"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding."
The idea of a dimension
having mystical effect on our own dimension is quite old. Sometimes the dimensional gateway would be a mirror or book. A computer screen is both of these.
Cyberspace just puts a modern spin on the idea.
Rather than go Down the Rabbit Hole
into a Spirit World
, the character puts on some VR goggles, plugs an Ethernet cable into his skull
, or gets "digitized" into data. What do they see when they go online? A pretty nifty 3D world, designed as a Viewer-Friendly Interface
made up of Holographic Terminals
over a background full of Matrix Raining Code
superimposed over Tron Lines
. Not only is everything online,
you can expect "surfing" from one site/database to another to be handled with all the aesthetic aplomb of a Design Student's Orgasm
and to be completely lagless.
One curious alternative idea that seems to infest many cyberspaces is travel time... The Metaverse
of Snow Crash
has people walking to the shops on The Internet
. This could be seen as the illogical conclusion to the increasingly graphical user interface design evolution from the concise but user-unfriendly command line to drag-and-drop windows and pointers and presumably to the final stages where your avatar crumples up your virtual document and walks over to the virtual bin with it
. People in the future clearly have a phenomenal amount of patience with their user interfaces. Essentially, Cyberspace is stylized into
a simulation that's virtually indistinguishable from real life
, and less of a recreational pastime or tool.
If there are other webizens or hackers in cyberspace (not to mention AI's
, they will either be amorphous gobs of light
, be completely outlandishly dressed
(or have non-human avatars) because there are no physical limitations, or appear exactly as they would in real life (even wearing the street clothes they were wearing as they logged on).
Sometimes, a Holodeck Malfunction
turns Cyberspace outright dangerous — not just online, but in real life, because Your Mind Makes It Real
. It may take an Orphean Rescue
to get those trapped out.
Frequently pops up in Cyberpunk
settings. See also The Metaverse
, which is when society at large uses the Internet this way. Compare Platonic Cave
. Also compare Hard Light
, where Cyberspace can manipulate the physical world.
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Anime & Manga
- The Wired in Serial Experiments Lain. It plays fast and loose with its concept of geography, and we never really find out what the characters are using to control their avatars, though there are implications.
- Completely merging organic brains with digital technology is the central theme of Ghost in the Shell. Almost every every person who works in the government, law enforcement, management, and the technology sector can directly link his brain to a computer. At some points people voice their belief that a person can survive as a completely digital lifeform, leaving any organic body behind while still retaining their soul. And this was in 1989.
- The anime series Stand Alone Complex goes even further and implies that every person in East Asia receives such an interface in their early teens. The only exceptions seem to be young children under the age of 10. It also shows civilian chat rooms that use life-like three dimensional avatars, in addition to the very simple icons that represent a person in military and security software.
- Corrector Yui is a Magical Girl in Cyberspace
- The Digital Worlds in the anime Digimon Adventure and Digimon Tamers were Alternate Universes created when the first computer was made, according to the Official Backstory. The "what goes on there screws with technology outside" factor is greatly downplayed compared to most series that use this trope, but it exists.
- The anime .hack//SIGN (and the .hack series in general) takes place in "The World", an MMORPG with a Cyberspace interface.
- Besides the coma victims, however, none of the players are physically in the network. It's just very immersive.
- Word of God combined with theory suggests the Fandom may have had it backwards: rather than the players getting trapped in The World, it's The World that gets trapped in its players.
- The anime Mega Man NT Warrior had everything hooked up to a Cyberspace version of the Internet, as did the Mega Man Battle Network series it was based on.
- Masamune Shirow's Real Drive is all about this.
- Ken Akamatsu has a way of depicting the internet as an endless ocean ala his first work A.I. Love You and later work Mahou Sensei Negima!. Tuna is a dos attack...
- The fictional town in Dennou Coil has a virtual reality accessible via glasses that's more or less this.
- The central plot of Summer Wars revolves around Oz, a cyberspace communications network.
- In Transformers Armada episode "Chase", Sideways attempted to steal three of the Mini-Cons by dragging them and the kids into cybserspace. This episode also gave us our first glimpse of Unicron.
- The Pokémon episode that centers around Porygon has the main trio loaded into a computer. Or it would if such an episode had been made.
- The anime series Sword Art Online, originally a 2001 novel, revolves around the concept. It takes place in a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VR MMORPG), where thousands of players immerse their consciousness completely within a virtual reality, but remain trapped there for several years, being forced to adapt to the new virtual environment.
- Its Spiritual Successor, Accel World, has a variation. The cyberspace exists in a game known as Brain Burst, which is played by accelerating your brain's processing speed to insane levels. This induces a Year Outside, Hour Inside effect, where players can spend absurd lengths of time in the "Accelerated World" while time almost stands still on the outside. Other than that, it works similarly to how it does in SAO, except there's no perma-death.
- In The Firesign Theatre's 1971 comedy album, I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus, although the term "Cyberspace" hadn't yet been invented, it's basically where the holograms come from, and where the Clem-clone goes to find Dr. Memory. The holograms refer to it as "The Shadows".
- In Arcanum, Cyberspace is a pocket dimension that exists due to the belief-fueled nature of magic. As one character explains: "people have talked about info highways, web sites, and data blocks so much, some've begun to believe they physically exist. That belief became this pocket dimension."
- Being a sci-fi series that isn't TOO bothered by realism, Paperinik New Adventures has to have this, of course. Apparently, super-genius extraordinaire Everett Ducklair built an entrance to cyberspace in his basement to analyze his own programs from within. Paperinik uses it for some hands-on hacking, when necessary.
- The classic example, and Trope Codifier, would be the movie TRON, which was made before the Internet was in its present form. Most modern cyberspace forms owe at least something to this depiction.
- The Matrix series is probably the most popular depiction.
- Also featuring Keanu Reeves, Ice T, and a talking dolphin: Johnny Mnemonic.
- The less-classic The Lawnmower Man.
- In The Thirteenth Floor, humanity creates a computer-simulated reality so detailed that its denizens become self-aware. We then discover that our universe is itself only a computer-simulated reality run by the "next level up".
- The plot of the third Spy Kids film featured the title characters traveling inside a video game.
- Inception turns this trope on its head by using nearly every single trope related to Cyberspace that it can without any computers, because the characters are dream-hackers. You still have a dimension that can affect people's minds. There are dangerous security "systems" that can hurt people in the real world. You need a team of experts to pull of a typical hackers' Impossible Mission plot, part of which is getting to the "target system" in the first place. The environment can be "programmed" and cheated, and the setting straddles the line between Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk. Oh, and there's a Haunted Technology subplot too.
- The Day of Wonders in the Apocalypse film series takes place within a virtual reality program, mostly consisting of a white room with the Antichrist in it to offer whoever enters it the Mark of the Beast, with the alternative being death, usually by decapitation.
- Old Master Q: Incredible Pet Detective has the titular character, as well Mr Chou and Big Potato and other characters. The first two get sucked in with a dog, swimming in a literal Digital Sea and the three end up looking like Neo, a T-800 and Darth Vader. It's that kind of movie.
- The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor is about the main character Weed's adventure in the titled VRMMORPG. It is so realistic that those who advance beyond a certain stage in the cooking skill are said to be assured of a job for the rest of their life as any restaurant would welcome them as a professional chef. The game's system assists all combat and skills with tooltips the character can see, and players can let the game guide their actions at the penalty of decreasing the action's effect. The game thankfully does not suffer KilledOffForReal or other issues as a plot device like other VRMMORPG based stories often do. The focus is instead on the main character as he tries to earn money for his hospitalized grandma and college-bound younger sister through selling items for money.
- Sword Art Online: A VRMMORPG where players login to find that they can no longer logout. The creator of the game issues an ultimatum: complete the game by defeating the Final Boss on the 100th floor, and you will be allowed to log out. However, if your avatar dies, then the helmet used to play the game will unleash a pulse of microwave radiation that will fry your brain, killing you in real life. The game aspect is much like a Roguelike, the main virtual reality aspect is just the visual and audio realism... and the imminent death.
- Its Spiritual Successor, Accel World has a variation. The cyberspace exists in a game known as Brain Burst, which is played by accelerating your brain's processing speed to insane levels. This induces a Year Outside, Hour Inside effect, where players can spend absurd lengths of time in the "Accelerated World" while time almost stands still on the outside. Other than that, it works similarly to how it does in SAO, except there's no perma-death.
- The term "cyberspace" itself was coined by William Gibson in his 1982 short story "Burning Chrome", though it is indelibly associated with his later novel Neuromancer (quoted above). The setting in this story involves computer networks whose operating system is now a virtual reality simulation of a TRON-like "world in the computer". Interesting in that you don't "walk" through Gibson's cyberspace... you move across a grid more or less at will, assuming you know where you want to go. There is no slow walk or fly if you don't want to admire the view.
- David Wingrove's Chung Kuo has the Shell, an entertainment system in its early stages.
- Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is another notable example of the "cyberspace qua operating system" network and is the trope namer for The Metaverse.
- A particularly bad offender with respect to UI inconvenience... walking between sites in the metaverse takes time, and in one particularly unpleasant example a giant animated, unskippable intro flight sequence was required to visit a particular site.
- It also notes how inconvenient the general interface is; Hiro works in Flatspace (a plain 2D GUI like the one that you are probably using right now) when he gets serious.
- Tad Williams' Otherland books successfully combine Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes by being set Twenty Minutes into the Future, and creating Fantasy environments within the bounds of cyberspace. It's worth mentioning that travel time is normally nearly instantaneous, but specific virtual environments can be configured to simulate realistic movement, and this is considered something of a cachet of the eccentric and well-off.
- Alexander Besher's Rim trilogy starts with an earthquake which traps thousands of people's consciousnesses in the virtual worlds run by the Satori Corporation. Later in the trilogy, avatars gain sentience.
- Sergey Lukyanenko's Labyrinth of Reflections series revolves around "the Deep", a Cyber Space that allows full immersion through a series of hypnotic images that each user is subjected to before going online. The images put the user in a sort of trance where their brain "fixes" the imperfect virtual reality of the Deep by perceiving it as a photo-realistic space, allowing for full immersion. Normal People can't leave the trance on their own but some (aptly dubbed "Divers") can and their primary job is finding people who are stuck in Cyber Space and bail them out before they die of dehydration in Real Life.
- Vernor Vinge's 1981 novella "True Names" is an early, pre-Cyberpunk exploration of the idea that is still considered one of the most realistic and plausible depictions, based on video game concepts. Complete with travel time, which is justified, as it's part of the game. The game was designed by hackers, however, and provides access to sites across the broader network—it's a game/hacking tool. Vinge was quite knowledgeable about the networking technology available at the time, and it shows.
- The Crystal Wind in Daniel Keys Moran's Continuing Time series is essentially the Internet, but is only accessed via agent software that is capable of filtering and organizing the sheer volume of data to present to the users in a coherent way. These Images can range from simple off-the-shelf software that runs on handhelds to custom Player-written powerful Image programs that are borderline Artificial Intelligence and interact with the Player via through trode headsets to direct brain implants.
- The show Andromeda, gives you brightly-lighted tubes, electronic sounds, all sorts of crap zooming around, and a Godzilla-sized avatar for the titular ship's AI.
- Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad (based on a show called Denkou Choujin Gridman by Tsuburaya Productions) centered around this.
- The Doctor Who story The Deadly Assassin, set on the Doctor's home planet, Gallifrey, had the Doctor venturing into a cyber dreamscape called the Matrix.
- The Matrix of "The Deadly Assassin" is unique in that it's not meant for a living person to go into AT ALL. It's basically a library of dead Time Lords' neural impulses, which are used to forecast future events and figure out how to deal with them. It only serves the "alternate dimension" function because the Master has tampered with it big-time.
- VR Troopers featured virtual reality as an Alternate Universe, so things created in VR (such as Mecha-Mooks, supervillain forms, and a Monster of the Week for every occasion) could be brought into reality. "Virtual Reality" tends to resemble the BBC Quarry in most episodes.
- Fat Guy Stuck In Internet portrays cyberspace as the other dimension form of this trope.
- Although we never see it from his perspective, Moloch in Buffy the Vampire Slayer deliberately mixes cyberspace with this trope's pre-digital roots. A demon imprisoned in the pages of a cursed book, Moloch is accidentally transferred into cyberspace when the book's pages are scanned. Though he's technically still not free, the demon finds being "trapped" in the Internet to be far more empowering.
- Ghost Whisperer unexpectedly brought Melinda into cyberspace in the episode "Ghost in the Machine", in the context of the fictional social network/MMORPG/sandbox Virtual Life. You see, there was a ghost who was in the game itself for complicated reasons... and she can "enter" the game, too, which of course is never going to be touched on again... and, um... Jennifer Love Hewitt in a stripperiffic avatar outfit!
- The Warehouse 13 episode Don't Hate The Player involves a stereotypical rescue mission into an Artefact-enhanced VR computer game. Pete takes the opportunity to be a gladiator, Leena gets enhanced with an impressive pair of... wings, and Claudia is horrified to discover that her image has been used for an insipid princess. Oh, and the VR sequences are rotoscoped.
- TRON: Legacy, as befitting the license.
- Gottlieb's Gladiators casts the player as a virtual warrior in an abstract grid-lined environment with simple pyramid mountains.
- Appears in Johnny Mnemonic, matching the film. The player even gets to control a pair of virtual-reality gloves to manipulate The Matrix in the game.
- Shadowrun has the Matrix, which plays this to its conclusion as nerds obviously would. Systems can use the default Tron-inspired iconography, but can be programmed to be anything; libraries with books for files and librarians for security to overgrown jungle ruins with treasures for files and angry natives for security. Deckers in turn can be anything from underage wizards with wands and glasses to BFG-toting commandos. Which leads to the awesome possibilities of Rambo clones getting their asses kicked by librarians or teenage wizards disabling angry natives with butterscotch syrup.
- Server Crash, a 4chan-made pen and paper game, is about all of humanity being trapped in cyberspace forever.
- Genius: The Transgression has The Grid, a strange realm made from people's perception of the Internet as this trope. More specifically it's a Bardo, an alternate dimension formed by the discrediting of a widely held scientific view.
- Similarly, Mage: The Ascension had the Digital Web, a spiritual reflection of cyberspace heavily patronized by the Virtual Adepts.
- Werewolf: The Apocalypse has the Cyberrealm, which is pretty much the same as the Digital Web except the latter is exclusive to Mages, whereas Cyberrealm is a playground for Glass Walkers and other tech-savvy Werewolves.
- Cyber Hero by Hero Games. Travel and combat in cyberspace used almost the same game mechanics as in the real world.
- Cyberspace by Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.).
- R. Talsorian Games' Cyberpunk 2020.
- The Netrunner card game using the same setting (at least in its original incarnation).
- In Alternity, the Internet, radio, TV, the telephone networks, etc., have all been replaced by a single network known as "The Grid". While most people just connect with PDAs, "Grid Pilots" link their brain to it and walk around inside websites set up as 3D worlds.
- In the Whateley Universe, being able to dive into cyberspace is Merry's best power. It turns out she's not the only one who can do it, though, and one of the others is trying to kill everyone...
- Very prominent in the Chaos Timeline (of course, only towards the end, since it starts in 1200).
- DC Nation used this during the "J" plot. Jericho had been trapped in there for a decade with a crazy Technopath. When Jericho tried to get help. Oracle mistook him for a hacker. Queue Joey's powers misfiring and bringing Barbara into cyberspace. And then Babs realizes that there's no interface to bother with and that she's no longer in a wheelchair, making her twice as scary as she was as either Batgirl or Oracle...Babs describes it as a cross of TRON and The Matrix.
- Quest World in Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures.
- Some episodes of Freakazoid!!, including his origin story.
- An episode of The Fairly OddParents.
- Futurama has the future Internet depicted as a classic cyberspace set-up, with a huge skyscraper as Google's home page, and all the porn sites in the red light district.
- ReBoot is a variation; it has the actual computer data/programs/whatnot as characters, with the mysterious, capricious, and destructive "User" as the only sign of humans.
- In other words, it is modelled after TRON.
- Cyberchase on PBS. The entire series takes place inside a world actually named Cyberspace, where sentient computer programs act like people.
- Code Lyoko. Especially the Digital Sea in Season 4.
- In TMNT: Back to the Sewers, the turtles spent a lot of time in cyberspace searching for pieces of data to reconstruct Splinter.
- Twipsy is about a courier who delivers e-mails in the Internet. About half of the show takes place in the Internet, rendered in 3D CGI graphics. It can be entered by humans as well.
- On Regular Show, Mordecai, Rigby and Pops end up inside the internet while trying to make a viral video. There the find the Warden of the Internet, an old woman on a screen who acts as a Moral Guardian, punishing those who clutter up the web with silly videos by trapping them within their own videos.
- This program allows you to manage processes on your Unix machine while playing Doom.