Science Fiction Kills Fantasy in Video Games

Illustration for article titled Science Fiction Kills Fantasy in Video Games

Some of the most popular online video games and virtual worlds have fantasy themes — think World of Warcraft or old-school MMO Everquest. But if games are ever to make it out of the dork ghetto, they're going to have to shed their elves and orcs and start giving us more spaceships and high tech. So says Michael Zenke, who blogs about games at MMOG Nation. He says science fiction games (like Tabula Rasa, pictured here) will always beat fantasy in terms of storytelling potential. Zenke bolsters his argument with two interesting points: that science fiction is usually based in reality, and therefore is more appealing to a mass audience; and that science fiction has a much more hopeful outlook than fantasy. Realism and hope just make for better gameplay.

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Here's how he puts it:

Look at the lore of most fantasy titles: blah blah elves blah blah elder gods blah blah chosen race blah blah great conflict. Most of these games have little more than the serial numbers filed off to distinguish between their backstories. Is Norrath really all that more compelling than Dereth or Vana'diel? Sci-fi storylines tend to be based (more or less) in the real world, meaning players have a lot of built-in context on which to base their understanding of the game world. This not only means players might find the lore more approachable, for those who care about such things it should lead to better roleplaying. What's an easier point of view to adopt: a crazy lizard-guy who can throw fireballs or a human soldier? . . . I fundamentally think sci-fi settings are more hopeful than your average fantasy world. In fantasy, so much of the time, the efforts of the players are just chessboard moves. Ageless NPCs, demi-gods, demons, these are the 'real' players in the lore. We just show up as incidental actors on a much bigger stage. In science fiction, people are people. The protagonists of the story are set against much more understandable foes; even ravenous space aliens are fundamentally mortal.

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Science Fiction Pwns Fantasy [MMO Nation]

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DISCUSSION

braak
Chris Braak

@Jeff-Minor: Yeah, I'm not sure I'd say that the science fiction genre is much better.

I don't know. I feel like a subgenre with a relatively small but amazingly enthusiastic fanbase ought to be doing all right for itself.

Anyway, the way it looks to me is that sci-fi and fantasy are just modes of literature. Like doing math in hexadecimal, or binary, or something. This guy isn't complaining about fantasy as a mode, he's complaining about the fantasy content (cliches: elders gods, elves, dwarves, prophecies, ridiculously outlandish settings). So, insofar as "Fantasy" is a series of related tropes or storylines, then I guess it is vastly limited compared to science fiction, which at least recognizes that the appellation "sci-fi" refers only to the...I guess the language that the story is written in.

The word "Fantasy" just confuses the issue; there's no reason at all that a fantasy story should follow standard Hero Quest plot-forms, and, in fact, the best modern fantasy (Perdido Street Station, The Etched City, City of Saints and Madmen) doesn't at all.

So...this guy's still an idiot, but I at least can see the problem, now.