Thursday, June 09, 2005

Just Something to Ponder

It's clear to me
at this point in time that humans like to imagine dystopic futures, and this is borne out in many of our video games - SHODAN's total control in System Shock, the Running Man ultraviolent game show of Unreal Tournament, the wacky police state in Jet Grind Radio. Hell, it's all over our media - movies with killer robots or corrupted AIs, books with mind control and fascist dictators - essentially a near-fetishization of struggling against a preternaturally oppressive Other.

These make for great, uplifting stories. Plenty of room for heroes when everybody's hurting.

And that's all cool. But I started wondering about the other themes that run through our games. Can games like Cesar, Civilization and The Sims be considered utopian games, since they strive for an overwhelming state of peace, whether in a city, the whole world or social dynamics?

I know that, thematically, games don't just exist in one or the other idiom. I'm not that naive.

But I do find myself wondering why we don't see games in which many of the past and present ills of the world have been effectively neutralized. Much of the draw of this is that the world can serve as a meditation on how we might change things for the better and what effects this might have on society. An adventure game that guides a player through BF Skinner's Walden II (if only to explore exactly how eerie such a place could be, in my opinion). Or a jaunt through an arcology, with tasks concerned with solving the technical and human problems that would surely plague such a construct.

Which is not to say that there can't be conflict. We can be reasonably certain that the ugliness of humanity will be around for awhile.

What I'm getting at is that video games can be great ways to explore more efficient ways of living. Simulations of future-living that Sir Thomas More certainly never believed possible.

And I think we are seeing some of whatever my nebulous thoughts may be referring to in such grand experiments as Second Life, There and A Tale In the Desert, though that last one is more a meditation on an alternate-universe peaceful past.

Of course, in our imaginings we may find that we already know the type of utopia we'll eventually discover: Erehwon.


Rohan Verghese said...

Alternatively, dystopian games and utopian games could be two sides of the same coin. After all, in the utopian games you mention, the player is the oppressive Other, imposing their vision upon society. :)

GregT said...

I guess it's all in your perspective. Sure, Civilization may feel like utopia from where you're sitting, but just remember the plight of the (unseen) peons of your civilisation - conscripted to join your armies in a never-ending war of conquest, armed with whatever crazy weapon you see fit to give them, constantly driven to leave their homes to found new cities, and ruled for millennia after millennia by a single undying capricious god-emperor who may or may not have the slightest clue what he or she is doing.

I mean, you have to pity them. Or, y'know, double taxes and turn their wives and children into spies. Whatever works for you.