The world of Sci Fi and fantasy has delighted us for generations. We have dipped our collective toes into the pages of wondrous books, stared awestruck and, sometimes, terror struck, at screens big and small.
But it’s within the world of Gaming that the doors have been flung open to a wider audience than ever before. Gaming offers a dark view of our future. With rare exception, all of the high grossing sellers of the last few years offer us a new frontier riddled with dystopian societies. From wars to nuclear fallout, even dragons returning to the sky, it seems nothing good lurks beyond the next New Year’s Eve.
Dystopian fiction normally shows humanity completely under the control of some sort of power, government or war .One Game series shows this to its full effect; Gears of War
Gears of War is set on a fictional planet on which war is common place; as the president of their Government says “Humans are no strangers to war. After all, we’ve been fighting for as long as we can remember. War is all we know. In the past, we fought for Imulsion (a super fuel which causes terrible sickness humans). We fought for country. We fought for freedom” In that speech, the entire game is summed up.
As the player, you are the leader of a Fire team of soldiers, known as ‘Gears’. You and your squad aren’t just battling a ruthless enemy who are committed to the genocide of the human population, but the psychological trauma of war. The bleak outlook for humanity in this game is shown time and again; you are always outnumbered, always out gunned. But that little human spark of hope always shines through. The player watches as you find huge concentration camps, the massacre of the young, old and refugees of war. The despair hangs in the air, and as a player, it sits in your chest.
Sometimes it’s the aftermath of some disaster that lends itself to a game. In the Fallout series we are faced with the aftermath of nuclear war. Though the game is normally based around our hero fighting ‘the good fight’ it shows how humans can make a bad situation even worse. The game has the remnants of the US government, who try to take back control and ‘remove’ anyone who tries to stop them. Slavers roam the wastes, taking women, children, whoever they find and shackle.
In Fallout 3: New Vegas, a faction based on the exploits of the great Roman legions, crucify anyone who crosses their path, hosting lotteries to see who gets to live. The ‘Winners’ either walk away unharmed, or maybe, not quite walk away. The capacity for cruelty is one of the main recurring features.
But, this is Sci Fi, and our past is as much a playground for ideas as the future. An idea which has been portrayed in books, film and finally into the gaming world via the much under rated Wolfenstien, shows us a world in which the tide of war turned in favour of Nazi Germany. The Player watches as World War Two veterans of the US army, fail to stop a Nazi scientist from making such advanced weaponry that the war is lost and the entire world is under the control of the SS and the Nazi terror.
Another series which has “tinkered” with the past is Call of Duty, who have delighted with past offerings retelling the battles of World War Two and fictitious skirmishes of the Cold War. The latest and much anticipated in the series, Call of Duty; Advanced Warfare is due to take us to the far future, to a war fought with technology.
Gaming is never afraid to show the two sides of dystopian fiction: war and the human condition. To open a platform where the player’s morals are tried and tested. The decisions made by the player change the outlook and direction of the game.
One game which has encompassed all of this, has enthralled and enraged millions of fans, is Halo
This game shows how, having spread from earth to colonise space, humanity is united under the United Nations. But nothing is as it seems. As humanity moved, those who colonised planets close to Earth became known as the ‘Inner colonies’, well defended, rich, ‘first world’ style worlds. Those out on the further frontier are weak and poor. These poorer planets, farmed and heavily taxed, rise up and The Insurrection begins.
Once again its human verses human, until a new threat arrives, bring all humanity under one banner.
During the games you battle a religious alien hoard who claim that humanity are vermin, that their Gods demand we are destroyed. However, mankind has a weapon. SPARTANS. Super soldiers who wear the most advanced armour science can provide. The answer to our prayers? Not quite.
These soldiers were all kidnapped as children, their families left with clones that later died. These taken children were moulded, twisted and changed forever. Their young bodies augmented, their minds crammed with battle knowledge and strategies. Their childhood stripped from them in the name of freedom and defence of the realm.
The whole saga offers us a moral dilemma; is it right to do this? Is the price acceptable? The player is left to make that decision for themselves.
With so much bleakness, it does beg the question; why do we, in our millions, spend so much of our lives playing these Games? I think the answer lies in our unquenchable desire to believe in the possibility of redemption. No matter how bad things get, no matter what rains down from the sky, there is a spark of light which will illuminate the darkness. And if it’s here, in these games, then it can be mirrored in our real world.
This sentiment is best expressed during the final cut scene of Gears of War 3. Our Hero sits staring out over a calm ocean and asks, “What have we got left?”
His companion kneels beside him, takes his hand and answers, “Tomorrow, Marcus, we’ve finally got a tomorrow”.