Futurama was an amazing show that allowed the writers complete freedom to describe whatever they thought might be developed in the future, and one type of technology that the writers kept putting in were adaptations of virtual reality gear. Specifically, wearable devices called ‘Net Suits’ were consistently depicted in the show, as wires coming from the device fed into a computer allowing the users to explore the inside of the 3D modeled metaverse. This list dives into the references found in within the adventures of the Planet Express crew.
Season 1, Episode 2 – ‘The Series Has Landed’
The first occurrence with Virtual Reality comes in the form of a game that Amy plays while the Planet Express crew visit the moon. The experience is called ‘Virtual Virtual Skeeball’ and utilizes a standalone unit that fits on top of the gamer’s head. Two antennas stick out of the side of the headset most likely acting as a wireless communication interface that probably connects to a server somewhere else. Wires extend from the top, attaching to the device itself.
There is no mention of how this VR set is powered, but it looks like it is energized on its own. Perhaps the user must plug the goggles into the wall, or maybe it is wirelessly charged through the antennas. Regardless of how it is powered, this device is a nice allusion to the future of VR being integrated in to carnival-like environments. Arcades of the future will surely be filled with virtual reality sets giving the attendees an immersive experience that stands out from the other types of games. Not sure how people will pay for the game though. It could be coin operated, or just included in the ticket price of the attraction, but more likely credit card activated. No matter what, this reference showed that Futurama knew that virtual reality would be big in the future.
Season 2, Episode 13 – ‘A Bicyclops Built for Two’
In this episode, the Planet Express crew finally get an AOL connection to the internet that has taken years to access. Obviously, it was time to have some fun, and the team jump into the metaverse with their virtual reality ‘Net Suits’ that was created by the Professor. While inside the internet, they get attacked by flying pop-up ads, venture into the world of porn, join a chat room, and play a video game. In that game, Leela meets the only other Cyclops she has ever seen. Naturally she gets upset when Fry flies into the scene interrupting the moment by shooting everyone down with his laser fingers, winning the game. He rejoices, prompting Leela to snap the goggles from his face lashing it back hitting him across the head. They eventually track down the Cyclops who ends up being a shape-shifting fraud.
Although the Virtual Virtual Skeeball game was the first experience with virtual reality in the series, this episodes showcases a much stronger potential of VR which is the exploration of the internet via these special ‘Net Suits.’ Not only does the VR system have futuristic headsets, but it contains power gloves as well. This type of device recurs throughout the series as a prominent virtual reality experience that will surely find itself in our homes soon.
Season 3, Episode 4 – ‘Parasites Lost’
In this episode, Fry eats a worm-infested egg sandwich at a gas station and gets infected with magical parasites that make him smarter, stronger, more intelligent, and increasingly confident with the ladies. At first, the Futurama crew didn’t know what was causing Fry to heal faster than normal after getting struck with a large metal pipe that tears a hole through him. This is when Professor Farnsworth has Leela entertain Fry for the evening, distracting him while the rest of the team put on virtual reality suits to control mini-versions of themselves as they explore the inner bowels of Fry looking for the parasites. This depicted the ability of VR to drive and fly mechanical devices at a distance (drones, tiny-miniature replicas, cars, boats…etc).
Season 3, Episode 15 – ‘I Dated a Robot’
After many failed attempts at dating Leela, Fry started to feel lonely, so he decided to download a copy of Lucy Luo, his favorite actress of the twenty-first century. In order to do so, the crew must once again venture into the internet by putting on their virtual reality ‘Net Suits.’ This time they locate a website where celebrity programs are purchased, giving Fry a new mechanical girlfriend.
This episode contains virtual reality references along with topics surrounding sex robots. Both of these technological advances will be on the fringe of the future. Social constructs will surely try to prevent these types of lewd acts, but that won’t stop people from experimenting with them.
Season 7, Episode 10 – ‘Near-Death Wish’
In this episode, the Professor’s parents were shipped to a planet segregated from Earth specifically for the elderly. It was like a retirement home, but with a twist. And tapping into the Matrix idea of bodies being used for batteries, the older people that stayed at this ‘Near-Death Star’ where hooked to wires pushing their consciousness into a computer generated environment. In order for visitors to get inside the 3D modeled world, they had to jack into the system through a USB connection wearing torture-like headsets complete with metal spikes attached. A zap of energy would transport the users into the system falling through a tunnel of 1’s and 0’s. It was a painful experience the entire way through.