A “non-player character” puts Gamergate on the theater stage


She interrupts her design session to spend virtual time with a former high school pal, Trent (Devin O’Brien). They haven’t really hung out in person in years, but they do make appointments to play computer role-playing games online on a regular basis. The playfulness of their relationship is further enhanced by their Ren Faire-worthy ‘quest’ outfit (courtesy Leandra Watson) and mock combat moves, as they cross the stage taking out virtual enemies by tens.

You don’t have to be a video game enthusiast to learn the basics: they’re good at it, and just as good at joking. They push and parent with their words, dropping chunks of their personal lives – hers in Seattle, her “stuck” in Lancaster, PA – then deftly deflecting each other’s attempts to dig deeper. It’s a strangely familiar dance to anyone who’s outgrown a childhood friend, and Radosevich and O’Brien play it with nuanced credibility.

The in-game avatars of Trent (Devin O’Brien), Morwyn (Annemaria Rajala), Feldrick (Tyler McKenna) and Katja (Emily Radosevich). (Jessica Palopoli)

Much less nuanced are the other characters who inhabit this mostly virtual world, particularly a swaggering barbarian named Feldrick (Tyler McKenna), who is alternately sexist, violent, and willfully obtuse, and seemingly without any redemptive features. In the language of the game, a non-player character is a character registered in the game and not controlled by a player, but rather by programming; in theatrical language, it is a character written only to advance the script.

In McGough’s play, the non-player character is definitely Feldrick, whose misogynistic lingo and childish impatience fuel Trent’s sudden transformation from an introvert with an unrequited crush into a ruthless cyberbully who sets out to humiliate Katja. and sabotaging her reputation with her new game industry connections, accusing her via a video stream, in perhaps the play’s most unintentionally hilarious line, of being a “serial careerist.”

This sets in motion a Gamergate-style situation, in which Katja is hunted down, doxxed and threatened by a relentless mob of anonymous stalkers. This was not Trent’s intention, as he struggles to explain in the following videos. He only wanted things to be “right” but it is too late to take it all back.

Katja (Emily Radosevich) is taunted by video chat.
Katja (Emily Radosevich) is taunted by video chat. (Jessica Palopoli)

Even more frustrating for Katja is that from the moment Trent turns on her, she never had a chance to confront him, nor even her now complicated memories of him, and when she finally spoke out an indignant speech, she delivers it. to the one character whose actions are simply pathetic rather than downright contemptible, undermining much of his impact. For those who have been following the 4chan-fueled death threats made against feminist commentators like Anita Sarkeesian during Gamergate’s zenith, this will all sound too familiar.

Thankfully, the play ends on a more transformative note, but it’s not transformative enough to fully compensate for the storyline’s reliance on a storyless two-dimensional character support system, which creatively undermines multi-level worldbuilding. which dominates the first half. of the room.

As part of SF Playhouse’s Sandbox series, a program designed to give new works a further development push, Non-player character shows a lot of potential. But the best games, like the best video games, can take a number of iterations to be perfect, and McGough thinks he could use a bit more beta testing before it breaks out.

“Non-Player Character” will run through Saturday March 3 at the Creativity Theater in San Francisco. Details here.


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