A few decades ago, setting up the perfect chance for things to go wrong in a book was easy. One girl, one dark alley, and she’d be isolated. Today, not so much.
Everyone has a cell phone. Most have GPS locating apps, find friend/family, or such. Walking home? I’d be shocked if the girl didn’t have a flashlight app on, while texting to her bestie. This is the constantly connected world we live in, and portraying it in literature makes a few things a bit… less easy.
Now add in social media, video games, mobile games, voice to text, blue tooth, and more. It’s exciting. It’s amazing and common place all at the same time. So how do you keep the feel of the stories we loved, while embracing the modern world that is consuming us? It’s a question I’ve had a lot of fun playing with.
You see, the internet offers a lot of anonymity. Games offer a break from reality. The massive amount of tech that most people carry on them is staggering, but it offers authors a chance to look at old problems in new ways. And THAT is what I have done with the Eternal Combat series.
Gamers living like real people
As I’ve said many times, we’re all gamers. From Solitaire to Call of Duty, almost everyone I know has a game to whittle away the time. Maybe they play it on their phone while riding the bus, maybe they rush home after school to log in with their friends in WOW, or maybe the Wii counts as exercise. We all do it.
Then there’s the dark side of this hobby: sexism. Oh, it’s not all inclusive. It still exists, and the more male dominated the genre of games, the more likely someone is to run into it headlong. Even my husband has suffered because of it – while running one of my characters around. Private messages to do disgusting things, random pictures sent to the email address I used for guild forums (yeah, I did keep that picture of your penis for future blackmail, bud!) and the threats. Oh, there’s always the threats.
I’d say that 95% of the guys I know online are great. Maybe 20% of those are protective of the girls in their guild/friends list. Then there’s that special group of idiots. Doesn’t matter if it’s the guy who says he’ll rape me because I got a good kill, the one who keeps telling me to shut up because I should be seen and not heard, or the butt-munch who heard me on the guild stream and now stalks me across the map wanting to be friends.
Imagine what would happen if that last layer of anonymity was stripped away. What if the world knew that QQ was named Riley Andrews, lived in small town Texas, and her face was plastered everywhere. What happens when being a “girl gamer” means you suddenly have to do twice as good to prove a guy isn’t carrying you through the game? How do you combat this? How do you fight back? Do you even bother?
And what would you do when the threats become real? How can you tell the difference between some troll mouthing off online and the guy who honestly wants to see you die? How can you be sure that “I’m gonna rape you!” is a joke and not a real threat? When the harassment crosses the line from virtual to real, and the privacy protections of the internet provide your attacker with one more layer of protection while isolating you from the support systems that were meant to keep you safe, what do you do?
What if it was your daughter that had to deal with this? Your mother? Your best friend?
Because it happens all the time. Sure, it’s usually a joke, but sometimes it’s not. The Eternal Combat series mixes the joys of our virtual lifestyle with the horrors. Love, friendships, and stalking are all a part of the new world we’re immersed in. The old threats have adapted. The dark alley is a place we gleefully log into, to see what our friends and family are doing. All across the world, teenagers are harassing each other, stalking, bullying, and destroying people while sitting comfortably at a computer in the safety of their homes. The atrocities I grew up with have been given a healthy dose of steroids. The virtual world has become both the best and the worst of society.
I think it’s time for storytelling to take all of this into consideration without setting it up as a far-flung future that we will never see, because it’s real. It’s here. It isn’t the AI in those games we should fear. It isn’t the companies that make them. It’s the handful of mentally deranged sociopaths who are cloaked in anonymity, handed their victims on a streaming virtual platter.