My sister loaned me her boxed set of Battlestar Gallactica DVDs a while back, and I burned through all the seasons in record time. I just binged that show, I loved it so much. So many fascinating questions about humanity. While stumbling around the Internet, I discovered there is another series, although a much shorter one, called Caprica, which is set on Earth and shows how Cylons came to look like people. (There is a lot of other stuff that is not explained, unfortunately, but whatever.)
In the show, a guy played by Eric Stoltz invents a game called V-World. You get into V-World by putting on some whack glasses that remind me of the banana clip in Star Trek only these have lights. It's completely virtual there, and you can't die. If you get shot or stabbed, you de-res and you can't ever go back to V-World. You only get one life.
It's extremely dangerous in V-World, though. People play games of Russian roulette and carry machetes and guns and drive spaceships into buildings. Several characters ask how to win the game, and nobody seems to know. Most disturbing -- most people don't seem to care. They're just excited to fuck with as many people as possible while they're there. Maybe it's because they know they're not really killing someone. Maybe it's because the culture of the game is so violent. But these people shoot guns without even looking at what they're trying to hit.
At one point, one of the main characters asks another what the point of the game is. He doesn't know, either. The man who created the game didn't even give himself an extra life, and he doesn't really seem to understand any of it, either. I don't want to ruin the series for you if you want to watch it, so I won't go on any longer about the game or what happens there, but it occurred to me that I didn't like the scenes in V-World at all, because nobody seemed to care what happened there, if people got hurt, if people were sad.
One of the things I struggle with most in modern America is accountability and the dissociative imagination at times brought out in certain people by the Internet. If V-World is to the Internet as Caprica is to the U.S. (it seems particularly the U.S., but that could be because I live here), then the people in V-World are physically acting out the racist tweets, ragey comments and hacking that goes on in real life on the Internet.
While thinking about this yesterday, I had a flashback to ordering a sweater from the J. Crew catalog when I was in college and when I did not have access to The World Wide Web. I did not even have a cell phone, egads. I used the phone attached to the wall in my dorm room and called the 800 number and described the sweater and page number of the catalog to the woman who answered the phone. She was really nice, and we chatted for a while about what a cute sweater it was and whether I should get it a size too big as was the fashion at the time. I told her my credit card number (which was brand new, whee) and hung up. I had to be nice to her -- she was a person, after all, and we were having a conversation with our mouth-holes and everything. That level of personal interaction was pretty much everywhere. When ATMs came about, we were all overjoyed that we could get our money in $5 increments late at night to go to the bars, but also a little freaked out that something might go wrong and there was no person to help us sort it out.
Now we have to do almost everything ourselves. Book travel. Handle our banking. Shop without the aid of a salesperson. Scan and bag our groceries. (Although I think in the small town where I grew up, high school boys will still sack your groceries and carry them to your car for you. That is pretty rare outside of small towns, though.)
Somewhere in between convenience and alienation lies V-World. At some point in the loss of face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice interaction, some individuals morph into douchebags with no moral compass, no personal sense of accountability and pride that would stop them from hurting someone's feelings or even -- virtually -- their bodies, just for fun. Where on the continuum is the turning point? How do we insulate ourselves against the fuck-it point? How do we teach our kids to go on being accountable in a situation where accountability becomes counter-intuitive to the game?
What, indeed, is the point of the game? When did we stop saying "please" and "thank you"? Was it when we went from talking to the J. Crew person to chatting with her on the website? The whole Caprica thing freaked me out sufficiently that I'm going to be monitoring my behavior very closely. I'm very polite and welcoming in my neighborhood. I'm a nice neighbor. I watch people's cats when they go out of town and tell them when their garage door is open and keep an eye on their kids when they're in the cul-de-sac. I send thank you notes, paper ones, when people give me presents. I'm not a total douchebag online, but I could be nicer. Sometimes I think I will say "thank you" and then realize I'm talking to an autoresponder, and maybe that's a piece of it, too. Sometimes I don't even know if who I'm talking to is real or virtual. Does it make sense to be polite to Siri? Does taking her for granted translate directly into walking away from a gas station cashier without saying thanks for giving me directions?
Where is the line in V-World?
What is the point of the game?