At Psychochild’s Blog, a game developer recently put out a challenge for game designers to do a better job of drawing on the strengths of science fiction and to use it as more than just a cool-looking setting:
Science Fiction tends to be the second most abused setting (after Fantasy) in games. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and game developer are mostly just rehashing Fantasy type games even in Science Fiction settings. Unfortunately, I think this means that developers doing Science Fiction games are missing some of the great literary strengths of Science Fiction when they make games that are just Fantasy with laser weapons.
Exactly right. Too often, a “science fiction game” is nothing but a standard shooter with futuristic scenery and weapons. The article discusses how good science fiction can give us new perspectives on the future (and uses Vinge’s Rainbows End as an example). Why can’t a game do what a book can do — give you a new perspective, make you think about the world, engage your sense of wonder?
There have been some partial successes; for instance, Mass Effect had a satisfying sci-fi story behind it. But there is so much more that could be done if game designers took science fiction seriously and got really creative. I, for one, would love to see that kind of effort, and the kinds of results it might bring.
Another thing I’d like to see in games is less of a focus on killing. Now I enjoy blasting away at the baddies as much as the next guy, but sometimes I reach a point where it all just blurs together, and it seems like combat is the ONLY purpose of most games. Why can’t there be something more? How about more exploration of alien environments, and not just as a means of getting to the next battle? How about more problems solved with brains rather than guns? How about a game in which survival depends not on combat, but on understanding a new technology, or solving a mystery during an alien archaeology dig? There are so many possibilities.
In the end, the question is (as Psychochild puts it):
Can we capture some of the literary merits of the genre in our games? Can games give us a useful glimpse of the future? Or, is Space Invaders the standard for what our games will achieve?