10,000 (FRINGEWORLD 2015)

Review by Charlotte Guest

Edie and AJ are a young couple getting it all wrong: marriage, parenthood, life. On the brink of separation, the couple decides to dedicate a weekend to ‘restarting’ their relationship. The two begin a video game – AJ gleefully and Edie begrudgingly – in order to rekindle the fun that has been lost from their partnership. But when an electrical storm transports the couple from their hotel room into the pixelated Persian Empire and into the bodies of their computer-generated counterparts, Edie and AJ must fight for an empire as well as their relationship.

10,000 is primarily an exploration of stereotypes versus archetypes: the stereotypical gamer boy teaches the stereotypical not-gamer girl how to control the movements of archetypical warriors, the warlord and empress respectively. When Edie and AJ find themselves trapped in the digital bodies of Empress Edanna and Ahjay, or Lara Croft and nondescript warmonger, the point about gender constructs becomes apparent. Edie hides behind easy ‘femininities’ as AJ enacts an unthinking masculinity that appears conditioned by the gender identities written into the game – all he can spout when the two are transformed into their digital doubles is “look at your boobs!” Edie, naturally, needs assistance telling her right hand (“writing hand”) from her left hand (“ring hand”) so that she can work the control in the first place. Of course, the melodrama is enacted so as to reveal such stereotypes and undermine them: the typical-male-and-typical-female-in-monogamous-relationship is so overcooked as to be an obvious send-up. The parody therefore sent waves of alarm and amusement through the audience as we recognised parts of ourselves in the speech, thought processes, actions and reactions of the gendered cardboard cutouts.

The play progresses alongside the game, moving through levels of difficulty that range from “easy” to “psychotic” and “masochism tango” as players one and two die and are resurrected over and over – the implication being that you only have so many ‘lives’, so many ‘restarts’, until it is game over. What I enjoyed most about 10,000 was its portrayal of games, gamers, play and players. The parody of gender constructs, however, lacked a little substance. As mentioned before, melodrama is powerful in the way it can bring stereotypes and cultural assumptions to the forefront of the audience’s mind, and then proceed to break them. A recent pop culture example – which some may loathe me to make, but won’t say so in light of the recent Triple J saga – is Taylor Swift’s video for Blank Space. Here, Taylor melodramatically enacts the “boy crazy” American girl type that the media says she is, only to smash it as a big backwards bunny-ears to the industry. In 10,000, the ‘types’ are brought into focus, but they are not twisted, complicated, or broken in any way, unless you read the ‘brokenness’ of their relationship as a consequence of being broken characters, broken people. Either way, after having set up a cultural critique, the critique itself wasn’t adequately executed, only the object of the criticism itself. Or, mores specifically, it references the Gamgergate controversy without adding anything new to the conversation.

Nevertheless, 10,000 is a lot of fun, and I found the point on relationships a valuable one. 10,000 says that you cannot fix a game if the players themselves are broken, or, worse still, if you try to fix one ‘game’ with another. With that I wholly agree.

The remaining shows are sold out, so those interested will have to catch this performance next time round.

10,000 played at The Blue Room Theatre as part of its Summer Nights Program for FRINGEWORLD 2015 from the 3rd – 7th February.

Photo: Joel Crane