Idris Rees was typical of many, in that (even in middle age) he responded impulsively, when faced with situations that required an emotional response. One summer evening, that began to change. Given a software program, by an enigmatic stranger, he soon found his perceptions of reality wanting.
Finding himself in other worlds, initially not knowing whether they were virtual or real, he struggled to react appropriately to the moral quandaries he faced. Overwhelmed by some of the dilemmas he encountered, he found himself compelled to think through more carefully how he dealt with ethical issues - even if, as it appeared, they only existed in his imagination.
Then there was the mysterious programmer, Emrys (the Welsh form of Ambrose, given to Merlin), derived from the Greek name Ambrosios, meaning immortal. Was he the legendary bard and wizard, who was King Arthur's mentor and the guardian of the Holy Grail? Had he indeed discovered the secret of living forever, had he tasted Ambrosia – the food of the gods?
I want Pandora’s Potential to provoke consideration (and hopefully discussion) of some moral issues, which I believe require contemporary resolution. If the book takes off, I’d like to produce a workbook for individuals and more particularly groups (especially of men), to discuss topics such as: virtual morality and ‘does it matter what you think, as long as you don’t do it’.
I started writing this novel in September 2003 but the vagaries of life meant it wasn’t until late 2014 that I finally finished it. However, the delay in publishing Pandora’s Potential, may well have been fortuitous and the timing of publication opportune. The last ten years has seen an unprecedented, quantum leap in online gaming, and virtual reality is a well-populated, very public domain. This may mean that it is not too far beyond belief to imagine that a technique or a software program could be developed, which could create other worlds, it was possible to visit.
It concerns me greatly though, that too many of today’s youngsters are spending more of their own time in virtuality, than they do in reality. At the time of writing, I am doing some work in a small school for children with autistic spectrum needs, supporting teachers. Some of the children and young people there, are playing Minecraft and sometimes other far from appropriate games, into the early hours of the morning, with parents unaware that their children are ‘not in their bedrooms’. Instead they are wandering through sinister landscapes, where they roam heedless of the need for either a moral compass to find their way around or ethical armour to protect them, as they take on mythical monsters or deal with situations, which have the potential to transmute formative morality.
From the start, virtual morality is a challenge for Idris, the main character in Pandora’s Potential. Initially, he sees ‘What will IT be? (the software program he is given), as just offering a very vivid, realistic immersive experience, much like any other computer game on the market. He certainly doesn’t appreciate that he actually enters ‘other worlds’. As such, he deals with moral issues on the basis that it’s all in his imagination and therefore he can ‘do’ whatever he feels like doing. It’s all just in his mind and doesn’t affect (or harm) anyone else.
The consequence of this is that he goes with the flow of his carnal desires and indulges himself, whenever he is sexually aroused, without allowing his moral restraints to moderate his behaviour, as they would do in real life. Gradually, he comes to realise, that for him, his own ethical values hold true in all situations, real or imagined.
I agonised long on whether to include in the book the sub-theme of sexual abuse, particularly that by an older woman on a young boy. Sadly, a further timely though unintended factor, around publication, is that paedophilia has been very much in the news over the last few years and there is far greater awareness of how widespread it has been, for at least the last four decades.
Whilst female abuse of young males may not be as prevalent as abuse by males, it is nevertheless of concern. There are a number reasons why it is not so readily seen as harmful, especially by men and further reasons why it may be difficult for male survivors to talk about the abuse they have suffered, but I feel it appropriate to draw specific attention to this and to encourage more deliberation on and discussion about, sexual abuse in general.
There is a danger that when paedophilia is mentioned in the media (or indeed in conversation) because (understandably) they are repulsed by the topic, people are inclined to switch off and insufficient consideration is given to the issues involved. It also means that individuals and society are less able to effectively ameliorate the damage caused by the abuse or aid its prevention.
The interface between virtuality and sexual deviance is one which I believe requires us, as individuals and communities, to consider carefully. Are we, by default, exposing children, young people and even vulnerable adults to moral danger, by failing to think through ethical issues, provide guidelines, or appropriately limit access. The boundaries which a caring society sets, must leave room for individuals of any age to explore within and to push against. Each of us has the right to decide for ourselves our ethical standards. Equally though, haven’t we a responsibility to protect those whose capacity to decide for themselves is at a formative stage or intellectually limited, by ensuring they can cope with the settings, real or virtual, they find themselves in.
It has always concerned me that children (and indeed young people) are given experiences before they are old enough to really appreciate them. The upshot of this is, when they reach an appropriate age for optimum enjoyment of that experience, their response is: “we did that in nursery” — and they don’t think it’s worth trying again. When the ‘experience’ is in essence sexual or violent, then the search for greater ‘enjoyment’ can easily stray into the deviant. Is this a very real danger for many youngsters and don’t we owe to them, to ensure that we take the same sort of ‘health and safety care’ of their virtual environments, as we do of their physical adventure playgrounds.
I have used the setting of my own childhood as the scene for that of Idris. The reasons are twofold. Firstly, it is easier for me to draw on my own experience. Secondly (and perhaps more importantly), it allows me to ‘live’ a rerun of my own childhood, changing factors which allow me to imagine how differently my life may have turned out.
I believe I am not alone in fantasying in this way. That said, I am grateful for the life I have enjoyed and whilst I regret the hurt that some of my decisions and actions have caused to others, I acknowledge that adversity has often been ‘an angel in disguise’. In short, I have no regrets, or complaints as to how my life turned out and I know I owe as much to sorrow as I do to joy, as much to the bad experiences as to the good.
Peter J Farley