Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Virtual Worlds in Frankenstein and Video Games - Alex Quinn

Victor Frankenstein's difficulty with consequences is, in many ways, similar to the attitude of passivity that are taught through video games. Clearly Victor's perception of consequence has it's roots in his childhood and upbringing from an early age. The childhood environment in which Victor lived is completely congruent with a virtual world that video games create. Victor's world and the world of a video game consistently nurture very similar belief structures and encourage the physical realization of these belief systems in the same ways. The virtual world (whether actually "virtual" or not) in essence is then a function whose results are similar belief systems and actions whether the input is Victor Frankenstein or a 13 year old gamer.

From the beginning of the novel we see Victor's childhood as a strange encapsulation from the real world. Victor's parents traipse around the world with no worries of money or misfortune with their son in tow (24). They saw Victor as a "plaything" who can be put on "pause" when they no longer felt like playing with him (24). The virtual world that is created in a video game is in many ways very similar to this environment in which Victor grew up. Within a video game, Zork for example, there are no immediate responsibilities beyond wandering around and finding treasure. Also when a player in Zork is tired of the world, he or she can simply save the game and quit. Zork and other video games also must map the real world into a discrete setting. This process necessarily abstracts out many important details such as the need to eat or sleep. Victor's parents abstract out harsh realities of the world in a similar way by guiding Victor by a "silken cord" (24).

Once placed in this virtual world the actor, whether it be a character in a game or Victor Frankenstein, will naturally come to similar conclusions about how they should act and feel within this world. In Victor's particular case, the world which his parents create for him nurtures a passivity toward consequences of dire actions in much of the same way video games tend to do. Victor is made to believe that he is "bestowed on [his parents] by Heaven" and he fundamentally doesn't believe that his actions could send him to Hell (24). This attitude is evident towards the end of the novel when Victor decides to go sailing when the monster is in killing pursuit of Victor's family (170). A similar attitude can be seen in video games like Zork when a player is encouraged to try new things that may be harmful to the character or ignore consequences. If the character was to get eaten by a "grue" the player can simply reset the game and continue on with his or her "life".

The belief systems that are ingrained within a participant in a virtual world has obvious and real consequences based on the in which that participant lives. Victor Frankenstein applies the ideals he's been taught through his virtual world to his relationship with Elizabeth to the point of dire consequence. From the beginning of his life Victor is taught that his desires are a priority to the others in his world (24). This attitude is realized in Victor's relationship with Elizabeth by his constant absence and his circumstantial love (181, 60). Eventually Victor's circumstantial detachment from Elizabeth causes her death (225). The passivity that Victor expresses leading to Elizabeth's death is the same feeling that is nurtured in a video games such as Zork. The difference between these scenarios then lies only in the physical realization of these lessons. In Victor's case we see the result being Elizabeth's death while in the case of video games the consequences are left to each individual player. Thus, video games are putting trust in the player to analyze the virtual world as an abstraction of the real world. Video games gamble that the player will reject its lessons of passivity and detachment. In the end however it is left up to the player to decide.


Carmen Condeluci said...

I'd like to start off by saying that while your comparisons definitely do support your claims, the way that you define consequences within Zork is a bit unsettling to me. The world which the character exists within the game is virtual, but what makes the world of Zork any less real to the adventurer than Europe is to Victor? Yes, the player is the one who is being conditioned by the game to either acknowledge or ignore consequences, but the context to which you refer to them is outside of the game rather than within.

What I'm trying to get at here is that while the player isn't physically affected by dying in Zork, neither is the adventurer's progress. He can simply return to where he had fell and retrieve his treasures with not so much as a blight on the player's score. However, as a gamer, I tend to look at consequences within games to be largely in relation to how the character within the game responds to stimulus, rather than the physical player themselves. In no way is your take on the comparisons wrong, but this view is something to consider if you wished to expand this post into one of your revisions, which you would have little to no trouble doing).

Adam said...

You remain on a rather abstract level in the first couple paragraphs. One thing that troubles me is that, although nobody could disagree that in one sense there aren't consequences in Zork, you don't do anything to address that it's *hard* in spite of being virtual. It frustrates people (read your classmates' blog entries on that topic!). The difficulty and thorniness of the game seems to provide at least moderate trouble for your argument.

I feel like the third paragraph is more of a repetition of material from the 1st two paragraphs than anything else - the argument needs to advance in some way. The same is the case for the 4th paragraph, but an opportunity for revision does arise here. If you really believe that V's video-game-like passivity makes him unable to act to save Elizabeth (or to demonstrate his love, etc) then you want to actually go to the details of the text to unpack that passivity in such a way that you can trace out some sort of *clear* relationship between that part of the text and the Zork-like passivity.

If you revise, you want to work with more details of the text and move away from endless repetitions of ideas which, while reasonable, need more thorough demonstration. Another example - since we have the childhood of Elizabeth and of the Monster to deal with, why aren't you doing something with the similarities or contrasts in their lives to Victor's which relate to your theme?

Carmen's points are clever, by the way, and they could help you move forward.