17 October, 2008
A few years ago, the Austin game conference got Vernor Vinge to give a keynote. I loved it, because here was a smart guy that could look into the future and tell us something we might not already know. His book Rainbows End was an entertaining read because it showed some interesting technology and how it would be used for games. I thought that was really cool, because many times science fiction writers ignore that almost any technology eventually gets used for games (and/or pornography).
This week, let’s take a look at Science Fiction as it applies to games that you might have to design.
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. Rainbows End was a great story because it gave us a glimpse into a possible future. Will everything turn out exactly as predicted? No, but some of the little glimpses may come to pass. What will someone cured of Alzheimer’s experience? Which technologies will help us, which will hurt us, and which will we use anyway despite the cost?
But, predicting the future is even harder than you might first thing, mostly because of something that Vernor Vinge has written about: the Singularity. In a nutshell, the Singularity is the point at which the rate of change of technology advances beyond our understanding of it. Perhaps it’s a self-improving A.I., or a nanomanufacturing process that allows low-cost duplication and thus self-improvement; something that makes the pace of change extremely rapid. Since technology will advance beyond our ability to understand it, it becomes nearly impossible to predict what the future will be like beyond that point.
So, now it’s your turn. What do you think of games with a Science Fiction setting? 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?