In our everyday lives, we commonly adhere to societal rules and standards. People mostly treat each other with politeness and courtesy. We hold the door for strangers and wave after another driver lets us change lanes. Do we do this out of our own inner kindness or because we fear retribution for doing the wrong thing?
The Internet is an entirely different world. For many, it has become a separate reality. Often the rules of politeness disintegrate in this world and our truly animalistic side overcomes us. It is the ability to retain anonymity that gives people the strength to ignore the fear of reprisal.
My neighbor Mary has a young dog, named Ash. He’s a mix between a Yellow Labrador and a German Shepherd, and one of the most handsome dogs you’ll ever meet. When Mary leaves town, I often take care of Ash, mostly because I like dogs and enjoy being a helpful guy.
The other day, Mary left me in charge of Ash for a few days. During our first walk, Ash summoned his inner wolf. His nose to the ground, Ash pulled to the end of his leash. An eight inch-long dead rodent lay on the sidewalk, its guts spilling out on the pavement. In the split-second after I spotted it, Ash had completely consumed it. Never in my life, even while watching countless David Attenborough documentaries, have I seen an animal so completely devour a carcass. I tried to pry Ash’s iron jaws open, but the corpse was already in his throat, with only a shredded tail sticking out of his mouth.
It was a reminder of the savagery of nature. No matter how many centuries of domestication, the dog will always resort to his baser instincts when confronted with the appropriate situation.
The documentary film Darkon (2006) is about individuals who participate in real life role-playing. Think World of Warcraft with actual costumes. The film follows these people, generally sweet kids who faced the adversity of being outcasts in school or work. We all know the type; some of us even are those individuals. These inhibited people found a way to release their inner selves through the game of Darkon.
Within the game, everyone has a different personality. Some of them become great leaders, one of them reminded me of the archetypal “fool” of Shakespeare. The storyline mostly follows two leaders. One of these men essentially becomes a power-mad general, and the other decides to lead a resistance against him. These men are playing characters, but you can’t help but hate one and root for the other.
The film gives us a fascinating look into our own inner character. Forget for a moment that Darkon is as dorky a game as is possible, and try to imagine what kind of character you would form. This would be an opportunity to act differently from your everyday personality and the people you interact with. Whom would you side with? Would you exist to bring harmony to the game or to create chaos?
It’s a fascinating psychological question; one that is answered often within the anonymity of the Internet. People treat each other terribly on many sites. Have you ever read the comments after a Youtube video? I can actually feel myself getting dumber every time I glance at them. Other sites have more respectable commentators, though every single one is hit with the occasional “troll.” Social networking sites like Facebook have mostly done a good job of bucking this trend, mainly because people aren’t assuming anonymous aliases.
Darkon might be just a game, but it does a good job of visually demonstrating what we all become when the rules of society are removed. Some of us become bullies and some of us awaken the hero within.
In many ways, the Internet is a virtual Wild West. It’s full of strong personalities, bandits, poker tournaments, and more sex than anyone will ever need. In Darkon, real life friendships are strained by events that happen within the game. That probably wouldn’t happen in your average Halo tournament (not that I’ve been to one).
Films like Darkon force us to examine our own lives just as closely as the lives of its characters. I can’t ever see myself engaging in something like Darkon, but I can certainly see the motivation behind it. In many ways, we have been domesticated just like Ash has. Society has a chain around our neck and when we fight the rules, the chain only tightens. The members of Darkon have, at the very least, found a way to take the chain off on weekends.