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"I went back to science fiction to try a few experiments …and my first experiment was a disaster…"
- Alfred Bester

Life Chamber  
  A machine-mediated, fully immersive experiential environment.  

This is a very early description of what today might be called "virtual reality".

"The rest is simple enough—but it's the meat of the narrative. You see, I had to revise the way I was going about my work, and I went at it at a new angle. By this time wireless telegraphy was being widely developed, and there were many features of it that appealed to me. With the knowledge I had gained during my first feverish years of experiment, however, I was able to go far beyond what has been done in recent times with radio.

"I used a system differing in many respects from that of the commercial radio. We haven't time now to go into all that—I can tell you later, and it involves much that is highly technical and still secret. It is sufficient if I explain that my object was to evolve and fuse methods for doing with each of the senses what radio does with sound. Telephotography was the simplest problem—the others required an almost superhuman amount of labor.

"But my biggest job was to combine them. And, to do that, I had to use knowledge I had gained not only in the laboratory but in my wanderings about the earth—not only in the colleges and salons of Europe and America, but in the bazaars and temples of India, Egypt, China. I had to unite the lore of ancient and modern civilizations, and I created a new factor in electrical science. I suppose the simplest and most intelligible name for it would be mental telepathy. But it is more than that, and basically it is as simple and material as your own motion pictures."

From The Chamber of Life, by G. Peyton Wertenbaker.
Published by Amazing Stories in 1929
Additional resources -

The device involves a telepathically-projected full-sensory interactive movie beamed to a man in a sensory-deprivation chamber. In the novel, he seems to go to imaginary Technocratic utopia, which he inhabits for months of perceived time (in a single night of real time).

Here's a description of what the experience is like from the novel.

"You see, it's like living another life to experience an hour or two in the Chamber. You cannot possibly realize yet just what it's like. I have created a means of reproducing all the sensations that a man would have in actual living; all the sounds, the odors, the little feelings that are half-realized in daily life—everything. The Chamber takes possession of you and lives for you. You forget your name, your very existence in this world, and you are taken bodily into a fictitious land. It is like actually living the books you would read today, or the motion pictures and plays you would watch and hear.

"It is as real as life, but it moves swiftly as a dream. You seem to pass through certain things slowly and completely, in the tempo of life. Then, when the transitional moment comes, between the scenes, your sensations pass with unbelievable rapidity. The Chamber has possession of your mind. It tells you that you are doing such and such a thing, it gives you all the feeling of doing that thing, and you actually believe you are doing it. And when it snatches you away from one day and takes you into the next, it has only to make you feel that a day has passed, and it is as though you had lived through that day. You could live a lifetime in this way, in the Chamber, without spending actually more than a few hours."

This predates such works as "The Age of the Pussyfoot" (1965), the Saga technology from Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars (1956) and by four and a half decades The Eden Cycle. I'd also mention the feelies from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), although the feelies did not offer a fully immersive experience, and stimsim from William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984).

Because the machine hypnotizes the audience into forgetting they are in a virtual-reality scenario, the experience is more like that of the hero of The Eden Cycle in the first described scenario of that book. It also highlights the main problem with such a technique. The protagonist of "The Chamber of Life" winds up falling in love with a fictional character. And not falling out of it when he wakes up.

Thanks to an anonymous reader for submitting the quote, descriptive matter and references for this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Chamber of Life
  More Ideas and Technology by G. Peyton Wertenbaker
  Tech news articles related to The Chamber of Life
  Tech news articles related to works by G. Peyton Wertenbaker

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