When life is painful, we look for an escape. Sometimes that escape comes in the form of a book, or in an adventure-driven television show, videogame, or movie. In our not-so-distant future, that escape can even come in the form of visiting a virtual reality unlike our own—a world without pain and hardship. Essentially, the ultimate escape. In an upcoming PlayStation Vita-bound RPG from the original Persona writer, Tadashi Satomi, virtual reality serves as a flight from reality, plucking its young heroes into an idyllic high school setting within the fictional VR platform ‘Mobius.’ Until that familiar setting isn’t quite what it seems, of course.
the players horrifically remain trapped within their NerveGears
In Satomi’s Caligula, the simulated teens (but adults in reality) don’t remember much (if any) of the real world since entering the VR-enabled one. As time passes, the nine main characters realize that there’s something not right with the world they believe to be their reality, and create an aptly named “Going Home Club,” (which has a tinge of similarity to last year’s surprise dystopian anime School-Live!’s (2015) “School Living Club”). In being suspicious of their VR-reality, the God-like overseer ‘μ’ wages destruction on the Going Home Club for disrupting the peaceful virtual getaway.
Caligula mirrors the unsavoriness of the virtual reality MMORPG seen in the popular anime series, Sword Art Online (2012). In Sword Art Online, fully immersing oneself via the game’s NerveGear headset is a choice, but a dangerous one. If the player dies in the game, they die in real life as well. As with a lot of scary-technology narratives, the players horrifically remain trapped within their NerveGears.
In Caligula, the VR-world is so lifelike and peaceful that it’s caused its protagonists to forget about the real world waiting for them—even if it’s full of disappointment, trauma, and terror. As VR comes to more households, and appears in more of our everyday lives, nightmarish Black Mirror-esque VR narratives like this will slowly fade away. In the future, the VR-themed nightmares we’ve grown to witness might blossom into something more subtle, more realistic, less Sword Art Online-y.
Caligula will be out in North America and Europe for PlayStation Vita in Spring 2017.