December 5, 2017
MarkBernstein.org
 
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A Fault To Nature

(Adapted from section 3 of “Some Moral Questions Concerning Story In Immersive Hypertext Narrative”)

Is Juliet of age in the jurisdiction through which your holodeck is passing? Is Romeo? In fair Verona, Romeo’s behavior entailed criminal neglect of Mr. Capulet’s rights. In Boston today, we might excuse the young lovers, but what if one of the lovers is twenty-five or fifty years old? Even Train, a performance game about the Holocaust, must deceive its players into complicity by withholding information that its historical figures knew.

Some interactive fictions lure or compel the player to commit crimes in order to understand the criminal, just as some novels relate the point of view of unreliable or criminal characters. In other tales, the offense is incidental, or merely a precipitating incident that sets the story in motion. Romeo and Juliet is not about statutory rape, or even about romantic love: it explores the difference between youth and age, prudence and passion. Yet on the holodeck, to get things started, I may need to initiate a sexual relationship that, if I am old but my character young, must disquiet me.

To witness the (performance of the) sexual relationship might also disquiet some, but that is something else. Walk along the quais of Paris or the streets of San Francisco and you may encounter young people whose behavior you may not entirely approve. They have not asked your opinion. To know that others do things that you might not is to understand that the world is large and people various; to do those things yourself is perhaps another matter. Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but it’s not our fault: on the holodeck, it is.