Virtual Labyrinths

Scene 10
Image from Keith Wigdor

"Zipperupus leaped here and there, and everywhere, but wherever he leaped, everything was a dream, a dream and nothing but a dream, the doors, the marble floors, the gold-embroidered walls, the tapestries, the halls, and Zipperupus too, he was a dream, a dream that dreamed, a walking shadow, an empty apparition, insubstantial, fleeting, lost in a labyrinth of dreams, sinking ever deeper, though still he punched and kicked — only that too was imaginary! He punched Subtillion in the nose, but not really, roared and howled, but nothing real came out, and when at last, dazed and half-crazed, he really did tear his way into reality, he thought it was a dream and plugged himself in..."
   — Stanislaw Lem, The Cyberiad

Virtual environments can be used to confuse or contain as easily as to educate or entertain. Virtual Labyrinths, known by a variety of names across the Terragen sphere (Subtillion Traps, Epistemogrifiers, Dreamweirs), are one of the most deadly of these forms of confusion. The victim, on attempting to leave a virtual experience, simply tumbles into another. Worse, when e encounters eir baseline reality e fails to recognize it and enters another virtual environment instead. If properly engineered, this state of confusion will last until the victim's actual body or substrate finally dies or otherwise falls into disrepair. Embodied sentient beings are not the only victims of such schemes; an AI or an inhabitant of a virtual reality can as easily be entrapped in a series of meta-virtual realities. The most hellish virtual labyrinths tumble the victim from one painful and terrifying experience to another, while the subtler versions may be extremely attractive. The subtlest and deadliest of all are extremely difficult to distinguish from reality. The sophistication of virtual labyrinths varies from those used to keep subsapient animals or bots in a quiescent state up to those used by one transapient to trap or destroy another. Such devices are of course illegal in most parts of the Civilized Galaxy. Elsewhere, sensible folk take precautions and use various buffers when entering a strange virch. Extreme and unreasoning fear of encountering a virtual labyrinth is a basis for virchophobia or falsuphobia. General difficulty distinguishing real from virtual experiences, whether induced by a virtual labyrinth or merely as a result of mental illness or poor maintenance of one's DNI and virch technology, is called epistemopathy.

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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 07 June 2005.