In the Land of the Unreal

Virtual and Other Realities in Los Angeles

Duke University Press, March 2024

Available now at Duke University Press

In the mid-2010s, VR re-emerged onto the tech scene. Like in the 1980s and 1990s, it promised transportation into other worlds where one could do anything or be anyone. But there was also a new fantasy for this iteration of VR. In addition to fantasy worlds, VR could also bring someone into the reality of another person. Some began calling VR an "empathy machine", claiming that it could foster understanding and compassion between those occupying different social realities.

This book considers what other fantasies bolstered claims that VR could be a "good" technology. The VR innovators and projects I investigated were based in Los Angeles. Freed from some of the constraints of Silicon Valley, there was space to imagine a different kind of tech industry that both leveraged Hollywood expertise in storytelling and, in the aftermath of #MeToo, elevated the voices of women. As my research was conducted in 2018, the fantasy that VR could reforge a common reality was particularly potent against the post-truth strategies of the Trump Administration.

In writing about the intersection of fantasies and technology, I emphasize how the imagined good ends are not easily achieved. Radical projects are needed to escape the hierarchies imposed by gender and race, even for communities and projects that articulate equity as a goal. Virtual reality, as explored in this book, helps make sense of what, to some, feels like a fracturing reality but it doesn't offer any easy solution to these uneasy times.

​This research was funded by an NSF Scholars Award.