Californium: New Philip K. Dick Video Game

Cassandra Khaw (ArsTechnica) on the virtual reality realisation of a Dickian world
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Californium screenshot
Reality is mutable, vulnerable to interpretation and interference. It’s an idea that permeates through Philip K. Dick’s writing, one of the most influential forces in pop culture. Even if you don’t recognise his work by name, chances are you’ve experienced its impact. Minority Report, Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall—these are all films that owe life to the acclaimed science fiction author. Similarly, an armament of video games draw substance from the man’s fiction, whether it’s Deus Ex or the upcoming Californium.


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Californium screenshot.

A collaborative effort between production companies Darjeeling and Nova Productions, Californium follows the life of a writer named Elvin Green, who finds reality unravelling even as his world crumbles around his ears. While far from a direct adaptation, the game is evocative of Dick’s gorgeously bizarre VALIS, which mulls over the possibility that human destiny might be subject to external control.


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Californium screenshot.

What makes this particularly interesting is that VALIS wasn’t entirely a work of fiction. In many ways, it was autobiographical. Like the narrator Horselover Fat, Dick believed in the idea that pink laser beams were being used by an extraterrestrial source to convey important revelations, such as the knowledge of an undetected birth defect in his son.


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Californium screenshot.

This surreal theory was only one of many that were precipitated by a chance encounter in 1974. After contacting the local pharmacy for pain medication, Dick met a girl donning an ichthys symbol. He asked about its origins and was immediately overcome by a moment of anamnesis, which revealed to him an image of “hateful Rome” and the knowledge of Jesus’ inevitable return.

Such strange, phantasmagoric visions would follow the author until his death. So overwhelming were these experiences that they catalysed an obsession. In the years following that first encounter, Dick wrote over 8,000 pages dissecting and describing his epiphanies. (Extracts would eventually be compiled into the Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, a ponderous read that has fascinated armchair academics since publication.) [Read More]

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