Saturday, March 27

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom

On February 25th, I attended the opening night of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom at the Norman Theatre of the Tulsa PAC. Written by Jennifer Haley and directed by David Lawrence, the play is a disconcerting postmodern thriller that should give pause to gamers and those who know and love them.

Set in an unnamed, generic, middle-class American suburb ruled with an iron fist by the Neighborhood Association, Neighborhood 3 presents an entirely plausible premise: All the teenagers in the picket fenced community are hooked on the new video game that gives the play its title. Its players are linked via the internet into teams, and the groundbreaking trait of this third installment of the Neighborhood series is that it uses GPS technology to make the setting of the game reflect the environs of the player. In other words, the players hunt zombies in their own neighborhood.

The cast of four play a total of sixteen characters, and although costume changes and the actors’ techniques make these distinctions clear, recognizing the same performers in multiple roles adds to the characters’ anonymity and thus their universality, resulting in the audience’s belief that these characters could be their own neighbors—or even themselves and their own families. A fifth cast member provides a voiceover that transitions from one scene to the next and is the voice of game, instructing the players where to go and what to do.

As the game progresses, the GPS system seems to do a better and better job of representing the neighborhood in more and more detail. Once the players begin to recognize houses from their fronts—which should of course not be visible to GPS satellites—it becomes clear how deeply they are engrossed in this game: engrossed to the point that they begin having trouble distinguishing reality from virtual reality. Meanwhile, the adults consult each other with increasing fear and desperation and finally try everything they can think of to rescue their children from their slavish obsession with the game.

Progressively gruesome things begin to happen in the neighborhood, beginning with the suspiciously violent death of a pet cat, as the teen gamers become increasingly fixated on reaching the “final house.” As word gets around of others who have reached the endgame, each child realizes that the “final house” is his or her own, and the last zombie in the “final house” looks eerily like his or her own parent. Without revealing the climactic scene and its outcome, suffice it to say that gamers’ conflation of real life with the game reaches an unsettling peak, to say the least, before abruptly ending with one teen’s horrified realization of what has happened.

Obviously, the most interesting and relevant line of discussion for this class revolves around the ability of new media—not just video games, but all forms of communication technology that replace real human interaction with virtual representations thereof—to represent and thus replace that reality with increasing accuracy and addictive allure. The game consumes its players’ lives and replaces anything good and healthy rather than enhancing them. I am reminded of the article I posted earlier this semester on the use of new media by the Catholic Church, namely the admonition that this technology should not be valued in and of itself, but rather as a tool used for its ability to communicate what is truly important and valuable. In this play, the game does gain value and virtue in and of itself, ultimately becoming more important than the things and people the gamers once valued in their real lives. The tragic outcome provides a most effective warning of where virtual reality can lead us when we allow it to fill a very real hole in our lives.

If you'd like to read more about the play, here are a few good links:
information on the play from the playwright's website
information on the play from the publisher's website
the Tulsa World's review of the play


Nicholas Lee said...

My problem with this sort of "art" is it's just thinly disguised moralizing and fear mongering.

If I wanted to watch Fox News, I'd get a lobotomy and turn on the TV.

Michael Loeffler said...

Hmm... Glenn Beck must have lobotomized me in my sleep...

But seriously, having seen this play, I'm not sure what it (or my analysis of it) has to do with politics. My point, and I apologize if I didn't make it very clearly, was that the play warns against not knowing/understanding what your kids are into and, more urgently, not letting your relationship with your kids lapse to the point where something as trivial as a game becomes more important to them than you are.

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