CCHU9056 Humanities
Virtual Worlds, Real Bodies

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

How have modern virtual reality technologies (VR) shaped and influenced the way we perceive reality, communicate and interact with each other, and with the world? In what ways do these cyber machines play a part in diminishing the physical barrier between the human body and the external world, and extending our living experiences across space and time, thereby transcending geographical, cultural and knowledge boundaries? And how do these experiences differ from the traditional communication mediums? By engaging students on an explorative journey of the emergence and development of VR in our modern societies, and giving them hands-on practice in creating their own virtual worlds, this course encourages students to reflect, evaluate and contemplate from multiple perspectives on how modern computer and digital technologies “inhabit” our bodies, and the world. Through realizing how our physical bodies have come to embody such technologies and making them an inseparable part of our everyday realities, we thereby expand the horizon of human experiences and meaning making. And ultimately, through grasping the notion of techno-embodiment, students are expected to raise and attempt to answer the philosophical and ethical questions of what technologies can and cannot do, and should and should not do in creating new human living experiences.

[There will be film screening (optional) during Reading Week.]

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

    1. Understand the basic concepts of virtual reality from different disciplines such as computer science, engineering, game theory, architecture, cultural studies and literary studies and able to come up with examples of these concepts from their daily experiences.
    2. Understand the various VR applications and their historical, social and cultural significance in society, and in different areas of human experience, and the impacts they have on people’s lives.
    3. Critically examine the limitations of as well as opportunities offered by computer technology in society and in creating meaningful human subjectivities and experiences.
    4. Synthesize the theories of virtual reality in both cybernetics and the humanities combined with computer graphic creation skills they have learnt in the course, and apply them in the final mini project to create an actual piece of work or product. Provide their alternative views and stance towards a particular issue or problem of virtual reality of their interest.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 11
Reading / Self-study 30
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 30
Assessment: Group project presentation (incl preparation) 55
Total: 150

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Individual assignments 30
Group project 55
Contribution in tutorials 15

Required Reading

Selections from:

  • Dick, P. K. (1977). The preserving machine.  In The preserving machine and other stories. UK: Pan.
  • Franklin, U. (1999). The real world of technology. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press.  
  • The Rise and Fall and Rise of Virtual Reality: The Verge website (compilations of articles on the development of VR). From http://www.theverge.com/a/virtual-reality

Required Film Viewing

  • Boyle, D. (Director). (2000). The beach.
  • Garland, A. (Director). (2015). Ex Machina.
  • Law, A. (Director). (2010). Echoes of the Rainbow.
  • Oshii, M. (Director). (1995). Ghost in the Shell.
  • Padilha, J. (Director). (2014). RoboCop.
  • Pfister, W. (Director). (2014). Transcendence.
  • Reitman, J. (Director). (2014). Men, Women and Children.

Recommended Reading

  • Baudrillard, J., & Glaser, S. F. (1994). Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Beigl, M., Flachbart, G., et al. (2005). Disappearing architecture: From real to virtual to quantum. Basel: Birkhaüser.
  • Bergson, H., & Mitchell, A. (1920). Creative evolution. London: Macmillan.
  • Hansen, M. B. N. (2006). Bodies in code: Interface with digital media. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
  • Haraway, D. J. (1991). A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century. In Simians, cyborgs and women: The reinvention of nature. Routledge.
  • Manovich, L. (2001). The language of new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Pallasmaa, J. (1996). The eyes of the skin: Architecture and the senses. London: Academy Editions.
  • Vince, J. (2004). Introduction to virtual reality. London: Springer-Verlag.
  • Zizek, S. (2002). Welcome to the desert of the real! Five essays on September 11 and related dates. London; New York: Verso.

Recommended Film Viewing

  • Bigelow, K. (Director). (1995). Strange Days.
  • Ridley, S. (Director). (1982). Blade Runner.
  • Sokurov, A. (Director). (2015). Francofonia.
  • Trumbull, D. (Director). (1983). Brainstorm.
  • Wachowski, A., & Washowski, L. (Directors). (1999). The matrix. Warner Brothers Pictures, USA.
  • Wenders, W. (Director). (1995). Until the end of the world (Bis ans Ende der Welt).

Recommended Website


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr H.Y.K. Lau
Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Faculty of Engineering
Tel: 2857 8255
Email: hyklau@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr H.Y.K. Lau
Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Faculty of Engineering
Tel: 2857 8255
Email: hyklau@hku.hk
Dr K.K.L. Ng
Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Faculty of Engineering
Tel: 2147 2070
Email: kalng@hku.hk