game essentially aimed to replicate the unpredictability of dreams- the colour scheme, sound effects and locations would randomly be selected, meaning individuals’ experiences of the project both had similar and disparate aspects. The game preceded procedural generation (using code to generate random structures/areas/sounds) and solidified a set of ideas occupying the virtual psyche – the virtual space as a dreamscape.
Dreams have forever been the subject of inquiry, and various animals are noted to dream as well. Debates centre around the purpose of dreams, some seeing them as psychological manifestations and others seeing them as junk- the mind’s disposal system. One thing we can agree on is- everyone has them, and to a lesser extent, everyone is affected by them. Dreams take the form of stories, or can simply be images or sounds. Some dreams are in black and white, and others are silent. Our memories influence our perception of our dreams, filling in spaces or colour where our sleeping minds failed to do so. Interestingly, virtual spaces share various similarities with dreams, when contrasted with them.
A powerful aspect of virtual spaces is our perception of them and how that perception can easily be changed: we can navigate spaces in 2D and 3D, and change the resolution, colour scheme, and size of objects at will. In dreams (whether lucid or not), spaces and rules are frequently subject to change. Things can go from moving very slowly to very quickly, and our perception of time is dilated to very fast or slow speeds. Physics can suddenly cease to be: melting objects or places are commonly seen in dreams, and this subconscious language has been replicated in films, games, art and even music.
During REM sleep, a cluster of neurotransmitters is responsible for paralyzing our muscles to stop us moving around. Notably, all dreams have a degree of physical disconnect, unless they are particularly vivid. Many recall the “running dream”, in which running is incredibly difficult and is like wading through tar, and only inches are moved. Your brain, however, is sending signals- they just aren’t being acted out. Virtual spaces automatically have a brain-body disconnect- we aren’t in the space we are navigating, we simply have a viewport into it, which we can influence through gestures and actions. Our senses are dampened. Commonly people can’t smell in dreams. We can’t smell in virtual spaces either, and we can only imagine what they might smell like based on our mind’s frame of reference.
Regardless of where you place the importance of the information conveyed in dreams, much of it is undoubtedly present (e.g. anxiety dreams). Many have read books, seen pictures, heard songs, or even made songs in dreams. Virtual spaces also hold vast amounts of information. 3D spaces are filled with textures, models, sounds, particle systems and autonomous agents (bots or AI), and 2D spaces hold walls of text, images, videos and sounds. Dreams and virtual spaces hold a degree of unpredictability- we don’t always know what will come out of them, and virtual spaces have started to gear up in their unpredictability, environments that behave on their own without external interaction.
The reason these comparisons matter is because considering aspects of one allow us to better understand the other. We can simulate these aspects better, and look into further eliminating the boundaries between the physical and virtual as we have done over the past few decades. Extended Reality (VR and AR) has made strides in bringing the two spaces closer together, but the disconnect still (and may always) remains to an extent. BCI (Brain Computer Interface) seeks to unite the physical and virtual via electrodes. There are already a few games, computers and even vehicles that can be controlled solely via thought, in addition to the bionic arms and legs that function in a similar way. This could be the final bridge between the physical and virtual spaces that we naturally seem to seek.