The Nether – A dystopian virtual world or a utopian wonderland?

Reading Brenda Laurel’s book ‘Computers as Theatre’ (review here) has re-ignited my love for the theatre. After a couple of hours of trawling the internet for theatres and reading reviews of plays, I decided to watch the Nether, a play written by Jennifer Haley and has recentlycame over to the UK, after premiering at Los Angeles.

The Nether is a play that explores the ‘darkest corners’ of the internet and questions how virtual online anonymity affects real-life identity. Focusing on the concept of online deception, it explores the effect of new technologies and social platforms on human to human communication.



Imagine the world in 2050- the Internet has evolved into a cyberspace environment and is now called the Nether and it can offer a full sensory experience where the user can choose an alter ego and fully interact in this world. You might think this is all to similar to Sims, that can hardly be considered ‘innovative’ but this is exactly where the similarities end.

The world that the Nether offers, allows the users to act upon every fantasy they may have, however awful it might be.The Nether gives you an opportunity to  live outside of consequences and its defenders argue that only in such environment we can be out true selves. So what happens if we are given an online platform where we can go immerse ourselves and feed our darkest desires? Is it ethical to commit crimes in a ‘safe and consequence-free’ virtual realm?

The play follows an investigation into this disturbing morality of identity in the digital work and explores the consequences of making dreams a reality.

Is the concept of a virtual realm that allows you to act upon your darkest fantasies a dystopian vision or a utopic wonderland?

Another interesting point the play makes is the concept of the ‘cross over’.  If the virtual world is idyllic and beautiful, then what would make people stay in the dirty and grime real world? People in the Nether are able to choose to fully “cross over” into a virtual world, leaving their friends and families behind for something which feels more perfect and more ‘real’ than life outside.

Is there an actually harm to live in an online realm of our fantasies, however dark they are?

the-nether_show [Source]

The set design (by Es Devlin) was stunning- worked really well to enhance the storytelling and the use of video was brilliant (the use cameras to invoke the idea of constant surveillance in a digital era) .

If you work in the field of Human Computer Interaction you should not miss this. For any of you who are interested in online identities and how we interact with other in virtual realms, this is a though-provoking play, that might be disturbing at time, but it will leave you compelled. Admittedly, the play will not provide you with any answers but it will evoke even more questions about ethics in virtual reality and the future of technology-mediated human relationships and identities.

The play is on until the 25th of April at the Duke of York’s theatre and you can book tickets here




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