Well, maybe not before but rather around the same time (1999), but the point is it is the lesser known of the two sci-fi movies that explores the same topic: An entirely alternative, virtual world.
eXistenz is also similar to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Inception, in that it works around a scenario of becoming unconscious in one world to become awake in another level of reality, transcending up and down different frequencies of perceived experience.
In eXistenZ you enter more of a mental simulation, also different in that it is narrative-driven, you experience a very specific story line, like reading a book in real life form and in which you directly play the role of the characters.
There’s been many other variations too. Keanu Reeves even played an earlier version of Neo in 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic, which featured the use of the human mind as a data back and transport memory.
Each movie deals with the same core ideal of the Metaverse, that of an entirely alternative, virtual world, and what each highlights is the nature of the interface: How are we connected into the Metaverse?
In the Matrix you are transposed from physical reality to a computerized environment via a process of technological ‘upload’, a rather brutal spiked connection jammed into the back of the neck.
In eXistenz they make this connection through an organic interface and a ‘pod’, a rather disturbing process like the Matrix that requires a physical penetration into the spine, adding to the movie’s creepy effect.
At the moment, predominately due to the limitations of the technology because of how early it is, much of the Metaverse is envisaged in a form of ‘Second Life 2.0’: An open world environment where we participate as avatars via our computers, or increasingly via VR headsets.
Conceptually this is a great starting point but the practical reality is many people find the VR headset experience clunky and uncomfortable, so as we look out over years and decades, we can envisage an evolution to these more advanced scenarios – Perhaps it will be an ‘organic socket’ on our body that we literally get plugged into, although more likely we’ll see an increasing commodization of VR headsets, both in terms of cost and also weight and styling.