TELEPRESENCE IN POPULAR CULTURE

A study of portrayals of presence

Tron

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ABOUT THE WORK

MEDIUM:

Film 

YEAR:

1982 

WRITER(S):

Steven Lisberger (Writer and Director) & Bonnie MacBird (Writer) 

OWN COPY?

No 
 

ABOUT THE STORY

SUMMARY:

"Hacker/arcade owner Kevin Flynn is desperate to prove that the hottest videogames from ENCOM were stolen from him by a former co-worker, who is now a senior executive there. Flynn's efforts, however, are made fruitless by ENCOM's "Big Brother," the megalomaniacal Master Control Program. One night, the MCP catches Flynn in an attempted hack and pulls him into the virtual world. Flynn finds that the MCP is making life in the virtual world just as, if not more, miserable as in the real world. Flynn's only hope is to find TRON, a heroic independent system security program, and help him destroy the MCP to bring order to both worlds." (from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084827/plotsummary) 

ERA/YEAR:

Present day when produced 

CHARACTERISTICS
OF WORLD:

Although the world superficially seems to be identical to 1982, matter digitization is feasible and performable. 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE-EVOKING TECHNOLOGY
NAME:
the computer world 
DESCRIPTION:
The entire motion picture is an extended simile for how the computer world can be like the real world. John Flynn is digitized and transferred into the computer world, inhabited by human-like programs who rebel against the tyrannical Master Control Program (MCP), which is Flynn's real world nemesis. The programs are essentially oppressed citizens of the MCP, resemble their "users" (usually their real world inventors), and John Flynn enters their world as the only user they ever meet. For a program to interact with their user entails a quest-like pilgrimage, complete with ceremonial communion with their godlike user. The computer world is essentially a 3-D reality filled with the bright lights and vivid neon effects of early video games of the era. 
NATURE OF TASK OR ACTIVITY:
In the real world, users have godlike control over their programs. In the computer world, user becoem just like programs. In the computer world, programs can perform routine functions affiliated with their original intention (e.g. data gathering), participate in gladiatoral matches that visually resemble video games, or they can rebel and create their own scenarios as they roam free through the computer world, chased by the MCP's minions. 
PERFORMANCE OF THE TECHNOLOGY:
In the film, the technology works better than reality. Within the computer world, thought often creates action, allowing programs to summon lightcycles or even command vehicles. Often though, the programs must control the vehicles the same way a tangible user would, with joysticks and keypads. 
 
ABOUT THE CREATORS OF THE TECHNOLOGY
DESCRIPTION:
Most characters are male, late 20s-30s, and a computer programmer (John Flynn/ Clu; Alan Bradley/Tron; Ed Dillinger/Sark; Unnamed/Ram). One male is older (Walter Gibbs/Dumont), possibly in his 50s; he is a reserach scientist and the founder of the  
MAJOR GOAL(S):
Computer programs were created to aid human society. The computer world is a by-product of creating computer programs. No one before John Flynn's forced digitization by the Master Control Program is aware that this plane of reality exists. 
 
ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCE PRESENCE
DESCRIPTION:
Most of the users appear to be male, but some females are shown. Arcade game users tend to be young, but all the primary characters of the movie are over 25, with one being "mature." 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE EXPERIENCE
TYPE(S) OF PRESENCE:
Both spatial and social presence 
DESCRIPTION:
When John Flynn enters the computer world, he IS there, literally. He interacts with it as if it is a familiar, yet foreign, culture. 
USER AWARENESS:
At times Flynn treats the experience as a game, but a serious game...with the understanding he may die in the real world if he dies digitally. 
VALENCE:
Flynn has some trouble adapting, but manages just fine throughout the movie. 
SPECIFIC RESPONSES:
In one scene, Flynn is attempting to pilot a vehicle from a game he created. He is completely disoriented and crashes because actually BEING the pilot is a different experience than standing on solid ground and piloting via a screen. Likewise, Flynn notes how exhiliarating the experience is driving a lightcycle, but then immediately notes is a far different experience actually riding one than it is to control it via a game. Additionally, Flynn immediately reacts to the program-equivalents of his real world friends with the same exact behavior as if they were those people and not separate entities with the same faces. 
 
ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF PRESENCE
LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES:
While there was the threat that Flynn could be killed in the computer world, he managed to accomplish several risky tasks and survive. Near the end, he sacrifices himself to stall the Master Control Program while Tron disables it. Trom and Yori assume Flynn dies, but instead Flynn re-materializes [de-digitizes?] moments after he was digitized and taken into the computer world. Other programs were depicted as being eradicated within the computer world after losing the gladiatoral matches. 
 
AND FINALLY...
OTHER INFORMATION:
In a way, I don't think this was exactly "presence." Within the story of the film, Flynn was ACTUALLY IN the computer world. The simile of the film that computer programs live life like humans is intriguing but a bit naive in its anthropomorphization of fairly simple, non-sentient creations as something animated and aware of reality beyond itself. 
CODER NAME:
Tom Polcari 
CODER E-MAIL:
tpolcari@temple.edu 
CODER AFFILIATION:
Phialdelphia, PA, USA 
DATE CODED:
3/19/2006 

 


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