George and Lydia Hadley, two parents living in a futuristic society, worry about their children's mental health when their new virtual reality nursery, which can produce any environment the children imagine, continually projects an African veldt populated by lions feasting on carcasses. When they try to shut it down, the children do not take it well.
Extremely widely read, as it is often included in English Literature textbooks in American schools between 5th and 8th grade.
Tropes used by the story:
- Artificial Outdoors Display: The nursery has virtual reality capability. It can project on its walls, ceiling and floor a simulation of an outdoor setting. The setting the children like most is an African veldt.
- Calling Parents by Their Name: Peter and Wendy call their father by his first name when he turns off the nursery, signifying they contempt they feel for him.
- Creepy Child: Peter and Wendy Hadley, who've replaced their parents in their minds with the AI controlling the house they live in and who fantasize about lions killing their real parents. Even the child psychologist who sees them is creeped out.
- Enfante Terrible: Peter and Wendy, who murder their parents because they've threatened to cut off their holographic nursery.
- Holodeck Malfunction: George fears this is happening with the nursery when it fails to respond to his commands to take on a different form than the African veldt, and when the lions appear to become real enough to actually hurt whoever visits the room. That last part is proven to be correct at the end.
- Idiot Ball: Despite being the first one to realize how worrying their children's behavior and the scene in the nursery was and being very fearful of it throughout the story, Lydia lets the kids play in the nursery one last time after George turned it off, saying she doesn't see the harm in it.
- Job-Stealing Robot: Lydia has come consider their fully automated house to be this."That's just it. I feel like I dont belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot."
- Kids Are Cruel: Your parents want to shut down your favorite playroom? Kill them!
- Parental Substitute: Child psychologist David McClean warns George and Lydia that their children have come to view the nursery, and on a larger scale the house, as this, and see their actual, biological parents as a threat to this substitute parent
- Parents as People: George and Lydia are a loving couple who care deeply about each other and their kids, but who unintentionally neglect them since the robot house does an inhumanly perfect job of looking after them than they do. To their credit, they realize this and resolve to fix things.
- Self-Made Orphan: At the end of the story, Peter and Wendy trap their parents in the nursery and have the (holographic) lions eat them.
- Shout Out: The children are named after Peter and Wendy from Peter Pan, and like them reject their parents in favor of living in a fantasy world.
- Smart House: The Hadley family is living in one called "The Happylife Home". It cost a fortune, and by the end of the story the parents are completely creeped out by it and plan to move out.
- Spared by the Adaptation: The X Minus One adaptation notes that the parents survive, but the experience traumatized them.
- Spoiled Brat: Both Peter and Wendy have become very, very spoiled due to living in the futuristic house and being allowed to do pretty much whatever they want.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: The children's fixation on playing in an African veldt, while lions kill and eat something in the distance disturbs their parents enough to call a child psychologist, and is a sign that there is something seriously wrong with them.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The supposed year isn't stated, but it's culturally identical to 1950 except with more advanced technology. In addition to the smart house, there's mention of transportation by rockets.
- Values Dissonance: The story assumes 1950s cultural mores and projects them into the future. Lydia is a housewife with no housework to do because the Smart House does all her work for her. It never occurs to the couple that she could get a job or find some other way to occupy the time.