In the early 21st Century, we already think of experience as being offline or online, and we are spending exponentially more of our time in digital realities. For many, surfing Facebook or Twitter, our heads buried in our computers and smartphones, our world is shrinking down to our 5-inch screen. The Oculus Rift is the Model T of what will soon usher in an explosion of virtual reality experiences. Ungoverned, unregulated, our digital world is rapidly becoming a vast and lawless frontier where anything goes, where any appetite can be satiated, any perversion condoned.
Seven years ago at San Francisco Playhouse, Aaron Loeb’s First Person Shooter explored the collision of First Amendment rights with social responsibility. The play asked: “Do violent video game makers bear responsibility for the actual violence perpetrated by their games’ fans?” Today, we continue that debate with Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, which eloquently poses the question: Is it better for sick minds to perpetrate their proclivities in the sheltered digital world of the Hideaway? Or does such “practice” inevitably segue into REAL action?
The US Supreme Court recently dismissed the prosecution of a man who threatened his wife’s life on Facebook. He had committed no actual crime. And yet, there have been convictions for bullying, hazing, and online remarks that led to suicides. Many women have been brutally profiled and stalked online. Is there a difference between that and a catcall on the street? Where do we draw the line? How can we respect our treasured rights to free speech, the sanctity of the imagination and still exert some kind of control over the Wild West of the Internet?
The Nether will provide you no answers. Like many great works of theatre, it poses only compelling questions as its brilliant protagonists battle it out the in an antiseptic interrogation room and the glorious world of the Hideaway. Like the Pinkertons from Butch Cassidy, our detective is likely part of a vigilante force, hired by the online provider to police the Nether before the government steps in. She battles with the blind passion and idealism of youth. Our brilliant cyber criminal has created a safe place where he can act out his fantasies without consequence. As far as he is concerned, he is harming no one.
What will happen when humans go on life support to spend all their days in virtual realities? Should we allow that? In a world where nothing actually happens, can there be victims? Crimes? Do we have the right to regulate the enticement of unsuspecting players into depraved domains? Please stick around after the show to share your reactions.