From Kings to Controllers
Presented by Ghost Light Theatricals
Written by Stacy D. Flood
Directed by Jennifer Crooks
The Ballard Underground
As disturbing as it is entertaining, From Kings To Controllers, a new, refreshing, take on the Rape of Lucrece is well worth a visit… Or two. I am not ashamed to say after I went to the show, I immediately bought tickets for the next day and brought friends.
Before I get to my opinion of the show (spoiler alert: I LOVED IT FOREVER and I’m sorry for yelling… almost), I’d like to explain why this play is so essential and necessary. Perhaps you live a life that is blissfully unaware of the Gamergate movement. If that is the case, the story of Liv and Lucrece may feel less powerful overall.
Gamergate, the nom de guerre adopted by anonymous trolls to personify their movement, is still very much alive, even if it isn’t today’s hottest topic in gender equality. It’s still an ongoing “conversation” surrounding the equality of women in the video game industry and the ethics of video game journalism. I use “conversation” loosely because it’s hard to have a conversation when one person talks while duct taping the other’s mouth shut. The simple fact of being a woman online is playing with fire. Having an opinion online as a woman is downright dangerous. Debating video games while appearing to be a woman online is regarded as the same as wearing a revealing outfit to a concert or drinking in public: you might as well be asking for the harassment you’re undoubtedly going to get.
All it took was the appearance of a woman being empowered and knowledgeable of video games in 2014 to cause an entire group of gamers to lose their minds. Death threats, doxxing (the act of publishing or threatening to publish the personal information of targeted female individuals), hacking, swatting (hoaxed reports to emergency services designed to send SWAT teams to a victim’s home) and sending sexually explicit photoshopped images of the victims to their families, churches and places of work all actually happened to numerous women in the gaming industry, and online. And the men who were responsible for the social rape of these women insisted the victim was to blame. If she hadn’t troubled the waters, she wouldn’t be in the mess she is currently in. Gamergaters hide behind a mask of upholding ethics, transparency and the idea of “gamer” as a masculine identity. Many supporters of Gamergate oppose what they view as the increasing influence of feminism on video game culture.
Gamergaters aren’t ethics crusaders. They’re a fear mongering hate group. What is it like to be violated, forced against your will, assaulted and made to feel so much fear that you’d rather be buried among the ruins of a life that was once thriving? Lucrece and Liv could tell you.
The entire plot of From Kings To Controllers weaves together Liv, modern video game designer and her desire for more gender equality in games and The Rape of Lucrece, a Shakespearean narrative poem based upon the Roman matron Lucretia. Tarquinius, son of Etruscan king Tarquin, rapes the virtuous Lucretia (wife of Governor Collatinus) in her home. She kills herself after begging her husband for justice, which sends him into a bloody revenge, and eventually inciting a monarchist rebellion, which caused the overthrowing of the Tarquinii government. She inadvertently changed the face of the Roman people forever. Likewise, Liv is making her way up the chain in video game design when she decides to switch the male protagonist in her game, with an empowered female: Lucrece herself.
Almost immediately the attacks begin.
The online outcry of male videogame oppression is personified in Geb Brown’s portrayal of the Tarquinius. He struts and creeps around the stage, and Liv’s thoughts, preying upon her fears, her loved ones and over and over blames her for her own humiliating exposure and victimization. Liv, played by a spunky and endearing Elizabeth Brammer, bears her burden the only way she knows how, by moving inward and protecting herself and those she loves.
The story of Liv is familiar and deeply, deeply troubling. Brown and Brammer are fantastic as the victim and her attacker. They both grasp for power, while appearing to being strong. He slowly suffocates her as she attempts to hold onto what little life she has. At times in the play, I grew uncomfortable with how real it all was.
For all the controversial material, From Kings to Controllers balances itself well by bringing a light, fantastical element to the story, one where the characters in Liv’s video game come to life and influence the outside world. One particular moment, where video game hero Collatine (played by a fantastically charismatic Bjorn Whitney) mansplains the best way to take down some minions, had me rolling.
Beth Pollack’s portrayal of Lucrece, was stoic and still, but when movement was called for, her movements were pointed, regal and aggressive. I very much enjoyed watching the video game heroine and her creator breathe life into each other in one of the play’s more moving scenes. They exchange breath, share power and handle each other’s weapons: Lucrece’s sword and Liv’s laptop. The relationship between creator and character was emotionally touching and I loved watching them together.
The show even comes with its own narrator chorus, there to serve as the audience’s guide through the many tropes of the videogaming world. Aimee Decker, Christine Lange and Maddy Noonan work in tandem to introduce new players and those unfamiliar with the gaming industry and lifestyle (AKA Noobs) in an adorable and unthreatening way. I was constantly charmed by the three and found their presence comforting and warm like a hug.
I have to say, though, one of the things I most excitedly took from this was the direction and overall design of the show. Jenny Crook’s direction was inspired and incredibly clever. I always admire a director who makes good use of space and can tell stories with silence and darkness. Two platforms, some blocks and a pixelated backdrop were all that was necessary to create multiple worlds. Sound designer David Gordon did a bang up job creating a video game anthem that could be mustering and rousing and then sweet and sad. The incidental music during scene changes and transitions was really well done.
Overall, From Kings to Controllers is a seamless vehicle full of fantastic performances, great human moments and I wish I could go see it again before it closes this weekend.
Actually, I might.
By Jennifer Nöel Klouse