This isn’t what most of you think it is.
If you think it’s the account of a US prison rebellion, you’re wrong.
If you think the prisoners are Jews, and that this took place in the Hitler’s Germany, you’re wrong.
If you think this is a tale about defiance in a despotic third-world regieme, you’re still wrong.
It’s August, 1971 in Palo Alto, California, and this is just part of the story of something that happened not in a “real” prison, but rather in a university. Welcome to the Stanford Prison Experiment.
There are some interesting parallels to issues we deal with today – as a community of gamers, and in a broader social context.
How does Wolfenstein 3D become more complicated when you, the player, can assume the role of the state-sanctioned thug in an online update? Does the cartoony graphic approach help to keep things abstract and impersonal, or do they enable the player to more easily identify with his or her or her character?
What happens when the worlds of talky social gamers and role-players interact with the more “dedicated” fringe subset of wargamers who enjoy the fetishism of the trappings of fascist authoritarians on the scene of a WW2-era game that can’t decide if it’s a strategy game or a role-playing game?
Is there a reason “role-playing evil” tends toward the extremes of either absurdity or viscera-porn? Do these extremes make it easier to maintain a distance from the moral difficulties involved with addressing the real evil that real people do? Is a game the best context in which to consider these sorts of questions?
All the questions don’t have easy answers, but as the world learned in 1971, sometimes pretend atrocity gets out of hand. Sometimes it’s a horrible – if brief – glimpse of the real thing. Proceed carefully.