• Patrick McAndrew

Can You Be Tried For a Crime Not in Reality?

There is an amazing play that was written a few years ago by a playwright named Jennifer Haley.  Her play, The Nether, is “a daring examination of moral responsibility in virtual worlds.”

Mr. Sims, a middle-aged man, is being questioned by Detective Morris, an online investigator, about his pedophilic activities in a role-playing, virtual world called ‘The Nether.’  This virtual world is so life-like Morris argues that such divergent actions that would have dire consequences in the real world, should be questioned when committed in ‘The Nether.’  Mr. Sims, on the other hand, argues that ‘The Nether’ provides a safe space to explore the darkest areas of one’s imagination in an alternate reality and that such a safe space prevents these darkest areas from manifesting into reality.  This thrilling and controversial show “forces us to confront disturbing questions about the boundaries of reality.”  You can purchase the play here.

This play is incredible for countless reasons.  I can go on and on, but this is no review of this play.  As related to what we talk about here on The Low Tech Trek, what I like most about The Nether (and I’m talking about the play, not the virtual world…) is that it presents questions regarding reality versus illusion.  I had the opportunity to see this play performed by Interact Theatre Company in Philadelphia last year, and the theatre, which alone is always a balancing act between illusion and reality, presents this world as real as it can be.  The actors are real people and there were certain moments in the show that made me cringe.  I would definitely argue that this is one of the intentions of the playwright.

More than anything, I think The Nether comments on the human desire to remove oneself from reality.  These characters are so wrapped up in ‘The Nether’ that this virtual reality replaces their true reality.  When it gets to that point, it becomes very difficult to distinguish what is real from artificial.

This leads to the question: are we accountable for our actions online?  I’m led to believe so.  With cyber-bullying on the rise, among many other issues, individuals are being questioned and tried for online activity.  But the characters in The Nether go one step further.  They are involved in a consensual space called ‘The Hideaway,’ where they can take on the identities of anyone.  They can be themselves, they can be a celebrity, and, as is the case in Haley’s play, they can be an innocent child.

Are we heading in this direction?  I don’t have any doubts that a lot of us fabricate ourselves on Facebook and other social media platforms.  It is interesting how we call them ‘platforms,’ as if these social media websites are elevating us to a supposed greater standard.  And as we become victims to The Attention Economy, aren’t we removing ourselves from reality?  Is Facebook and Instagram a form of virtual reality?  Is what we post reality that is then made virtual?

I could go on and on, I suppose, so I will stop!  What are your thoughts on this topic?  Are we slowly becoming more removed from reality with the advent of the smartphone?  Or is this just the latest technology like the television and personal computer were until the next thing comes along?  Comment below!


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