Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Frankenstein: The Video Game

Frankenstein: The Video Game
            The pressure is on, if you beat the boss and run across the bridge, you have saved the kingdom! You take a deep breath and start to run. A fireball comes hurling your way but you dodge it. Unfortunately you didn’t realize that there was a second fireball barreling at you right behind it. The fireball hits you and you die. After this, your body relaxes. You take a swig of Mountain Dew, Throw a few potato chips in your mouth and start over again.
            Whether we are saving a princess or attempting to collect treasure in “Zork” we have all been immersed in the carefree, larger than life, world of video games. In Mary Shelly’s novel “Frankenstein,” it can be argued that Victor is like a video game player in the way that he can perform extraordinary feats but chooses not to deal with the consequences of his actions when he does so.
            To me, the reason Frankenstein relates so well to the world of video games is because like in many video games, the protagonist, Victor, can make decisions and perform actions that cannot be replicated in the real world. Because of this the consequences are larger than life and Frankenstein shows us the ramifications of ignoring those consequences in the real world.
            In life and virtual life, our destiny is determined by the decisions we make. A pioneer in role playing video games, “Zork” is a perfect example of this. “Zork” provides the player with a unique experience because unlike most games there are really no controls. Every action you make in the game is powered by a decision, whether it is walking north or slaying a grue. Much like the Monster in “Frankenstein.” The player must teach themselves how to survive and thrive in a world where they receive essentially no help. So slowly, the player learns how to navigate the world, collect items, and how to achieve the main goal of the game which is to obtain treasure. If obtaining treasure is the goal of the game in “Zork,” what is Victor’s treasure in “Frankenstein?” I believe what Victor is seeking in his “game” is power. In a similar fashion to a player of “Zork,” Victor starts off with a small idea of how to achieve his goal. Just as a “Zork” player only knows a few controls at the beginning of the game, Victor has limited and out-dated knowledge at the beginning of the novel. In my experience with “Zork” the more I continued to play the game, the more knowledge I gained on how to navigate the world and complete my goal. As the story of “Frankenstein” progressed Victor began to gain a vast amount of knowledge which gave him a power most video game characters don’t even possess; the power to create life.
            There is a major difference between the world of “Frankenstein” and the world of “Zork.” When the player pushes their boundaries in “Zork,” their life often ends in being eaten by a grue. The player then restarts the game and tries again. Frankenstein has the same level of ambition as the player, but when he pushes the boundaries of his own knowledge and creates the Monster, he has real consequences to deal with and takes the same amount of accountability as the gamer.
            During the story, there are many examples of Victor shirking the consequences of his actions. The most obvious example is the fact that he creates a superhuman and fails to take responsibility for it in any way. Not at it's creation, not when the Monster asks for a companion, and not when the Monster starts killing Victor's family and friends. Another glaring failing of Victor's was the fact that he never told anyone about the monster in the first place. If he did so he could have saved Justine's life. In fact if you look at Victor's actions throughout the story, you may not find one act that wasn't a selfish one. This is the most video game like quality I found with Victor. When one plays a video game they rarely if ever choose their actions based on is best for another virtual character. Victor sees himself as the only character in the "game" which is a large reason why he acts so selfishly.
            It is relatively simple to see why Frankenstein acts the way he does if we look at his upbringing the fact that Victor was described as an “idol and a plaything” (Shelly 24) tells us that he essentially was a video game for his parents. They turned Victor on and off at their convenience. When Victor was on, he was the center of his parents world, when he was off he was forgotten. Also the fact that he was raised in privilege suggests that the consequences for his childhood actions were small if nonexistent. Even as Victor grew up, he was never told no, or when he was he became agitated and did not listen as we saw with Krempe at the beginning of the novel. Because of these characters passiveness Victor thinks of himself as a god and ultimately suffers dearly for it.

            Although video games are fun to play and escape reality with, we can never become too invested in them. In our world, for every action there is a reaction. Victor found this out the hard way and didn’t learn from his mistakes until it was too late. 


Sarah Ayre said...

After reading your essay, I'm still not clear on your position. The prompt asked you to take a position on whether that Victor Frankenstein’s difficulty with consequences is fundamentally like (or unlike - but be clear about what the difference is and why it matters) the attitude toward consequences that video games teach us and I don't see that in your essay. This is the main problem that i'm seeing because I don't know what you are arguing and what your examples support. The essay is well written but that falls apart without having a clear thesis. There was a strong intro but again I think once you have a clear view and statement about what you are arguing this essay could be very strong.

Adam said...

The 1st paragraph is funny; the second gives the argument a little subtlety. The pairing of power with carelessness is well and briefly delineated here. The third paragraph maybe should only be a sentence or so in the second, though.

One thing I like that you say about Zork is that in the absence of controls you only have decisions - that is, every action is discrete and explicit, which is interesting. I'm more skeptical of your discussion of Frankenstein navigating through the world of the novel - isn't the monster really the one more like a player in some ways, because he lacks context and has to figure everything out on his own?

As you go on, you remain too much at an abstract level. That doesn't mean that you don't have good insights - "Victor sees himself as the only character in the "game" which is a large reason why he acts so selfishly." - but taking that good insight as an example, you don't really do anything with it. It's a general reaction, if a reasonable one, to the text as a whole. What I want is to see that explored much more in depth through a detailed discussion of the text. Where and how can we understand that Victor is acting this way? It's a good idea, but the devil is always in the details. You take the easiest possible path here by simply citing one of the passages we all know, and discussed in detail. What you needed (this is an example - there are other ways) - is to ask whether your vision of Victor is accurate, for instance, in the chase across the arctic, or in his adventures in Scotland - your response to the novel here feels like it's really a response to the beginning of the novel still, and that you haven't really thought out how it applies elsewhere.

Overall: A fun beginning and a reasonable concept, but lacking in execution. Where's the rest of the novel here?