Differential Conditioning, Parallel Results
My initial experience with Zork was typical of any new player: I wandered around, got lost, and eventually was greeted with the soon to be familiar “*** You have died ***” message. The game however thought that I “probably deserve another chance”, and warped me to forest near where I had started to continue my adventure. The consequences of my death were not that disparaging, as I was able to continue my adventure and quickly reclaim my lost treasure. I went on to die quite a few more times, but it never seemed to count against me, not even when examining my score. I would even type in deadly commands, such as “kill self with sword” and “jump down”, just to see the grisly result. This desensitizing of the consequences of actions within video games like Zork is not dissimilar to the rejection of responsibility that Victor Frankenstein exhibits throughout Mary Shelley’s novel. The way that he came to ignore the consequences of his actions is very similar to how I ended up experimenting with committing suicide in Zork.
The processes of conditioning both Victor and I to ignore repercussions are different in situation, but lead to a similar mindset. While playing Zork, I quickly learned that the game required me to pick up items scattered around the world and utilize them in various ways, such as killing the troll with the sword or lighting the candles with matches. The taking and using of items, even if the attempt was unsuccessful, overwhelmingly brought no consequences, so I naturally came to believe that grabbing and using items had no ramifications. Furthermore, dying in Zork did nothing but drop the treasure and items I had collected where I had died, restoring me to full health and allowing me to retry whatever I was doing and reclaim my treasure. Without realizing it, I became far more reckless as I had not experienced any true consequence for dying. Victor developed his dull concept of consequences with a similar method of conditioning during his early childhood. He refers to himself as his parents’ “plaything and their idol, and something better—their child, the innocent and helpless creature bestowed upon them by heaven,” (Shelley 24). He learned at a very young age that he could receive anything he desired from his well-off parents with no reciprocation, as well as hide from potential punishment or repercussions from his actions when they were often not present and through the infinitely high regard that they held him in. He also mentions that he was, “so guided by a silken cord that all seemed but one train of enjoyment for me,” showing that Victor believed that everyone around him was meant to cater to his needs and wants with no work needed on his part (Shelley 24). Through continual, early reinforcement of consequences being irrelevant or absent entirely, Victor and I developed indifference to them in our respective environments.
The most glaring example of Victor’s lack of understanding of consequences is in how he handles the final creation and initial escape of the monster. When he realizes that he finds his new species to be horrible in every way, he “escaped and rushed downstairs,” allowing the monster to escape (Shelley 35). Not only does Victor not express any concern for what the inhuman beast of his creation might do, but quickly forgets of his troubles when his friend Clerval appears. Of course, the monster goes on to murder Victor’s younger brother, William. In Zork, I felt compelled to pick up and use everything I could find, which led to not only over-encumbrance but deaths as well. The rusty knife found next to the skeleton is the perfect example. I attempted to use the knife as a weapon against the thief, but died to my own knife cutting my throat, singing as it sliced. Just as Victor never considered the eventual murder of his brother as a result of letting the monster walk free, I never imagined that using an item would result in my own untimely death.
A passive attitude towards consequences cannot remain forever, and eventually the results must be faced. After dying numerous times in Zork, I finally found myself as a wandering spirit waiting at the Gates of Hell, unable to interact with any objects or continue on my journey. This resulted in a complete restart of my adventure, losing all of my treasures and progress. I also began to more cleverly consider the possible results of using items if certain ways, as well as contemplating the availability of items that would need to be used later. Similarly, Victor finally faces the possibilities that may result from the creation of his monster’s new companion, deciding to reject its request and destroy the female creature as he is unsure of how it will behave (Shelley 89). He also finally decides to track down and destroy the monster after the death of Elizabeth, vowing revenge on the creature that had “snatched from me every hope of future happiness,” (Shelley 104). Although both of us finally realize that our actions must eventually be atoned for, the processes through which we came to be previously indifferent towards the results of those actions are remarkably parallel.