The future, in gaming! Hooray!
Everyone thinks about the future occasionally, even me. Actually, especially me! It’s ruined so many first dates, talking about settling down, getting married, and having kids. Those conversations don’t usually go well when you’re in high school. But no, no, that’s not what I mean about the future! I mean, the future of HUMANITY! Our planet! Our way of life, our advancement into the vast expanse of space. What’s it going to be like? Well, there are many games that hazard a guess at how that future will be! Science fiction-style games make up one of the most popular genres, from Portal to Resident Evil to Halo to Mass Effect to Dead Space to Fallout to… well, you get the picture!
Now, we could say that this genre is so popular because in the future, you get to have super-cool, futuristic, ridiculously-explosive (or, you know, portal-creating, time-space-altering) weapons and items that make the game seem more fun or something. It’s possible that Halo started out as a guy thinking out loud to a group of friends: “What if we had, like, a super-cool gun, that, I dunno, shot pink little spiny needles out of it? They have to be pink, or maybe purple, or else it’s not cool! That’d be awesome. And then, like, a sword made of light? But not like in Star Wars, or anything.” And then came the Covenant, the Flood, Master Chief, the entire plotline for the numerous games, and absurd amounts of Halo memorabilia (including life-size cardboard cutouts of our favorite Spartan. Yay!!) I digress. Perhaps, if we really think about it, the reason people make these games is because the future is an interesting place, full of conjecture, and what your imagination brings to life today could become reality tomorrow. But, you know, there’s something wrong with these games, that they all have in common: our future sucks.
When I see the games coming out today that are futuristic, they have a rather bleak outlook for the human race. Inevitable nuclear war dooms our world while leaving small colonies of survivors intact (that’s Fallout for ya), or we are locked in an enormous interstellar war with enemies that are hell-bent on using technology to destroy the universe (hooray, Halo). Let’s not even mention the parasitic mind-controlling freaky-as-hell baddies that make appearances in every Halo game since forever. Yep, makes me wish the future was here now! At least we have flying cars. Or whatever. These games are truly depressing in their predictions for where the human race is headed. 90% of the time it ends up in zombie apocalypse anyway, so why even pretend anything else stands a chance of taking us out?
I will say, however, that one game (naturally) puts forth a rather more realistic transpiration of the events of the future, and that game would be (naturally) Mass Effect. We have Omni-Tools, which are like cellphone-lightsaber-laptop-scanner-popcorn-making awesomeness that everyone happens to keep around. That’s a bright speck of future technology, and it would make all of our lives a lot easier. How nice. But then we look at humanity. We’ve been accepted to the “council races” by the frickin’ third game (thanks, alien jerkwads), and even then, jokes are constantly made about how unevolved and primitive we are. We’ve only just arrived to the great interstellar party, and everyone treats us like we’re the redneck drunk whose parents were first cousins. It’s peachy, really! And let’s not forget to mention that (SPOILERS if you live under a rock) Earth is the first planet sacked by the bad guys in the 3rd game. Not these extremely powerful, evolved, advanced races. Nope, the good old land of McDonalds and Chuck Taylors. It doesn’t exactly look great for us! Realistic, perhaps, but not great.
So why all the hate for future-us? Do we really believe that our own human nature will eventually destroy humanity (or at least severely screw us up)? My personal opinion on the matter is that because things are so tense in today’s world, what with economic insanity, the instability in the Middle East, and crises wrecking every nation from Greece to Japan, games have a tendency to be a little more pessimistic towards our future life on the planet. We don’t see the human ability to create something greater than the sum of its parts. We don’t see our desire for a better world, nor how possible it is to create one. We just see the news and go, “Wow, I didn’t think we were THAT stupid.” And yet, I look back at shows like Star Trek (and even the Jetsons, perhaps) and I see the technology that was called futuristic back then; technology we carry in our pockets today, or look at to read this blog. It’s incredible, what the visionaries of the future had to say 50 or 60 years ago, and how it inspired the creators of today.
In an interesting side note: the short story collection, “The Toynbee Convector” by Ray Bradbury contains a spectacular gem by the same name, which provides an incredibly thought-provoking look at the future and humanity’s ability to affect it. It is absolutely worth reading, so see if you can pick it up at a booksale, or buy an e-Book online (or Torrent it! Hooray piracy!). It’s relevant. I promise.
But back to business. Let’s look at a couple of flash games that illustrate my point (with links at the end, as usual). “Caravaneer” is an economics game, with some added interesting things with combat and such. The idea of the game is explained on the first screen. In this one, global warming has doomed the human race, and you’re a post-apocalyptic entrepreneur. Hey, someone’s gotta do it. And this other game, which is slightly more entertaining and less cranial, is called “Infectionator: World Domination.” Not only is there a good old zombie apocalypse going on, but you’re the one in charge of it. I mean, this game is so awful for the ideas it instills in our children. For crying out loud, you turn Santa into a zombie. If that’s our destiny, I don’t want to live on this planet anymore… Also: I am completely aware that flash games never have a unique or interesting outlook on the future, but I figured you wanted to waste some time after reading this, don’t you?
Though I’m being rather tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing, I hope you understand what I’m really getting at. I think that the creators of video games today really need to be aware of how they portray the future of mankind, regardless of artistic license. It only takes one brilliant engineer who was completely inspired by a video game to go and spend his or her life creating the futuristic thing they saw as a child, which might change the world irrevocably for the better. Seeing brighter outlooks of the future gives us something to aspire to, to try and achieve. And I think we would all be amazed at how much that affects what we actually DO achieve. Also, maybe cut back on the zombie games. All we need is one evil genius and the whole world is screwed, except for Milla Jovovich (and Milla Jovovich’s 600 clones).