Published by Ny Tid
The movie Nerve magnifies some current online trends and provides us with a glimpse into a possible, terrifying, future.
The movie features Venus “Vee” Delmonico (played by Emma Roberts), a senior high school student. Being rejected by her crush J.P., and called gutless by her best friend Sydney, Vee decides to join a new online game everybody is raving about. The game Nerve consists of Watchers and Players. Players can make a lot of money executing increasingly difficult dares, and Watchers pay to watch them complete, bail or fail the assignments.
Nerve, first of all, shows off some new technologies that might become mainstream in the not-too-distant future; apps that require a thumbprint to log in, touching phones is all it takes to exchange phone numbers, and games that don’t require an external server to run smoothly. These technologies already exist. You can unlock several phones with a fingerprint, and some apps also started offering fingerprint login, because it’s faster than password protection. Bump, before being bought by Google, was an app for transferring contacts, photos and files by simply bumping phones together. And games without the need for an external server, just like Nerve, are also out there.
Even though the movie has some futuristic elements, the story itself is, in fact, a classic boy meets girl story, complete with a jealous best friend and life-long friend that secretly has a crush on Vee. Vee and Ian team up to play Nerve, and a romance starts to blossom during the story. The familiarity of this storyline makes the movie suitable for a far broader audience than just online gaming fans. The romantic side of the story also helps sustain the movie when dares increase in difficulty. By combining the familiar with the implausible in this way, you forget you’re watching a guy riding a motorcycle blindfolded through New York City, running red lights, and surviving that against all odds. Of course, they kiss afterwards (again).
The screenwriters also incorporate contemporary themes like privacy into the story. Players signing up for Nerve have their Amazon purchase history and social media accounts searched thoroughly. As a result, they receive dares catered to their biggest fears. Sydney, terribly afraid of heights, has to climb a ladder between two buildings, and Vee has to kiss a guy after the humiliation with her crush.
In real life companies also investigate ways to persuade people to hand over their personal data willingly. Financial gain is, of course, a strong motivator. Health insurers in the Netherlands, for example, considered making health insurance cheaper to people that allowed access to their personal and medical information. Experts are afraid that people with lower incomes are more inclined to take this kind of money-saving deal. In this sense, the income gap can also lead to a gap in civil rights between rich and poor. A similar situation arises in the movie: at first Vee plays the game to prove to her friend she’s not boring, but she keeps playing because she needs the money for college. The people with money become Watchers and pay to see people without money risk their lives.
Another current theme woven into the story is fame on the Internet. Sydney, the best friend of Vee, plays the game in search of fame. She wants to be just as famous as some people with huge followings on Instagram, or “Instafamous”. Doing dumb, controversial and dangerous things to become famous is not new (remember Jackass?) but now, thanks to the Internet, anyone can film their actions and get a following.
It would be far less appealing to do dangerous, illegal stuff without the likes and fame. People doing these things just for the thrill of it tend not to record their actions. Part of the allure of graffiti, for example, is the sneaking around in the dark and the illegality, but most graffiti artists don’t record their nightly endeavours. On the other hand, there are vloggers jumping on trains and setting a camper on fire. Compared to the days of Jackass, it’s way easier to become famous by doing dumb, controversial and dangerous things on the Internet.
In seems as if normal behavioural conduct, to some extent, evaporates online. This also happens towards the end of the movie, when Watchers get to vote about Vee being shot. Because Nerve is an interactive online democracy, Watchers get to decide about this final dare as well. The majority votes for Vee to get shot. Hidden behind their screen names people find it easy, at least in the movie, to put a human being in real danger.
I think a portion of people in real life would also vote ‘yes’ in this situation, partly out of curiosity and partly for entertainment. But there is more to it than that; anonymity gives free range to indulge humanity’s dark side. The sense of responsibility diminishes when you’re part of a large, anonymous group. Everyone on the Internet is, by definition, part of a large anonymous group without a clear identity or group structure.
That disregard of responsibility is not helped by videos of illegal activities remaining online. The vlogger that jumped on a train got indicted for intentionally causing danger on the railways, and the vloggers with the camper had to pay a fine of 280 euro for arson. Even though YouTube’s Community Guidelines state: “Don’t post videos that encourage others to do things that might cause them to get badly hurt, especially children. Videos showing such harmful or dangerous acts may be age-restricted or removed depending on their severity”, both videos are still available and continue to gather likes, views and fame for the vloggers.
And it doesn’t end with daredevils on the net; there is a vlogger (if you can still call him that) harassing people, hitting innocent passers-by, and showing off illegal weapons on YouTube. Ismail Ilgun never finished his education and started the vlog to pay off his debts, according to Algemeen Dagblad.
All in all, some technological and social developments featured in the movie are closely linked to reality. Some of the technologies featured in the movie exist, and there are vloggers showing off illegal actions that might encourage others to do the same. Luckily we don’t have anonymous online masses pushing people to carry out illegal activities for money and fame, like at the end of the movie. Because, even though Vee and Ian believe they are prisoners of the game, there always is a way out – it’s called the off button.

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