In the future, the Internet becomes The Nether, a fully immersive virtual reality and the setting for a play by Jennifer Haley. The play alternates scenes between a real space interrogation room and flashbacks to events in the nether. A detective demands that the proprietor of a particular realm, one that specializes in adult-child relationships, reveal the location of the hosting server.
Most of the play explores the line between reality and perception. What difference is there between feeling something and doing it? Or as one character put it, the nether is the contextual framework for our existence. This is a question with at least twenty years of fiction, but I liked the approach taken here. Despite the pervy setting, it’s a very human story.
One of the complaints is the proprietor, through meticulous coding and detail, has created such a beautiful realm that guests are unable to resist returning. In theory, they have free will, but their outside existence is too mundane, the other virtual realms too crude. Is he responsible for creating a product so good it’s addictive?
A strange result of the proprietor attempting to maintain some separation between real and virtual is the encouragement (requirement really) for each guest to end each visit by chopping up the child with an ax. “What!?” The child is of course reincarnated on the next visit, suggesting to the visitor that the realm is not an alternative reality, but a not reality. A sufficient countermeasure?
The detective isn’t actually law enforcement, but a representative of some nether consortium. The suspect is of course free to leave at any time, but this means his login will be revoked. Since nearly all human interaction and commerce takes place in the nether, this is essentially a death sentence. I suppose the fact that there’s a single login means the nether is really a descendant of something like Facebook or Google. Reinforced by a quip from the suspect in response to a remark about his identity masking, “You’re just mad you can’t track me for advertising.” At what point does access to a company’s services become a human right?
A twist on the usual debate about privacy and anonymity involves the identity of a girl avatar. The proprietor, despite knowing she must be an adult (as a result of stringent background checks to comply with role playing law) has come to think of her as girl. When the detective attempts to reveal the operator, he shouts, “I have a right to anonymity.” He’s not concerned with his own privacy, but he doesn’t want to know the truth about the avatars he knows and loves.