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.

Two separate games, same post-apocalyptic awesomeness.

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.

"Take Earth Back." That'll be the Republican slogan when a Democrat becomes President of Earth.

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.

Link to Amazon because this guy deserves your money.

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).

~Another Gamer

In this scenario, they sent Arnold Schwarznegger back in time to kill Al Gore and stop him from making his documentary. As a side effect, he never invented the internet.

It's more fun than it looks. And face it, folks... it looks pretty darn fun!

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About Isaac Smith

I write about music, technology, video games, and probably many other subjects that don't bear mentioning here. Either way, most of it's worth reading, and you may even enjoy yourself!

Posted on April 2, 2012, in Flash Games, Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. christinedonath

    I think there is one simple rule why humanity is portrayed with a shitload of problems in the future: Every story needs a conflict.
    It’s not about how cool future will be and it’s completely natural that we want to see the same problems we are faced today (generally spoken, like war, famine, illness and stupid individuals), because the goal is to solve them. What do you do in Fallout? You fight for the good of mankind and become a hero. The apocalyptic world is just there to make you feel lost and weak but eventually you will get stronger and smarter until you finally reach what you aspired to for so long.
    The same applies to Mass Effect. You belong to a weak, laughable species in the galaxy when you start the first game. It’s understandable as aliens are cruising around space for millions of years while we joined them like a hundred years ago. It’s like you see someone using fire for the first time in 2012 and going all “oooh aaah” when they realize you can cook meals on it. But, again, you fight against all the odds and the stubborn Council to save not only humanity but every single being in the galaxy. You prove that humans are worthy. Yeah, the Council is like “Herp derp humans” until the third game, but most of the other people are like “Whoa, Commander Shepard? No shit? PLEASE GIVE ENDORSMENT KTHX ILOVEYOU”. Finally, in the third game there is the ultimate battle against the Reapers, humans and aliens side by side, no one thinks in terms of “species” and “race” anymore. (btw it’s logical they attack Earth as the Reapers hate Shepard and he/she is human)

    I don’t think it would be interesting to give humanity a bright future. We are pretty grim now, we will always be. The conflicts created out of this are the most interesting ones. And people who are experiencing sci-fi games, novels or movies get inspired no matter what. When you see something bad in a possible future – you try to prevent it. When everything is fine you just enjoy it. Utopias are boring.

    • Oh, no worries. I agree with you for a large part of this. It’s more interesting to have a future full of problems, and every story needs a plot. But it’s not unheard of to have an incredible (not utopian) world full of futuristic technology and where humanity has conquered many of its foibles, and have an intriguing, engaging plot that works inside of those boundaries. Look at Star Trek. Humanity is at its zenith. Seems like today the games focus on the fact that humanity is pretty screwed up, when having certain individual HUMANS be screwed up (and the future be peachy) is also an option.

      • christinedonath

        Well, of course, when you only speak in terms of technology, than that’s another point 😉
        Interesting, because I’m writing a novel right now which is set in an utopia-like city where everyone enjoys a life without illness or war and is mostly safe from harm. I won’t write the whole idea down, of course, but the main point of the story will go in the direction of “homo homini lupus est”, like humans are beasts and monsters no matter what (yeah I have that kind of pessimistic view :B), it just needs some kind of a catalyst. And that catalyst is one single event. While writing, it was funny how many problems one could think of even in an Utopia, haha.

  2. It easy for not only developers but also players (and the human race at large) to envision the overdone “post-apocalyptic” future because we see inklings of it every day, from crippling world events on the news to that homeless guy I passed on the way to work this morning. It’s easy to be hard. It’s easy to picture ourselves in that world and therefore easy for people in games, movies, and TV to create and perpetuate a bleak outlook for humanity. (It’s why the concepts of “heaven” and “hell” are so easy for most to grasp and cling to.) I’d be more than happy to see developers explore the idea of “utopia.” Not in the biblical sense, but with the notion that *something* caused humanity to *want* to form a more perfect union, so to speak. In a parallel sense, ME1 comes to mind, with races from all parts of space (‘cept us humans) having formed an alliance. Why did they do it? (Yeah, I can’t remember now, but playing an ME prequel with this in mind would be interesting.)

    No future world will be perfect, but I agree that it’d be nice to see more future-world games with optimistic outlooks and inspiration. There does have to be conflict, some threat to the “perfection” to keep people playing, but futuristic games don’t have to be negative *all* the time.

    • Exactly! I’m glad you understand. I wish I could find that story, “The Toynbee Convector” online, because its subject is a person who gave humanity that reason to become futuristic and magnificent. It’s a pretty amazing piece of literature.

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