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The Harsh Realm is a virtual reality system developed by the United States Department of Defense to train soldiers for situational war strategy. It is a digital environment so real that to call it "virtual" reality is a misnomer. This program is so real that the DoD has had to administer psychological treatment to players who've used it.

Technology, and the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of terrorism have changed the world forever. They've changed war, and its consequences, as they have forever changed the battlefield, and the warriors who must still fight on it. It's been estimated that a nuclear device the size of a small suitcase, smuggled in and detonated in New York City, would kill several million people instantly, and many times that amount with radioactive fallout. This scenario compelled the DoD to create the project, codenamed Harsh Realm. Using the 2000 census, satellite cartography and other classified data, the creators of Harsh Realm have simulated a virtual reality, where landscapes and people are identical to our world, down to every man, woman, and child. By putting players in this simulated crisis scenario, they believed they could protect national security.

So in 2003, the United States government started working on this new TDE, total digital environment. Project Harsh Realm was meant to simulate the state of the U.S. in the most dire of situations. The research, the time, the programming needed to undertake such a huge project was far beyond the budget The Pentagon would give. So what the Department of Defense did was approach a few large technology corporations. Contracts were drawn. They agreed to give them shares and some level of control of the project. Also, they'd keep the technology rights. They agreed. The largest of these corporations, DigitalPioneer, invested about 30 million into it. All in all, the private corporations paid for about 65 percent of everything that went into this. But that backlashed against the DoD. Because essentially, that would mean that the corporations own it, not the U.S. military.

These private corporations had plans, though. They didn't tell them about it yet. Harsh Realm went operational on the morning of October 13, 2005. For the first few months, everything ran fine. Though the situations the soldiers faced were intense, they withstood it. No psychological treatment was necessary. And then they sent in Sergeant Major Omar Santiago. He was one of the first chosen to play the game. Santiago is a former Delta Force operator, who saw combat in Panama and Desert Storm. He was decorated war hero known for his resourcefulness. Unfortunately there was ruthlessness to go along with that. When they sent him in, it took him only a few months to secure his position as high scorer. He took out the game's opponent and took over the fictional dictatorship programmed into Harsh Realm. Only he didn't come back to claim his title.

He stayed in the game because he was some kind of war junkie. A war vet who likes the sight of blood. Santiago convinced them to support a plan he devised. Both these corporations and the high command of the Pentagon itself backed him up.

After setting a rather small government in the TDE, he began to conquer more and more land in the program's version of the U.S., which was, and still is to some extent, splintered into territories. Currently, he's set up an empire that stretches along most of the East Coast and into the mainland. Because that's the plan. Set up a new nation in a digital world and then destroy the real world so Harsh Realm is all that's left.

Harsh Realm is an immense computer program. People directly interface with Harsh Realm via, approximately, 6 inch probes inserted into the back of their heads. Harsh Realm is a reality for the humans that is so convincing the humans believe it to be real. Everything within Harsh Realm is the visual representation of an immense computer program. The representation is so realistic that it actually fools the inhabitants minds into thinking that it is actually reality.

Technically, every person in Harsh Realm is a virtual character, an electronic approximation of a person created from compiled data. The term is used by soldiers sent by the military into the game to denote characters in Harsh Realm who are electronic constructs living in the virtual reality simulation. A virtual character is essentially the visual representation of a program that is self aware.

Typically every action in Harsh Realm is a visual representation of computer programs at work. Everything that is seen in Harsh Realm is just computer code being represented in a manner that imitates life. A building is being constructed in Harsh Realm, what may be happening is that a data warehouse is being created to house overflowing data. A virtual character gets a job in another part of the city and moves to be closer to it, what may be happening is that the code that makes up the virtual character is being moved from one part of the network to another for better storage.

A man in Harsh Realm goes to clean a window which has become dirty. The code at work would be representing a subroutine to fix a program that has become slightly corrupt. The window is code, see, the dirtiness on the window is the representation of slightly corrupt code, the man cleaning it is the representation of the code being reverted. Everyone would have their own little place in Harsh Realm so that it would be self repairing, self propagating and self restoring. A busy street with cars, buses and trucks would likely be the representation of the data flowing from one part of the huge network to another. Two cars collide on this busy street and erupt into flames killing the occupants, this is the code clashing just as it would on a network and actually results in destruction and the deletion of the virtual characters codes because the damage is irreparable.

When your mind is in Harsh Realm it is so convinced that what it sees is reality that it does become exactly that, reality. The humans mind is so convinced that what is happening is real that if, for example, you are in a car crash in Harsh Realm and you are killed, your mind is fed this information so strongly that it decides your are indeed dead, and you die for real, your heart just stops.

If your arm is cut off in Harsh Realm, because the representation is so real and convincing, you would die if you did not receive treatment. The representation would be so accurate with the blood pouring from your arm that you would lose consciousness and eventually die. Harsh Realm would have an accurate record of human anatomy including how much blood a human can lose before they cease to live.

In some way it is about belief, belief that what you are seeing is real and so real that that it can change how your body is. If you lost an eye in Harsh Realm not only would you be blind in one eye but possibly your real life eye would probably cease to function.

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