Harsh Realm (1999-2000)

Harsh Realm was a short-lived TV-series by X-files creator Chris Carter. The premise was kinda interesting, but the execution presented generic stories and a developing backstory that went nowhere really fast. A soldier is sent into a virtual world to kill another logged-in outsider (Santiago), only to realize that he’s far from the first to enter the Harsh Realm and that he can’t log out if he doesn’t complete his mission. Also the old and tired and supremely stupid cliche that getting killed in a virtual world kills you for real also rears its head.

Like always with Chris Carter shows there’s a conspiracy angle as well. First and foremost the soldier is declared dead to his fiancée, which is part of the conspiracy that at least makes sense, since losing control of a virtual environment that is populated by illegal scans of every real world person is not something the military would want to disclose to the public. Aside from the fact that this is a highly impossible scenario from a technical viewpoint (perfect virtual copies of all humans on Earth with only slightly advanced 20th and 21st century tech) and that the scans are illegal, the virtual copies were subjected to death, torture and other unpleasantries for war game simulations (to start the Harsh Realm scenario countless atom bombs were deployed in big cities), which is as deplorable as the worst evils of the 20th century, considering that these virtual copies are human in every aspect apart from being non-corporal.

There’s another conspiracy going on, with Santiago trying to deploy atom bombs in the real world to make Harsh Realm the only thing left. This one makes less sense, because even considering that the server structure to host Harsh Realm is safe from atom bombs, without civilization and its infrastructure to maintain the servers and the connections between those Harsh Realm will inevitable go dark. But the makers of the show probably weren’t thinking as far as that or they would have explained it away with some unlikable feat of technology.

So far I’ve talked mostly about the setting. There’s a good reason for that, as I found the actual episodes (only 9 were made) pretty bland. The show had a great intro and the concept seemed initially interesting, but the execution was mostly bland and boring. It’s interesting to note that Harsh Realm’s approach (real 20th century, virtual post-apocalyptic world) was an inversion of the famous Matrix movie (post-apocalyptic real world, virtual 20th century) from the same time, which did, at least in the first movie, something far more interesting with the virtual world concept.