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The holodeck is a fictional plot device from the television series Star Trek. It is presented as a staging environment in which participants may engage with different virtual reality environments. From a storytelling point of view, it permits the introduction of a greater variety of locations and characters that might not otherwise be possible, such as events and persons in the Earth's past and is often used as a way to pose philosophical questions.
The first appearance of a holodeck (then called a 'recreation room') in Star Trek came in the animated series (1974): during the episode "The Practical Joker", Dr McCoy, Sulu and Uhura are trapped inside it by the ship's computer. Within the fictional timeline of the Star Trek universe, the first human encounter with a holodeck comes with an encounter with the alien Xyrillian race in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Unexpected".
The holodeck is depicted as an enclosed room in which objects and people are simulated by a combination of matter, beams and fields onto which holographic images are projected, which appear solid to the touch. This matter is known as "holomatter", and usually disintegrates when the virtual-reality program is ended. However, examples from some episodes show holomatter persisting beyond the confines of the holodeck. In the episode "Encounter at Farpoint", for example, a character falls into a virtual water stream, but is shown to be wet even after exiting the holodeck.
Holodeck programs are shown to fall into two broad types. The most commonly depicted type is a program in which the user of the holodeck is shown to be able to interact with the virtual-reality environment and its characters. The lesser-depicted type is a passive mode, in which the user is shown to be an 'unseen' observer in the simulated environment.
Characters in Star Trek are shown to use holodecks for recreation and for work. By simulating settings and events, undertakings in science, logistics and law may be carried out. A wide variety of settings and situations have been portrayed on the holodeck, including a 19th-century American West adventure, and the experiences of Captain Jean-Luc Picard playing the part of one of his boyhood heroes, detective Dixon Hill.
The holodeck is usually shown to be controlled by voice commands, though physical controls have also been shown. There have been several depicted incidents of Star Trek characters being trapped or injured by holodeck malfunctions, leading to later series showing the addition of the safety feature of a hidden computer terminal which allows access to the holodeck controls.
Holodecks have also been used as a plot device to explore metaphysical questions. In one episode, a holodeck character is shown to become self-aware and considers his own identity and existence. In another episode, a holodeck character achieves full sentience and is awarded the same rights as "living" crew members.
Star Trek shows characters known as 'holonovelists', who provide scenarios and stories for use on the holodeck. Some users are shown to develop a pathological addiction to the holodeck, a condition known to the characters as "holo-addiction". Star Trek: Voyager presents alien beings known as "photonic lifeforms" who interact with the ship's crew primarily through holodecks.
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