Thursday, October 12, 2006

The (Fictional) Prisoner's Dilemma

Lost is taking an interesting approach at the beginning of this season. Aware that viewers have been frustrated in the past by a lack of answers, and aware that one of the things that killed X-Files was drowning in its own convoluted mythology, they have resolved to clear up a lot of things this season. One of the first things they have done is to bring us into the Others' camp (which I really expected last season).

However, although it's good in the sense that it brings new characters into the mix, it's also risky, because right now, the show is moving very slowly. I've mentioned before about one of my pet peeves in a book, The Ivanhoe Problem. Related to that is the (Fictional) Prisoner's Dilemma.

The Prisoner's Dilemma is a classic problem of game theory which I won't go into here. The (Fictional) Prisoner's Dilemma is a completely unrelated thing, which is the idea of Protagonist as Prisoner. I can appreciate the cat-and-mouse games that go on between captor and captive, and what's happening on Lost is a very well-written and acted. Three of the main characters have been taken captive, and they are trying to figure out how to escape. Problem is, they've been taken captive by what seems to be the remnants of a group that was conducting experiments in psychology and conditioning. So while the prisoners are trying to outwit their captors, the captors are conditioning the behavior of the prisoners.

Problem is, (and here's the dilemma) there is something in me that does not want to identify with someone in captivity. I want that person to strike back, to escape, to not only escape but triumph somehow and bring down those who unjustly imprisoned him. Now, some would argue that this sense of frustration is what you need in a drama, that the more the audience is invested in the character. the greater the catharsis when he finally succeeds.

But there are two big traps in this. Number one, a prisoner is by definition confined, so the story becomes static, locked in one location, and can become boring. And number two, that sense of outrage can turn to frustration, and unlike the character, the audience is not trapped in the situation. The audience can escape. Push the frustration too far, and they'll do just that.

I'm not ready to quit yet, especially since it looks like they'll be going back to the Swan next week, where we'll finally learn what happened to Locke, Desmond and Eko.

1 comment:

Majenta said...

Hey Tony,
like the site, like (most of) the shows you watch and talk about.

I hope I find my way back here... usually when I find a site I like to read, I do the little rss feed thing (don't know too much about it... excuse my ignorance) that allows me to see when it is updated on my google homepage.

All i know is that someplace in the dashboard there is a check box for an rss feed (I think) that will allow me (and others) to cheaply visit your site in wonderful other ways...

too late at night, not very eloquant...