We are fascinated and troubled by the collision between our human consciousness and technology. And in plays like First Person Shooter, Wirehead, and The Nether, San Francisco Playhouse has explored this connection. How do social media and role-playing video games change the way we interact? In First Person Shooter, Aaron Loeb explored the moral responsibility of video game designers. To what degree could a game creator be held liable for the violent actions of schoolyard shooters who used his game for training. In Wirehead, we were asked to ponder the problem of elitism in the development of intelligence-enhancing technology. Do only the wealthy have the right to be smarter? The Effect, delved into role playing games asking the question, “Can actions in the virtual world be considered crimes if there are no flesh and blood victims?”
These are hard questions. Now in Non-Player Character, we are once again questioning the morality of on-line behavior? In this case, addressing the question, “Can sexual harassment done on-line be a crime?“ Based on the “Gamergate” scandal, in which coder Zoe Quinn was systematically harassed by male counterparts intent on driving her from the business, Walt McGough’s Non-Player Character lands squarely on the moment in which we live, as we try to come to grips with the avalanche of sexual harassment cases in entertainment, politics and the world of non-profits. The vast majority of these appalling examples of sexual harassment coming to light in recent months have resulted in forced resignations, prosecutions and career-ending firings for the perpetrators.
But how does that work in virtual worlds where no actual crime has been committed, but where toxicity seems to multiply exponentially, where perpetrators become capable of levels of cruelty that would not be possible in real life. How is it that on-line male personas get permission from their human alter egos to magnify hostility and rage towards women? And what can be done about it. How can these sexual predators be called to account? Do we need to name prosecutable actions out of virtual slurs and sexual innuendo, threats, on-line stalking? Non-Player Character explores these difficult questions without posing easy answers, but hopefully confronting us with the need to create moral standards for our burgeoning virtual world where we spend more and more of our time.