The debate between online and printed matter is a relatively new one in theatre criticism, sometimes productive, as in the recent blogging panel at PRELUDE 06, sometimes a little bit devastating—when the New York Times launched the paid-access only Times Select and I could no longer chortle at Frank Rich's [and Maureen Dowd’s] editorial antics virtually over my morning espresso, I almost cried. But the sheer presence of technology [though “presence” might be an odd choice of word here] in art, and the spatiotemporal intertaction enabled by virtual communication in performance projects such as Steve Dixon, Mathial Fuchs, Paul Sermon, and Andrea Zapp of the The Chameleons Group’s Unheimlichn (Interactive Multi-Media Installation); Andy Lavendar and Douglas O’Connell’s Once I Was Dead; and Lucy H G, Miranda Peake, and Matt Solomon’s Avatar X: interactive performance feast [the latter two part of the 1st International Conference on Digital Live Art], is becoming old hat—though a very stylish old hat, think your Great Aunt Edna’s feathered variety. However, the MacArthur Foundation’s $240,000 grant to Edward Castronova for his online game, "Arden: The World of Shakespeare," switches things up a bit in the theatre world.
An interactive video game based on Shakespearean lore, “Arden” is, as Castronova describes in an interview on CNet News:
a persistent environment that allows students and professors to learn about virtual-world technology. We'd like to teach our players something valuable, so that's why Shakespeare is our main source of lore. You'll find a lot of things in Shakespeare that are really fun, like ghosts and witches and battles and a lot of the same kind of things that you find in these contemporary video games.
Going one step further than the Onimusha video game series, in which characters are named after those in Hamlet, including a hound dog named Gertrude, “Arden” is going to be a bit like a futurohistoric [yes, I made up that word] Sims; there will be an old-world currency within the game, though initially dependent on a “crafting economy: resources and harvesting and things like that,” and Shakespearean texts will become game currencies themselves—the notion of class becoming dependent, it would seem, more on skills than tangible economics:
The most unique class for us are bards, who are actually kind of the wizard class, because Shakespeare is known as the Bard. We're going to make some texts of Shakespeare available as the most treasured items. So that incents people to collect bits of Shakespeare. You might get an ordinary broad sword, but if you collect the "To be or not to be" speech and then take it to a lore master or to a skilled bard, he can then apply the magic to your broad sword or utilize the magic in a battle situation to give you this massive (advantage).
So there will be this intensive competition to get the best speeches of Shakespeare in your playbook. You've got to know your Shakespeare, but if you do collect these texts you can just playfully kick butt the way wizards do.
Suddenly the fundamental quandary “To be or not to be” is a bit more complicated—what is “being” at all in the virtual sense?—but at least this may be a slightly less embarrassing pastime to admit to than, say, playing Dungeons and Dragons in junior high. And, frankly, I can barely keep my tights on to find out just what is the way wizards kick butt.