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How videogames stole Sci-Fi

Games like Mass Effect 3 have become launching pads into exciting universes where action and adventure are only a few button pushes away.


I still remember the first time I saw Star Wars, mouth agape, entranced by an experience the likes of which I’d never had before. Iconic spacecraft, believable futures where actions and consequences resembled those from our own time, adventures that made my humdrum life seem inescapably dull in comparison; I soaked it all in, imagination sparked by an infinite timeline of possibilities.

It’s those possibilities that I’ve been searching for ever since, that flash of something new and exotic from a time I could never hope to live through. Whereas my generation found its way to sci-fi through books, films and television, nowadays that first taste of the alien is much more likely to come from an interactive source.

Games like Mass Effect 3, Halo, Deus-Ex and their ilk have become launching pads into exciting universes, places where aliens aren’t always cannon fodder, and where action and adventure are only a few button pushes away.

This shift towards gaming as the go-to source for science fiction has been a steady one. Games makers have always looked to the stars for their inspiration. Whether they set us blasting out “there” in space ships to defend the cosmos, or tooled us up as pixelated spacemen to wipe out an alien threat, the lure of the fantastical future has been hard to resist. In recent times though, technology has begun to catch up with the scope of creator’s imagination.

So it proves thatMass Effect 3 gives you an entire galaxy to play with complete with aeons of history to learn and discover. Every race contained therein has a motivation for its behaviour, sometimes because of actions you’ve perpetrated in the preceding games, sometimes because of grudges that go back thousands of years. And here you are, flying around in your iconic spaceship, having adventures, and making difficult choices that are relevant in whatever time they have to be made.

Games have stolen the sci-fi thunder from the big screen by letting you step out of the big picture, and into an adventure of your own making. Instead of following other people’s stories, you’re out there writing your own. Dead Space transports survival horror into the vacuum of space, while galaxy spanning RTS games like Sins of a Solar Empire let you build your nations in light-years rather than miles, and all of these narratives belong to you, framed by the different experiences of how you play.

Of course, almost every step gaming takes down this road owes a debt to some other form of medium. Culturally, we’ve created a language of signs and symbols that represent a million futures that will almost certainly never happen. From the grungy cyberpunk of Deus Ex, to the billowing nebula of Mass Effect’s star systems, every game-world is predicated on ideas and concepts that have come before. We recognise the neon and grey, the slick white, and can use them to place an experience quickly into the right category.

From simple iPhone games that feature rocket-jumping spacemen, to triple-A, headline grabbing titles, videogames are at the forefront of visual science fiction storytelling. More than that, they’re shaping the way we tell our space-faring tales, opening up galaxies much further away to a whole new generation and, for the very first time, placing you in the role generally reserved for the Hollywood’s stars.