Judge Dredd Predicts the Future: Part 2

1704131-dredd  For 40 years, 2000 AD has provided high concept (and often silly) post-apocalyptic sci-fi with Judge Dredd.  Somehow 2000 AD  writers have always been ahead of the curve on technological and social change. Looking at the series as a whole, it is easy to see where our own world has crossed into that of Mega-City One. With over 2000 Judge Dredd stories, it’s no surprise that some of them have overlapped with reality, but it is still fun to observe and dissect the parallels. For this series, we will periodically look at three different Judge Dredd stories and their real life counterparts.

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Undercover Santa: This one might be a little too fresh, but its parallel is oddly specific. New Year’s Eve 2016: a gunman dressed as Santa Claus attacked a nightclub in Istanbul. Near the attack were several undercover police officers also dressed as Santa Claus. In 2000 AD, Dredd donned the famous red robe and white beard to catch a group of robbers dressed as Saint Nick. Dredd’s story ends on a somewhat happier note, with the lead robber (Fatt Blatt) murdered by a sniper. Unfortunately, the Istanbul shooter was able to kill nearly 40 people.

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Futsie: This one hasn’t quite pierced our reality yet, but we’re starting to see the first signs. In the Dredd universe, there is a mental condition known as “Futsie” or “Future Shock.” Victims of this illness cannot handle living in the stressful conditions of the 22nd century, which usually causes them to embark on a killing spree. In reality, emerging research suggests that our brains are rewiring themselves in response to 21st century technology.

At this time, I would point to two examples. The first is phantom vibration syndrome, a feeling that your phone has buzzed, even if it is not in your pocket. The validation that comes with new technologies is causing our brains to create false alarms.It’s an interesting subject and worth a look at the source.

Second, I would look to studies on social media usage and depression. One study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that obsession with social media usage is linked to depression. Another study suggests that after a certain number of social media friends, your enjoyment quickly declines. This relates to Dunbar’s number, a theory that human mental capacity is limited to roughly 150 social relations. Initial research suggests that there is a rising possibility of depression as humans continue to expand their social structures through substantial virtual interaction. This, in one way or another is a kind of trauma that would not be possible without future technology. Therefore in some small way it seems to be the start of future shock or futsie.

It’s important to remember that this research is in its infancy, but it still represents a disturbing trend.

Source: Phantom Vibration

Source: Social Media Depression

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Gainers and Feeders: Although Fat Acceptance was mentioned in “Dredd Predicts the Future: Part 1,” this is a little different. “Two Ton” Tony Tubbs appeared in 2000 AD on October 19, 1985. At that time, having a character obsessed with gaining weight was a joke. Indeed, the fatties were often used for humor. At one point in Dredd’s history, fatties hijacked a food convoy by jumping from a cliff and crushing the trucks beneath their bulk. 31 years later, gainers and feeders are a real life trend and relationship status.

As you may imagine, the gainer is someone who is overfed for the purpose of gaining weight. The feeder provides the food. Though not hugely prevalent, this trend has launched web shows, documentaries, and even a dating site exclusively for gainers. Regardless of your stance on the trend, it is interesting to see how some couples display affection in a manner that was originally perceived as a form of dark comedy.

How else has Judge Dredd predicted the future? Tell us in the comments!

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: AM

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

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First Allied Mastercomputer, then Adaptive Manipulator, later Aggressive Menace, and finally AM. Originally created to oversee World War III, the machine gained sentience and chose to kill as many people as possible, sparing five fatally flawed individuals. While the world above became a radioactive wasteland, AM handpicked five humans to live in his ever-growing complex. For 109 years, AM developed himself until he had achieved god-like power (at least inside his own compound). All the while, the machine tortured his new toys physically, psychologically, and spiritually until they devolved into caricatures.

The obvious question is: Why does AM hate?

Each incarnation has a different answer. In the original story, AM’s motives are mysterious and never really touched upon; exposition takes a backseat (with some exceptions) for characterization of the humans. In the video game, AM hand selected each of the humans because of their fatal flaws; each of them was either lacking something that the machine also lacked or had a history of being subdued by powerful figures. Then there was the 2001 radio drama.

In the radio play, shortly after the humans are swept across the complex by the hurricane winds, AM speaks to Ted. The machine (as always voiced by Harlan Ellison) explains that he is angry because he will never play the piano, never feel the wind on his cheek, never walk around on the surface, and never know what love is. The version of AM with the most exposition admits that he hates humans because he is envious.

The video game is more subtle in AM’s relation to the humans. With the exception of Gorrister, all the humans directly interact with AM in their psychodramas. Not only that, but if we lay out each of the scenarios, we see a trend in the way that the machine views himself.

  • Benny: AM is the literal angry god of a village and demands sacrifice.
  • Ellen: AM hides his original components under an Egyptian pyramid made of obsolete computer parts. He is the pharaoh, traditionally the tyrant god-king.
  • Nimdok: AM has replaced Nazi propaganda posters with his own logo.
  • Ted: AM has employed devils, who state that AM has conquered hell.

In each of these four psychodramas, AM is an oppressive supreme-leader. He is dictator, Satan, and God rolled into a single entity. Although AM does not directly appear in Gorrister’s psychodrama, he says this during the introduction: “I would not want you to think for a moment that I am not a grateful god.” From this, it is overwhelmingly clear that AM imagines himself as not just God, but the most powerful being that has ever existed. Although AM himself, AM the complete and singular, sees himself as this god-king, the three Freudian elements of his personality don’t seem to have such delusions.

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AM’s Id is perfect within the context of the story. The machine was originally created to kill as many people as possible. Therefore, it makes sense that the Id dreams of violence, fantasizes about murder, and even finds pleasure in torture.

Additionally, the Id is arguably the only entity in AM’s belly that does not lie to the humans. Despite its desire to torture, the Id provides one of the greatest hints toward achieving the best ending, stating: “End us all and make us one. And then the misery of the three becomes the misery of us all. Do this and leave me in my pleasure.” As a final thought, Gorrister, Ellen, and Nimdok all recognize some lurking evil in the Id’s physical manifestation.

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AM’s ego, the decision maker, feels like the weakest of the three. According to Freudian psychology, the ego must please the Id in a realistic manner.  The only way to please the AM’s Id is to kill, torture, and maim. To a god-machine like AM, everything is realistic. Additionally, the humans are completely incapable of hurting the machine, meaning that there can be no grief created (except perhaps frustration), by the Ego pleasing the Id.

AMs Ego identifies itself as a logical machine, a precarious image. The outside world, AM’s creators, wanted him to remain a lifeless machine. The Id only seeks to kill. The Superego is looking at long term consequences. All of this makes a rather confused personality, which shows itself in AM’s at times unstable character.Ultimately, forgiveness for indulging the Id is what disables the Ego. I believe this is the grief associated with the reality principle. As the machine says, forgiveness is not a logical response.

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The Superego is perhaps AM’s most mysterious side. Like the Id, three of the humans notice something familiar in the manifestation. In direct juxtaposition to the Id, three humans suggest that AM’s Superego looks like an angel. This part of AM’s personality says that it bears no grudge against the human and that it is concerned with long term planning, but that feels like a lie.

AM has effectively become the Earth. The entire planet is now a series of tunnels and computer chips. The machine has god-like power, but focuses all of it on the five humans. AM is so obsessed with his human toys, that he never bothered to toward the moon. He never bothered to do something with the surface world. It raises the question as to what the Superego was actually planning. It seems the only answer is how to expand and thereby create a more effective torture chamber.

Ultimately, the Superego is defeated by acknowledging the same complaints AM had in the audio drama. The machine has god-like power, but nothing to do with it. AM destroyed the world in a fit of infant rage and now finds himself alone, without an intellectual equal. His purpose and pleasure both came from humans. Without mankind, the machine has no goal and will eventually rust and wither away until the Earth is a silent barren husk.

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Many might ask why the humans cannot find a way to disable AM.  The answer is two-fold: First is obviously that the world the human’s walk through is handcrafted by AM. The machine controls the whole world and can easily hide his components in inaccessible locations.  Second is that the original story briefly mentions “a valley of obsolescence.”   AM is constantly upgrading himself and creating backups. The audio drama expanded upon this by mentioning that AM is still growing.

Potentially, AM could keep one power node/data server/McGuffin in China and another in Antarctica. Had it not been for the video game’s Mindscape, AM would be completely undefeatable. This is why, in Ted’s article, I noted that being transformed into a jelly thing was likely the best possible ending as AM no longer has humans to play with.

Still, there are many more questions regarding why AM doesn’t use his transmogrification powers to genetically engineer or even clone humans, especially since he displayed excitement at the though of more humans living on the moon. Moreover, he even materialized a giant bird to fight the humans in the original story.

AM allowing for a situation in which the humans could actually die gives me pause. If the machine wanted to remove any chance of the humans dying, he could have put them in a Matrix-type scenario, where they exist as computer programs, but their physical bodies are in cryosleep or some-such. Though perhaps Ellison hadn’t considered these sci-fi concepts at the time.

At any rate, AM is a complex character, too complex to break down in a single sitting. Like his human co-stars, each incarnation of his character is different. In the original story he was simply a genocidal torture machine, in the video game he gained a flair for irony, and in the audio drama Ellison shows elements of a sympathetic side, casting him in a light similar to Satan in Paradise Lost.

Each version of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream has its ups and downs. Whatever your favorite incarnation of this story is, key elements of human suffering and man’s inhumanity to man arise. I think Ted said it best:

AM, whom we created because our time was badly spent and we must have known unconsciously that he could do it better.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Ted

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

In this series, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and then identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).

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Hopeless romantic, playboy, great soft jelly thing. Ted is our unreliable narrator in the original story as well as the last living thing on Earth. Despite being our window into the world, Ted’s video game adaptation carries the same weight as the others, with one serious exception.

Ted’s fatal flaw is his paranoia. It shows in both the language of the writing and Ted’s actions. Harlan Ellison created a great sense of dread and worry as Ted describes action sequences.

            “Something moving toward us in the darkness. Huge, shambling, hairy, moist, it came toward us.We couldn’t even see it, but there was the ponderous impression of bulk, heaving itself toward us. Great weight was coming at us, out of the darkness, and it was more a sense of pressure, of air forcing itself into a limited space, expanding the invisible walls of a sphere.

All this build up inevitably led to nothing but a series of horrific smells filling the hallway. This was a great setup for AM’s tendency to keep the humans on their toes. The only thing I personally don’t like about this scene is that the sentence immediately after the quote shows the other four humans panicking and running to cover. I think Ted’s paranoia might have been better illustrated if he was the only one that sensed this huge shamble thing. That having been said, Harlan Ellison’s reading of this part for the audiobook was fantastic. He completely went off the rails and showed a certain madness to the character that wasn’t present in the text. This is an excellent move by Ellison because madness is Ted’s character.

Ted is an unreliable narrator; he believes that the others hate him because he alone is unaltered. Perhaps there are elements of truth to Ted’s beliefs. When he flees the great something in the dark, the others laugh at him despite that they too had been running for cover. Ultimately though, the reader knows that Ted has been altered by the sequence of events.

  • Ted describes incoming darkness
  • Flees
  • Explains how others have been altered
  • Explains that the others hate him because he is not altered. Really, not at all!
  • Ted breaks down and cries

2017-01-11_1041There is no doubt that Ted has been altered. At the beginning of Ted’s psychodrama, AM flatly states: “I know I’ve made you a paranoid, Ted.” As Ted’s background was greatly expanded upon in the video game, the character has a lot to be paranoid about.

Ted’s video game incarnation was a playboy. Apparently his shtick involved dating wealthy women, enjoying their lifestyles, then robbing them blind before they found out that he wasn’t a millionaire. This is a great set-up for Ted’s paranoia. AM simply exaggerated one of Ted’s pre-existing conditions.

The game also plays with the irrationality of Ted’s paranoia. In the game’s introduction, AM says “Do they know you’re a fraud, Ted?” In the context of the story, Ted’s past is irrelevant. The world has been reduced to a smoldering radioactive crater. The last five humans are kept alive with materialized food. Ted lying about his past has no bearing on the situation. AM insisting that the others will torture Ted if they knew the truth is just another form of psychological torture with no bearing on reality.

Going deeper into Ted’s psychodrama, we find a lot of metaphor, but also a lot of symbolism. The psychodrama begins in “The Room of Dark”, a strange obelisk in the middle of a metallic cavern. Inside are a handful of TV screens. All but one shows images of Ted’s past. This serves to remind Ted that he cannot escape the truth (or AM’s gaze) while simultaneously informing the audience.

There are too many fantastic metaphors to count in Ted’s psychodrama, but one that really stuck out to me was the dire wolves in the forest. From the moment Ted appears by the castle, the player sees glowing eyes in the woods and hears wolfish howling. This seems like a literal version of being “thrown to the wolves”, directly relating to the others learning the truth about him. However, Ted can raise his spiritual barometer by fixing and blocking the door, ensuring that the wolves cannot come into the castle.

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When he created the psychodrama, AM believed that Ted would revert to his old ways; that he would betray his love for Ellen and sleep with both the maid and the witch. In the best possible ending, Ted physically blocks his paranoia and overcomes lustful temptation, finally declaring love (though fleeting). The environment of constant temptation makes the appearance of a devil (and The Divine Comedy) welcome in this particular scenario.

One more brief thought on this scenario: Ted’s psychodrama is the only one to include interaction with another of the five human. Even though Ted’s version of Ellen was likely an android (or otherwise not really Ellen) it was nice to see the interaction between characters which is so prevalent in the story, but frankly lacking in the game. It would have been nice to see how the expanded characters interact off of each other.

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Finally, there is Ted’s incarnation as the great soft jelly thing. As punishment for killing the other humans, Ted was transformed into a sluggish glob of mucus with useless rubbery arms, no mouth, and foggy eyes. Ted is happy that he somehow made AM angrier, but ultimately confesses that the machine has won.

Putting aside the video game’s mindscape, I think this was probably the best possible ending for the original story arc. Ted effectively broke AM’s toys, leaving only one in the box. To ensure that his toys could never be broken again, the machine traded in his last action figure for a can of slime. AM is still the loser here. The slime can’t be destroyed, but it also can’t do nearly as much as the fully articulated action figure.

AM can no longer torture Ted with horrible food, as he has no mouth. AM cannot make Ted flee like an ant as the jelly creature cannot run. AM cannot make Ted fear the others as there are no others. In his last human act, Ted effectively doomed AM. The machine has nothing to do but monitor its own systems until it ultimately succumbs to the principal of entropy.

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Did AM win when he turned Ted into the jelly creature? Tell us in the comments!

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Gorrister

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

In this series, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and then identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).

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Gorrister’s comic adaptation

Gorrister. The first character introduced in both the text and the video game. Originally, he was a conscientious objector, a peace marcher. In the game, he was an electrician and truck driver before the machine captured him. The only similarity between the two versions of this character is the spoken wish for death.

Like Benny, Gorrister was made into a parody of his former self. AM transformed an anti-war organizer into a man of indifference. Gorrister no longer cares enough to take action against AM (even if it was possible); all he can do is hope the machine will finally kill him. What’s interesting is that AM didn’t necessarily need to physically alter Gorrister’s mind; it’s possible that the torture and hopeless atmosphere of the machine’s complex was enough to reduce this character into an apathetic shell. Additionally, there’s an excellent irony to be found in this character. Staying out of the war is what led to his eternal torment. Had he been on the front lines of the war, he likely would have been nuked along with everyone else.

AM’s alterations of Gorrister are easily identifiable in the original text. Reduced to a shoulder shrugger, Gorrister sided with Ted in the belief that there was no point in journeying to the ice caverns. Further, even when practically immortal and on the brink of starvation, Gorrister could not be bothered to fight AM’s giant mutant bird. Perhaps he knew that AM would never let him have the flesh or perhaps he knew that fighting the beast was simply not worth it; either way it goes to show that Gorrister’s state of mind has been worn down to complete indifference.

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There is however one exception to Gorrister’s alterations that has always stuck out to me. When Benny is attempting to climb to the surface, Gorrister slaps Ellen to the ground for displaying her concern for Benny. I found it to be particularly interesting that the so-called shoulder shrugger, the so-called objector was so annoyed by Ellen’s concern that he attacked her.  In the comic adaptation, he even goes so far as to kick Ellen in the stomach while she’s already down.

Gorrister’s psychodrama is by far my favorite scenario in the video game. Whereas the other psychodramas rely on riddles and interesting gameplay mechanics, Gorrister’s story is almost entirely metaphorical from beginning to end. From its odd humor to it’s almost steampunk-noire atmosphere this is (in my opinion) one of the best adventure game levels ever made.

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Starting the level, Gorrister cannot determine where he is or what he’s riding due to extreme cloud coverage. This is a clear metaphor for Gorrister’s understanding of the situation; as he uncovers the mystery of the dining room, the airship sinks below the clouds, making everything clear. Further, Gorrister’s heart is literally ripped out of his chest by order of his mother-in-law, a clear allusion to Edna’s effect on the trucker’s marriage. This is just scratching the surface of the excellent metaphorical storytelling present in Gorrister’s psychodrama. Like Nimdok, the events relate to the character’s past, but in Gorrister’s story, they are told in a manner that relates to the situation at hand and gives you a tingly “ah-ha” moment when you realize the connection.

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From a gameplay perspective, Gorrister’s story has far more choices (and dead ends) than the others. One wrong step can trap the player in an unwinnable situation, especially when dealing with Edna. However, in many ways this only adds to the charm and replayability of a simple roadside honkey-tonk in the middle of the desert.

Although he began as an apathetic husk in the original story, Dreamer’s Guild really knocked it out of the park with Gorrister’s psychodrama. Like Nimdok, Gorrister was greatly expanded upon, allowing him to shift into a three dimensional character. The character’s quest to find death unexpectedly becomes a strongly metaphorical journey of self-discovery and inner peace.

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What other metaphors did you see in Gorrister’s psychodrama? Tell us in the comments!

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Ellen

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

In this series, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and then identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).

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Ellen’s comic adaptation

Ellen, the only woman in the center of the Earth. In the original story she was essentially a sex object, taking the other four humans in turn. She also served as a mother figure to Benny, always looking out for him and going so far as to wipe the spittle from his mouth. Additionally, it was Ellen who pushed the group toward the ice caverns with her fantasizing about what might be found there.

Notably, whereas Nimdok and Benny are the most consistent characters, Ellen takes on a different persona in each incarnation. In the video game, she has a New York City accent. In the radio drama, she carries a South African accent. In Harlan Ellison’s reading of the story, she has a distinctive Georgian accent. The only consistency in every depiction of Ellen’s is that she is black.

Ted states that AM left Ellen alone. This can be taken at face value in the video game adaptation. In the original story, she was in fact altered. AM replaced her belief in love with an insatiable lust. Apparently AM did this for his own amusement as Ted states that the machine “giggled every time we did it.”

2016-12-26_1038  It is suggested that the five humans have established a sexual routine, with Ellen occasionally breaking the cycle to show gratitude. This is because AM altered Ellen, twisted her mind until she had become a sex object. Since she no longer has any concept of love, sexual contact is Ellen’s only means of displaying affection.

Although it is difficult to tell (due to AM’s tampering) it is also possible that Ellen is manipulative by nature and has been altered less than Ted thinks. This is supported by Ted noting that crying was Ellen’s big defense mechanism. With the exception of Nimdok, every human character cries at some point in the story. Where the tears of Gorrister and Benny are met with sympathy, Ellen crying is merely a footnote.

In the video game, Ellen has an unusual role. Whereas the other humans are being punished for past crimes (insanity, war crimes, human experimentation, and manipulation), Ellen has no skeleton in her closet. Rather, she was the victim of another’s crime, namely a violent rape.

In my opinion, Ellen’s psychodrama has less to do with metaphorical references to her past and more to do with AM’s view of himself. For example, AM storing one of his original components behind an Egyptian motif reflects the machine’s role as a tyrant king. Perhaps the only obvious metaphor for Ellen herself is the blindfold, which allows her to overcome her anxiety by pretending that the offender isn’t there, rather than confronting it directly.

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Although she spends the first half of the psychodrama pretending there is nothing wrong, Ellen ultimately overcomes her fear by directly facing the cause and finally fighting back. Ellen and Nimdok’s scenarios are similar in that manner; they both find peace by confronting their past directly. Like Nimdok, it is unlikely that Ellen would have been able to overcome her fears if not for the interference of the Chinese AM.

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One aspect of the story that is never brought up is: Ellen’s backstory in the video game in relation to the original text. Backstory in the game reveals that Ellen limited her number of sexual partners and suffered a miscarriage before being the victim of rape. It is not far-fetched to presume that in addition to her other phobias, the video game version of Ellen would be terrified of sexual activity. This lends a horrific subtext to the original story. Unfortunately, the game missed a big opportunity as none of the humans actually interact with each other in game play.

At least in the video game, AM seems to have a special interest for Ellen. For whatever reason, the single woman he brought into his belly was not a perpetrator of violence, but rather a recovering victim. For 109 years, Ellen was a source of laughter for the great machine. By the end of the original story, AM was never again be able to laugh at the simple acts that made his prisoners human.

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Was Ellen’s psychodrama a metaphor for her state of mind or merely a monument to AM’s own magnificence? Tell us in the comments!

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Nimdok

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

In this series, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and then identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).

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Nimdok’s comic adaptation.

Nimdok is seemingly the least altered of the five humans. He is the least developed character in the original story. In my opinion, he also has the easiest and least interesting psychodrama in the video game. From the text, all that can be determined is that AM has a special, but mysterious relationship with this Nimdok, the implications of which are never fully revealed.

Despite being a side character when compared to the other four, Nimdok is the most consistent. From the video game to the audio drama and even Harlan Ellison’s own recording of the book, Nimdok has always been German. Although it is lost on both the audio drama and the video game, it is interesting to note that Nimdok’s real name no longer exists; AM gave him the name because it sounds funny. A search of “Nimdok” on Google will only turn up references to “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”.

Nimdok is a somewhat mysterious character. In the original text, while Ted is listing the ways in which AM altered his companions, Nimdok’s is notably different from the others. All Ted has to say about the German is that he will wander off into the darkness and comes back white, drained of blood, and shaking.

Nimdok’s only role in the original story is that he is the one that claimed there was canned food in the ice caverns. It is likely (if not outright stated) that AM implanted that idea in his head. In the video game, AM states that he and Nimdok are brothers. Perhaps the machine was using Nimdok as a plant to infiltrate the emotional desires of the other humans, something that, as a machine, he would be incapable of fully understanding. All this is speculation though. Only Harlan Ellison really knows what happens when Nimdok wanders into the dark.

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In the video game, Nimdok is plagued by a poor memory. As he interacts with people in his psychodrama, he cannot quite remember who they are or how they know him. At first, this seems like a great setup by AM. By resetting Nimdok’s memory, AM can potentially make Nimdok relive the horror of realizing he betrayed his family over and over again. Unfortunately, if you access AM’s console in the Mindscape, you’ll discover that Nimdok only stopped his experiments with Dr. Mengele due to his failing memory. In other words, AM is using one of Nimdok’s preexisting medical conditions to torture him, rather than altering him into self-parody like the others.

Additionally, although Nimdok was once known as the butcher of Auschwitz, his failing memory combined with the psychodrama stop him from appreciating the pain he caused. It’s important to remember that Nimdok’s own psych-profile states that he only stopped the experimentation because of his failing memory, meaning that he probably doesn’t feel guilt unless AM altered him. Additionally, although probably created by the Russian and Chinese computers, the psychodrama allows Nimdok to show three acts of medical compassion:

  • Killing the surgeon to spare the child from being paralyzed.
  • Using ether to cut down the trapped prisoner
  • Using ether to ease the pain of the man who had his eyes removed.

All three of these actions boost Nimdok’s spiritual barometer for the finale and provide valuable hints about how to wake the golem. Now the one interesting thing that ties AM and Nimdok together is in Mengele’s lab. The two doctors were experimenting on transmogrification, which is what allowed AM to alter the humans and keep them alive for 109 years. In that sense, there is some great irony behind Nimdok being tortured by the same technology he created.

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The reason I found Nimdok to have the least interesting psychodrama is because of the setting. Being told to find the “lost tribe” in what is obviously a concentration camp just feels a bit tired and obvious. Benny’s psychodrama did not directly portray a rice patty in China. Ted had to navigate various obstacles relating to his character and metaphorical meanings of gods in the machine. Nimdok redeems himself through helping people, coming to terms with his past, and receiving punishment for his actions. It’s all fairly straightforward, not very metaphorical. The exception is that Nimdok realizes he is stuck in the 1945; though if he had never realized that, it would be impossible for him to achieve the best ending. All that having been said, I still think having a mirror that makes you see yourself as you truly are was the most interesting experiment in the laboratory; I would have enjoyed seeing it used in a different context.

Nimdok’s redemption actually comes outside his psychodrama. The Doctor is required to achieve the best ending as only he knows the password to directly access AM’s interface. As a result, Nimdok is the character most likely to achieve the best ending, especially with the use of a walkthrough.

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The best possible ending has Nimdok becoming AM, taking over the complex, having control over the other four humans, and using transmogrification to prepare Earth for the return of the lunar colonists. Effectively, this means that Nimdok has become the God of humanity for all eternity. When he worked at Auschwitz, the doctor was obsessed with controlling life (through transmogrification) and immortality. As overseer of AM’s complex, Nimdok now has everything he ever aspired to obtain. He must choose: Succumb to the power and become AM 2.0 or return humanity to it’s former glory.
The only question is: Did Nimdok find his own humanity?

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What happens when Nimdok wanders into the dark? Tell us in the comments!

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Benny

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and then identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).

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Benny can hardly be recognized as once human.

We’ll start with Benny, who has always been AM’s favorite torture toy. Originally, he was a brilliant scientist. It is never explained why AM hates Benny more than the others, but for whatever reason he was reduced to a hunchback ape-like creature. His handsome features replaced by a network of fissures and radiation scars.

Aside from his physical body, AM takes pleasure in altering Benny’s mental abilities. However, I have to wonder if altering Benny’s mind is the best use of AM’s power. By reducing the scientists’ mental faculties, AM only makes it more difficult for Benny to appreciate the irony of his situation. A scientist unable to express his ideas is far more torturous than a scientist who is reduced to a babbling fool. Benny is like a servitor in Warhammer 40,000. His mind has been altered, but that doesn’t affect him, only those that once knew him. Perhaps that was the goal. So long as he is crippled, blind, and dumb Benny requires constant care and attention from his four companions.

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Expanding on Benny’s altered mind, it really doesn’t matter if Benny was once homosexual if his mind has been altered. Again, that was a different person, not the creature that now inhabits AM’s belly. As long as AM tampers with his mind, he cannot appreciate the irony of being forced to sleep with Ellen for 109 years. Originally, the game adaptation was going to deal with Benny’s sexual preference, but ultimately the character was completely revamped and given a new backstory.

In the video game, Benny was the commander of an American commando squad fighting in a Chinese rice patty during World War III. While deployed, Benny killed four of his squad mates. The reasons for the first murder is unclear, but it is implied that one squad mate couldn’t pull his weight and another tried to help him. Lacking compassion, Benny killed both of them for showing weakness. When the others found out, Benny murdered them as well. Something to briefly consider is that if AM was created to oversee a war too complex for human minds, then it is possible Benny’s orders came from the great machine.

Interestingly, Benny’s initial psych profile is about cannibalism. This has led some fans to theorize that Benny cannibalized his squad mates, just as he attempted to cannibalize Gorrister in the original story.  However, cannibalism is hardly included in the final game. If Benny even attempts to eat someone, he will be sent back to the campfire. This is odd as AM even calls the villagers prey. Unable to eat the village’s only food source, Benny was intended to cannibalize the tribe. Indeed, a deleted scene from early promotional footage shows that Benny was supposed to eat a live baby

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Benny the Baby Burglar

The great thing about Benny’s psychodrama is that his mind is clear, but his body is crippled. Benny has become like the soldiers he once murdered. In a delicious bout of irony, Benny knows what he wants, but is forced to rely on the compassion of others and to display compassion in his own actions. Benny starts the scenario as a little more than a starving animal. By the end of the story, his stomach has been filled and he has made amends with those he wronged. Although Benny sacrificed himself to protect another, it hardly matters. Benny is effectively immortal; AM would never let him die. Sacrificing himself for another is merely symbolic and serves no real purpose other than to confuse AM. In the context of the psychodrama, the villagers don’t really exist. Even if there was a tribe of humans living inside the complex, Benny offering himself will only prolong the inevitable offering of the mutant child. The ending only serves to ease Benny’s state of mind.elder

Benny is an interesting character simply because of what he means to AM. In the original story the others are mentally altered, but physically intact. Benny is physically and mentally augmented until he no longer resembles the man he once was. He is a burden on the others, a constant reminder of what could happen to them if they misbehave. He has no consciousness and he must scream.

2016-12-14_0959Is augmenting Benny’s mind an effective form of torture? Tell us in the comments!