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Bliss (2021) primary poster. Images © Amazon Studios or related entities. Used for publicity and promotional purposes.

Bliss (2021) is a new, drama-science fiction, Prime Original film on Amazon Prime. The movie was directed by Mike Cahill and stars actors such as Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson.[1] Bliss follows the main character, Greg Wittle, as his mundane life turns upside down when he discovers that everyone around him is part of a computer simulation except, his new companion, Isabel. Computer Simulations being a replacement for reality, the algorithms involved holding biases, mental consequences for users, and equal access to the technology are ethical implications with regards to computer simulations that are explored throughout the film.


  • Owen Wilson as Greg Wittle
  • Salma Hayek as Isabel Clemens
  • Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Arthur Wittle
  • Nesta Cooper as Emily Wittle
  • Kosah Rukavina as Younger version of Emily Wittle
  • Madeline Zima as Doris
  • Joshua Leonard as Cameron
  • Steve Zissis as Bjorn Pedersen
  • Ronny Chieng as Kendo
  • Bill Nye as Chris
  • Slavoj Zizek as himself [2]


Bliss begins in a dreary office with the middle-aged, and recently divorced father of two, Greg Wittle (Owen Wilson) sketching his "dream" house in extreme detail. Due to his lack of concentration, among other reasons, Greg is told to go to his boss’s office to be fired. However, right before leaving, he becomes irritated because he cannot renew a prescription to some pills, so he snorts what he has left. Then, when Greg sees his boss, he accidentally kills him. In a panic, he flees to the bar across the street where he meets the disheveled, homeless Isabel Clemens (Salma Hayek). Isabel tells Greg that they are living in a simulation and nothing around them is real.

Isabel, then, is somehow able to manipulate the situation in Greg's favor, ultimately gaining Greg's trust. After that, Greg and Isabel explore poverty-ridden Los Angeles, while taking some kind of psychoactive substance she calls "yellow crystals" to give them control of the simulated world. In his mind, they appear to have telekinetic abilities and start off using them for mischief, but then expand into committing crimes, which they interpret as "living freely." While Greg and Isabel explore the power of these yellow crystals, Greg's daughter Emily becomes very worried and begins to investigate what he is up to while her brother, also his son, already knows. Emily doesn't stop searching until she finds him... when they begin to interact, it is then clear to her that he has lost all sense of reality and time because Emily tells him about all the events he has missed, such as her graduation. She hands him her graduation photo with her phone number on the back; she realizes that he has been living a drug induced life and tells him to call her when he is ready.

Eventually, Greg’s beliefs of Isabel's simulation begin to waver, so Isabel decides to take him back to the real world via some new, more powerful blue crystals. Prior to ingesting the blue crystals, she explains to him that they are very rare crystals and that they need to ingest ten each, through the nostrils, with some kind of mechanical apparatus. However, she does not have enough crystals, but they proceed anyway, disregarding the risks she made obvious. On arriving back to what she calls "the real world," Greg wakes up in a semi-reclined seat in a futuristic world, with an apparatus attached to his face, which made some kind of connection through his nose and up into his brain. The other end of the connection led to a large container in the shape of a cube, with what appeared to be multiple human brains suspended in a water-like liquid. As Greg scans the futuristic room in which he has awoken, it is then apparent that he is part of some kind of experiment ran by Isabel with multiple participants. Isabel also awakens, and begins informing the scientists gathering data what her latest trip in the simulation was like. She tells them about a blue escape algorithm, which is represented by the blue crystals in the simulation. She expresses her relief of being out of, what she calls, the "ugly" simulation as Greg stands by the large cube in awe. The pair then leave the lab and begin exploring this alternate reality.

However, Greg does not remember any of it, so she brings him to, what should be, a very familiar landscape. Isabel takes him to what he would daydream about and draw at work, which was his dream house on the hill side. Isabel then begins to fill him in on the period of darkness that humanity went through before making the significant scientific breakthroughs that ultimately shaped the utopian world that they were currently in. She explained to him that the three pillars of creation were automation, synthetic biology, and asteroid mining and that the advent of these three pillars allowed humans to reach an age of enlightenment in which everyone became more happy, innovative, and productive.

At this point, Greg is convinced that this is the perfect world, but when they attend a party to celebrate the success of Isabels simulation, the simulated world begins to meld with the real world, leading Greg and Isabel to go back into the "simulated world" and face reality. Both Greg and Isabel do not want to stay in the real world so they do whatever it takes to get more of the new street drug (the blue crystals) that caused his severe memory loss and hallucinations. The film ends with Greg being forced to choose between the two worlds because the lack of a sufficient number of crystals, so he lets Isabel take all that they had in order for her to leave the real world.

Computer Simulations

A computer simulation is a computer program that uses a model of a real system to duplicate the functional relationships within the real system.[3] There are a few types of computer simulations including equation-based simulations and agent-based simulations. These equations help bring up data that can be calculated for purposes of understanding. The main concern raised when these computer simulations are created is accuracy to the material it is imitating. [4]

The technology that created the simulated world in the film was known as the Brainbox. All of the real participants were placed into the same world for research purposes. The computer-created people were known as FGP (fake generated person)­­­­­. The idea behind the world was to explore the not-so-perfect pieces of oneself, without the fear of death. The FGPs are periodically respawned if they ever die. A similar concept is developed in the TV series Westworld.[5]


The theory of a simulated world has been around since antiquity. However, it was given serious consideration ever since the Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, published four lectures on the matter. In the fourth lecture of Feynman's book called: "QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter" he confirms mathematical formulas that indicate very peculiar properties and results from physic's most famous experiments. These results gave rise to the conclusion that reality as we know it might actually be a supercomputer capable of generating consciousness. [6] Computer simulation was used as a scientific tool near the completion of the second World War. The many uses of computer simulation range in sciences from astrophysics, particle physics, materials science, engineering, fluid mechanics, climate science, evolutionary biology, ecology, economics, decision theory, medicine, sociology, and many more. [7]

Neil Degrasse Tyson has weighed in on the theory of simulated worlds. He has clarified the theory that we are maybe in a simualted world ourselves. He argues that someday we will be able to create realistic enough simulations that match our world, and extending the logic, that world we create also would eventually be able to create their own realistic simulations. This theoretically would create a large chain of simulated realities, with only the first world being in true reality. It follows that the statistical chances that we are in that first world are very small, making it likely that we are in a simulated world.[8] But he has since rescinded his opinion on this theory being true because of further logical analysis done by researchers. He argues that because we are not yet in a world that can create realistic simulations, then we must either be the last world in this theoretical chain that isn't complete in its research yet, or we must be the first world in reality.[9]

Simulated experiences came to be when it was discovered that humans interpret data better when it is visualized pictorially as opposed to numerically. In the past, science and engineering data sets were presented in numeric tables and/or matrices. Then, when we started making graphs and illustrations to represent data it became evident that we needed to come up with better tools to help interpret the data sets. Engineers then created tools to utilize computer graphics, which led to the advent of CGI, which provides the building blocks for generating simulated environments.[10] One of the very first video games ever created was a simulation of a game of tennis called: "tennis for two" and since then, simulations have been progressing at the same rate as computational computer systems.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is a form of a computer simulation in which the user experiences and can interact with the artificial 3D world created by the simulation.[11] In our real world, VR has grown in popularity over the past few years with Oculus, a Facebook Technologies [12] company, releasing their continuously improving VR Goggles. These devices allow the user wearing them to transport to another world forgetting the physical world you are actually in. These headsets use six-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) motion tracking created through external cameras and sensors to pick up the users' every move and head tilt which is then replicated in the virtual reality world.[13]A user can therefore, interact with the VR as if they were actually there, essentially replacing their current reality.

Because of how VR plays off the user's sensory receptors and cognitive reasoning to make the virtual world effective there are already new and more stimulating versions of VR being tested. New research is looking into how humans map and interpret VR spaces and using this information to make them even more interactive and realistic. With this research comes other discoveries about how VR can be used in the real world. Currently VR is being used in the medical field to treat patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, help with surgical training, and physical therapy [14].

Augmented Reality

"Whereas virtual reality replaces your vision, augmented reality adds to it." [13] Augmented Reality, technology that "lets us see the real-life environment right in front of us—trees swaying in the park, dogs chasing balls, kids playing soccer—with a digital augmentation overlaid on it" [15], is rising in popularity with applications like Pokémon GO and Snapchat filters leading the innovation. Companies like Google and Vuzix already have versions of these AR glasses on the market. These glasses are marketed as "'state of the art' see-through high brightness optical Waveguides and is a light weight ruggedized IP67 wearable computer designed for hands free use in physically demanding environments." [16] Essentially, these products are present day technologies that allow us to do things we once only saw in science fiction movies including holographic displays, virtual interaction, and technical manipulation.

PC Simulation Games

The most rated PC simulation games for 2021 range from sports games, sci-fi fantasies, and combat action games.

This game of survival is offered on consoles including PlayStation and Xbox. It is also offered as a virtual reality experience which can allow the player to be more immersed in the game. You can land in infinite universes, however, you must avoid the hazardous environments. [17]

This game is named “most ambitious” because of the authenticity and how “real” the game is. People can test out their piloting skills. The simulator includes several detailed planes and flight models. It also contains several unique airports. [18]

This game, similar to the ones created previously, allows players to build blocks using all aspects of their imagination.[19]

These games are all available on platforms for many to access, making immersive simulations more accessible to the public.

Ethical Issues

Replacement for Reality

The technology seen in the film is a futuristic version of the virtual reality devices seen and commonly used today.[20] As this technology gets more and more realistic, it can replace human interaction, and cause the user to think the simulation is real, as seen in the film.[21]
Virtual Reality headset.
Spiegel writes that there are four major areas of moral concern and social hazard regarding virtual reality which raise questions of public policy: mental health risks, personal neglect of actual bodies and physiological environment, personal privacy, and social risks.[22][23] Risks to mental health include anxiety, depression, social phobias, and potential neurological problems. [23] Virtual reality and simulation technology can also be used as a form of escapism, creating feelings of relaxation if in moderation or of loneliness if over-indulged.[24] This concept is explored further in the movie Inception where several characters are faced with deciding whether or not to indulge in their dream world or to return to reality.[25] VR technology can create a false sense of agency that violates privacy and personally manipulates beliefs, emotions, and behavior. [23] The illusions that VR creates has been referred to as “consensual hallucinations” and draw on specific political, ideological, and mystical beliefs as essential aspects of their moral foundation.[26] The foundations these virtual realities are built on allow for social hazards and other moral concerns to be easily transferred between people. [27] Humans are social mammals and require communication.[24] Because of this, people enjoy using social medias as a way to connect.[24] A 2014 study of 689,000 Facebook users showed that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.[27] This study shows that behavioral influence occurs on the scale of social media and similarly virtual reality. The ongoing convergence of virtual realities and social networks - Virtual Reality Social Networks (VRSN) - pose threats to informational, physical, and associational privacy and autonomy in terms of freedom, knowledge, and authenticity. [28] O’Brolcháin et. al. propose a number of recommendations for policy-makers and users to overcome these ethical dilemmas, including strong legislation in information limits for companies and examination of contracts being offered to users of VRSN technologies. [28]

Unintended Bias

In the film, Greg became attached to the simulated world, and it became his real reality. This was an unintended effect of the Brainbox simulation. New technological breakthroughs, if not designed carefully and thoughtfully, like the Brainbox, can have unintended results.[29] Microsoft engineers created a Twitter bot to chat with Millenials, but within hours of release, it began posting racist, sexist, and Holocaust-denying tweets from the algorithm that was teaching it how to respond.[29] The engineers intended the bot to be a fun way to get Millennials involved in Twitter, but instead they created a controversial bot.[29] Langdon Winner describes how the simple design of an overpass in Long Island caused years of subtle discrimination of poor people and African Americans, who at the time normally used public transit.[30] Winner says that one software developer can put bias into a given product to lend intended or unintended consequences.[30] It only took one engineer’s bias to created discrimination in society.[29] Algorithms collecting micro and macro data are being designed to make decisions on real people. [31]

Creating simulations can be defined as "the science of predicting or manipulating future states of single or multiple physical phenomena and living organisms within an existing or proposed built environment." [32] This sums up what Isabel was so desperately trying to achieve and as the movie unfolds, it becomes obvious that her opinions about the conditions, such as the "ugly" world, she applied to decide how the simulation was utilized were heavily influenced by past experiences and ethical ideas that might have caused a negative impact on her life. Robin Hanson, a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University claims that an inhabitant of a high-fidelity simulation, such as Greg and Isabel in the film, who is aware that he/she/they might be in a simulation might care less about others and live more for today: "your motivation to save for retirement, or to help the poor in Ethiopia, might be muted by realizing that in your simulation, you will never retire and there is no Ethiopia," which describes the pair’s actions with great accuracy. [33]

Consequences for Users

The usage of virtual reality/simulation technology can have psychological impacts on the user.[34] In the film, Greg and Isabel live life without consequences. Greg can kill his boss and get away with it. If someone is living their perceived life with no penalties, they are more likely to do more negative things which can lead to negative reactions after.[34] A psychological study has been done to learn if real, lasting consequences can occur from interacting with virtual reality games. The researchers discovered that an individual playing a virtual reality game can experience intense negative emotions. They followed up and concluded that the participants utilizing the virtual reality had negative emotions that lasted up to a day as compared to participants playing a similar game on a laptop.[34] The findings show that the negative emotions created during an immersive experience can cause memory rumination leading to a more depressed mood.[35]

Equal Access Right

The ideal world that Greg and Isabel are in is utopian. Everyone has the time and money to explore their passions, and climate change has been reversed. The purpose of Isabel’s research is to show that her simulation technology should be a human right. At that time in the film, there was not positive consensus with the benefits of her technology for various reasons, equal access to all being one of them. Equal access to information and technology being a human right is an ongoing debate.[36] Two terms that are often used when discussing this debate are equality and equity. Formally, equality is defined as the quality or state of being equal.[37] Equity is defined as justice according to natural law or right, specifically, freedom from bias or favoritism.[38] There is a balance between reaching equality and equity in regard to access to information and technology. If there is too much of a focus on equity, there will be backlash from those who resent such programs as ‘unfair’.[39] Achieving this balance is a goal of librarians and other scholars involved in information technology, since they play a large role in creating change.[39]. To create fair and equal access, there needs to be justice from equity.[39]


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