essay, playing

But it was my story, babe

I was hired to read their messages. Each week, when they posted something to their blog or updated the class wiki, I was to grade it. That was my job, to read their writings and judge what was recorded about weekly topics and, yes, what students listed their own lives too.

If the character of John Rook in don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story was supposed to be read as being creepy, then, of breaking the privacy of his students by reading their messages, I didn’t get that feeling. No, I understood the pressure such a job entails. I know what it is like to spend the weekend making plans and generating examples for students.

The loneliness of having secrets about your student’s lives and being unable to do anything about it is one I am intimately familiar with. Knowing that one student might not doing as well because of his recent breakup. Knowing that another, despite the smile on her face as she talks with her friends, was about to be kicked out of her apartment because she can’t make the rent. I’ve been there.

Of course, it’s different for me. I don’t have the access John does. Most of my knowledge comes from other students or observations. When someone comes to me with a problem, I can’t use whatever information I’ve gleamed from the AmieConnect system to solve their issues or relationships. I have to tell them I don’t know the answer or try to point them to what university services might help them.

For me, such knowledge in the game became a point of conflict. I didn’t want to read the messages. Even at the beginning, during the initial exposition and introduction to the system, I didn’t click on the AmieConnect messages. Or on the e-mail system. Or even on the 12chan stuff. I wasn’t interested in any of that.

I liked the characters and wanted more of them. But, no matter how many times I tried to reject the connectivity of the simulation, it was thrust back on me. The character of Rook nagged at himself to check his messages and to read through the 12chan posts, even if me, as the person playing him, grew increasing annoyed at the interruptions.

I couldn’t progress until I had read everything — everything. Multiple times, even when I thought I had read through what I felt were the important highlights of the latest messages and threads, Rook would remark that he should probably read all them. And so, I would go back into each, clicking through them again until Rook (now the system itself I was frequently fighting against) was satisfied.

I shifted in my identity at that point. It was no longer a mirrored reflection of my own past experiences and current life, but a worst version. This was the personal hell of needing to remember not only the joys of relationships rekindled and those of new love, but of all inane chatter. Everything was potentially important now. From where each student was going to who they were spending their nights with could return as information I might need for a decision later.

Even when the game shifted focus to highlight Rook’s life before this current teaching position, I had already decided I didn’t like where the story was going. All of the access had grown burdensome. I was tired of learning who was sad now and how they felt about the current drama. I might even have been upset by the early missing student, but by the time the presentations came around and the reveal about the AmieConnect system happened, I just didn’t care anymore.

No, after the first couple hours of play, I was brought to a simple idea that echoed in my mind as I went through the last chapters: why can’t these people communicate with each other? There were lots of messages floating around, a slew of them really. Yet, despite being able to articulate their feelings about each other in detail, even if not at first sometimes, they seemingly couldn’t bring their online selves together with who they were in the classroom.

Even after the extended dialogue on the transparency of privacy between Rook and the students and their knowledge of the full capacity of the AmieConnect system, this theme of misunderstanding and even mistreatment continued. His students remark that there is no true divide between who they act like and how they are in the AmieConnect system, yet I knew this to be false.

Even if it was done for a good but questionable reason, their online personas were not embodiments of their true or even physical selves, but always in some small part a farce. Even the ending of group unity — my ending — worked toward this. Finally, after so many tries of wanting to break from the messages and constant monitoring, I was able to ignore them.

This was, I deemed, the confirmation that they never really mattered to begin with. The real won over the fake because neither were important. Whomever they were and however they acted online was always going to be in doubt. They knew they were being watched and, even if they stated that didn’t change things, it obviously did.

The students wore their masks well and, once the stage was revealed for what it was, it could be dismissed. As Anonymous points out, it was all shadow play anyway. The story might not be mine, states the title, but I was surely the audience for this forced play, even if I had divorced myself from Rook towards the end.