The greatest privilege afforded to the wealthy of the time—and to an extent today—that extends into the realm of games is the freedom to fail and fail often. Failure can extend beyond simple mistakes and into doing intentional harm. It’s not until the possibility of his death becomes a very real and very near consequence for Frankenstein that he fully accepts the responsibility of his invention, with his biggest regret being not destroying it fast enough.
In a way, games provide us the joy of careless experimentation without the burden of lasting consequences. They are very often a means in which we’re free to act on impulse, and even encourage such experimentation. Zork is a game that coerces this sort play with completely unpredictable outcomes. Coming across a troll, your first instinct is to kill it. How? You can simply type “kill”, and the game will ask, “With what?” You can choose to attempt killing it with water or a trophy, or you can swing your sword and drag out the battle. Alternatively, you can “kill troll with sword” and have the battle over in a single step.
Later, in a moment of mild frustration and curiosity, I decided to kill myself in Zork. After years of playing games, I knew the consequences of my actions wouldn’t be severe. At worst the game would undo my progress, and at best it’d give me a snarky warning against doing such. Nothing extreme like a full system crash would even be a possibility, and most games hold the player’s hand to some degree, meaning it’d probably inform me that I could kill myself, but that I shouldn’t.
To my surprise, the game did simply let me kill myself without asking twice. It resulted in me trying to get out of hell, but, failing to do so, I restarted and got back to where I was with no trouble. The only consequence I suffered was restarting the game and losing a few minutes of progress, but since I memorized the steps I followed to reach the point of frustration, the only real punishment was that few minutes. If it’d been hours, my anger would’ve been directed towards the developers for letting me kill myself, and there wouldn’t be a second of self-reflection and consideration that I was the one dumb enough to attempt suicide. Still, I can’t legitimately claim that there was no way to know I’d actually die. Earlier I had walked into the attack with the lantern left off. The game warns me I might be eaten by a grue, which I took to be merely an expression, akin to “don’t let the bed bugs bite.” After wandering in darkness for a few seconds, I did indeed get eaten by a grue. If I’d taken the warning literally, I would’ve switched on the lamp and lived. Instead, I decided to move forward just to see what the outcome would be. It’s the same result as killing yourself, yet I decided to try that too.
In a way, we can draw a connection with Frankenstein’s thought processes. He’d discovered how to harness the essence of life with simple organisms, and from that extrapolated that the process would be similar for humans. He set out to construct a homunculus from the remains of the dead. He ended up building an eight-foot monster, a being he considered terrifyingly hideous, and he had the opportunity to tear it apart at any time. He didn’t. He knew that there were only two possibilities: the entity stays dead, or the horrifying beast comes to life. The only result he desired was the instant satisfaction of seeing it breathe, not the tedious process of acclimating it to human society. He had immediate regret upon seeing its first breath, and instead of accepting his mistake and bearing responsibility for it or living with the pain of destroying this new life, he left his experiment to run wild in hopes of it eventually dying.
To be fair, just as I didn’t fully expect to end up in hell, Frankenstein didn’t anticipate the monster becoming a serial murderer. Frankenstein knew he was making a living being, but he didn’t know the extent of its emotions and social needs. His mistake, however, was in not ending the experiment. While I lack an understanding of 19th century Swiss law, I’m quite sure Frankenstein could have stepped forward and said he saw the murderer of William escape and have Justine pardoned. Instead, to avoid involving himself in the trouble or risking sounding insane, the entire family allowed Justine’s trial to proceed and left her to die. He valued his reputation more than human life. Had he alerted the town after first seeing the monster, he could’ve avoided all later damage and had it hunted down. Instead, he continued to let the monster wreak havoc and even humored the idea of making a second attempt by constructing a female equivalent.
In the end, though, Frankenstein is guaranteed certain outcomes for his actions. He knew that getting married would inevitably result in his wife being killed, yet instead of announcing his mistake and finding the monster, he thought getting married and letting the monster find him would be a better idea. In a way, it’s comparable to how I committed suicide in Zork even after I knew hell would be the same as last time. I just wanted to see what the process of suicide was like.