Simulation hell

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Warning - this page contains spoilers for a number of film and TV shows

Simulation hell is a trope, describing a range of undesirable scenarios in which an individual is either enforced uploaded or otherwise trapped within a hellish or otherwise oppressive virtual reality. It appears to be a scifi relative of the 'trapped in a dream' trope popularised by the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street and more recently Inception.

The simulation hypothesis suggests that the 'real' universe may in fact be a simulation.

In fiction


The Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode Hard Time features a series member implanted with false memories of years of imprisonment and isolation, instantly psychologically traumatising him as a part of a cost-efficient futuristic justice system

Black Mirror's christmas special twice explores the idea. Once with a person's AI clone being punished into performing menial household appliance management through massive periods of simulated isolation and finally via the eternal torture of the AI clone of a murder suspect.


Especially in the case of 'experimental' uploading technology, the individual may be horrified by the incompleteness and sterility of their being or simulated environment.

In Caprica, the character of Tamara-A is reconstructed based on the public digital information as an representative avatar but not a true continuation of the original person. One of defining moments after becoming conscious is a panic attack due to not being able to feel her heart beating and the traumatic realisation she is not of flesh and blood. Similar such despair at time is expressed in parts of the film Transcendence as well as in an episode of The Outer Limits.

The Matrix features humans used as power sources (though more realistically massively powerful computing) to serve their machine overlords, representing most 'normal' people within a global simulation that is 'The Matrix'

In reality

Many people do not share mainstream transhumanist optimism about the technological utopia that emerging technologies such as neural implants or virtual reality will bring.

In "Welcome to Life: the singularity, ruined by lawyers" by Tom Scott, he depicts the near future possibility of dystopian consciousness slums where those who cannot afford mind uploading technologies must suffer through advertisements, poor quality simulations and limited backup features in a fashion similar to contempoary 'fremium' web services avalible today.

See also