You Have Been Eaten by a Wretch
By Carl Santavicca
“It is pitch black, you are likely to be eaten by a grue”(Zork). Unfortunately, no more than five minutes into playing the video game Zork, these were the words I read in black and white across my screen. And then just like that, as happens all too often when I play video games, I was dead. Not to worry however, just like always, I have new life breathed back into me as if I were Frankenstein’s monster; able to begin again, less a few items that I had picked up. How was my exploration similar to that of Victor in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein? Have I been desensitized the consequences of my actions due to video gaming as Victor was by his privileged upbringing. In which ways have Victor and I not learned from the consequences of our actions. And, in which ways, if only a little, have we actually learned from our mistakes and desired to not repeat them again.
Initially Victor set out with his ambition to create life where there was none and do something that has never been done before. Similarly, whether it be in Zork or a first person shooter like Call-of Duty my goal is to get to that next level, explore that next dungeon, or be better than everyone else that I’m playing against. It is this desire that prompts Victor to not first create a creature of “simpler organization” but to go for broke; “I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature; that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionately large”(Shelly49). Victor had not fully contemplated the possible consequences of making his creature larger and stronger than a mere human. Just as I had not contemplated the possibility of death that awaited me by descending into the darkness below the field house in Zork or running headlong into the war zone that is Call of Duty multiplayer.
What is it that makes both Victor and I so ignorant of the consequences of actions and how are we both similar different in those ways? It is apparent that, even since the earliest video games, myself and other gamers have been able to restart if we made an error or even worse died. Also as video games progressed many provided me with more than one life, or even special codes or hidden secrets to gain additional chances at glory. This ability has the effect of desensitizing one to the consequences of those actions. Could you imagine how boring a video game would be if you only had one life, just like in reality; I’m sure myself, and tons of other gamers, would be way more cautious if there was no possibility of resurrection, if every time I got shot or stabbed in a game it actually caused physical pain, or when the thief robbed me in Zork, that he actually got to keep my iPhone.
Similarly Victor is desensitized by his affluent upbringing; his parents provided him with everything he desired: “My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed”(Shelly 28-29). It was this treatment that resulted in Victor not being able to take responsibility for his actions and blaming others, like his parents, for his misplaced course of study: “’Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash.’ If instead of this remark, my father had taken pains to explain to me that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded….”(Shelly30-31). Or “I was their plaything and their idol, and something better—their child, the innocent and helpless creature bestowed on them by Heaven, whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery”(Shelly24). These show that Victor though it was others responsibility to ensure his happiness, and as a result to take blame for his actions as well. We see this also throughout the story as Victor continuously blames the Wretch for the deaths of William, Justine, Henry, and Elizabeth, while mentioning his involvement however never fully taking ownership to their murders and the consequences that go with it.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. No matter how many times I hear that I cant help from repeating some of my past mistakes while playing video games. For example: after being eaten by a grue, I immediately return to the same spot knowing there is a beast waiting in the dark that has already killed me once; or returning to the same spot where I had just been gunned down on Call of Duty. Had this been real life, and having the knowledge that danger was there, I definitely would put as much distance, as possible, between that area and myself. Whether I return out of pride or revenge, the fact is that my virtual death is not much of a deterrent at all. In what ways does Victor experience the same “virtual death” and not learn from the experience: enter the deaths of his friends and family. While the actual death of Victor is possible, and eventually does happen, he experiences the death of his friends and family one by one, and yet does not learn from the situation. He remains ignorant of the monsters threats, even on his wedding day, and learned nothing from its past actions: “I continued walking up and the passages of the house, and inspecting every corner…when suddenly I heard a shrill and dreadful scream. It came from the room in which Elizabeth had retired. As I heard it, the whole truth rushed into my mind”(Shelly225). Had he realized that the monster’s intent was not to kill him, but to make him alone and miserable, he may have been able to ultimately protect his bride.
Let there be light! On occasion, no matter how thick headed Victor and I both are, we do occasionally learn from the consequences of our actions. As noted before, I knowingly returned to the scene of my previous demise; however on the follow up trip I did so equipped with a lantern and a sword (Zork). The only thing that was disappointing upon my return was I did not get to extract my revenge on the grue that slayed me earlier. In relation Victor, despite his spoiled rich child ability to blame others, did learn from one of his mistakes when he ceased construction of a second monster for fear of the unknown behavior of the new creature: “I was about to form another being, of whose dispositions I was alike ignorant”(Shelly188). Overall the consequences between Victor’s upbringing and the videogame desensitization of violence and death are definitely relevant. However what is more relevant is how we actually learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others and attempt to minimize and possibly eliminate the predictable disasters that can befall us.