OK, guys, we have lots of toys to open this year. Lots of computer games to upload, download and virtually enter. All at your own risk.
As a parent and as an individual, it gets scarier and scarier. We live in a world where the divide between the real world and the imagined has become ever more gossamer.
No longer do we simply sit back and read a book to imagine being someone else, living somewhere else and doing something else. Long gone are the days when we had to get into a car and drive to the movies to see a flick.
Today we can insert ourselves through the click of a mouse into places and circumstances we’d never actually go to in real life. They can be fantastical exotic locations or descensions into horror and depravity.
There are cyber games and video games targeted to children that relish in beating women to death with baseball bats. Having sex with prostitutes and then killing them in order to get your money back. And, in truth, any child with a joystick can play.
A person can be anyone they want to be online. They can be an old man or a young girl. They can even be invisible. Likewise, who they’re chatting with can be entirely different than who they think they are.
The cyber world can be a gateway to knowledge or the darkest, most evil place imagined.
Looking just above my screen, there’s a bite taken out of the Apple logo and perhaps that’s telling and symbolic. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge can be both wonderful and dangerous.
The other night, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. My children were asleep and I had to be quiet. I was restless and signed onto AOL. I went into a chat room called “Dadsroom” where I was instant messaged by someone who purported to be a father. He then proceeded to tell me how he had hid, then assaulted and raped his daughter. Clearly, he was proud to share this with me. As I sat there reading his tale, though, I don’t think he was kidding, I was filled with revulsion. Moreover, how did he know that I was not really a child pretending to be an adult?
With the advent of such creepy places, they defy the clear and distinct dichotomy most of us come to make between the real world and the imagined.
Is there really such a person who did such a disgusting thing? Or was it all just fiction?
Moreover, since he’s shrouded in a virtual cloak of invisibility, would he have been so forthcoming had his identity been known? Likely not.
It’s a philosophical debate that’s been around since the ancients.
Long before the evil, mythical land of Mordor, long before there was a Gandalf, a Middle-earth and a Hobbit named Bilbo who could turn invisible when he wore a magic ring, there was a Greek named Plato. The “Ring of Gyges,” which confers invisibility, is used in Plato’s “Republic” as a thought experiment to argue that a person with such a ring, whether previously just or unjust, would use it to commit as many crimes as necessary to get what they wanted.
Through technology, that mythical imagining has a real manifestation.
I’m not against the portrayal of violence in fiction. There have been violent, strange and even gory stories since Homer. “The Iliad” is filled with it. “The spear of bronze went clean through below, beneath the brain, and shattered his white bones, and his teeth were shaken out, and both his eyes were filled with blood, and he blew blood up through mouth and nostrils as he gaped, and the black cloud of death covered him about.”
But I knew I was reading a story then. And the heroes in “The Iliad” had courage. And when they were driven from courage to anger and ultimately rage, that’s when they’d fall.
In so much of today’s world of playful imagining, rage and horror are the starting points, and it’s hard to know if what I’m observing, hearing, playing or cybering is live or Memorex. For youngsters, it must be all the more confusing.
So during this holiday season, while uploading, signing on and surfing, keep in mind that the evil Land of Mordor is not just playing in the movies. It’s virtually a click away.
Abe Novick is senior vice president of Eisner Communications in Baltimore.