Sci-fi’s Technological Brilliance

(Warning: Lots of Links!) For as long as science fiction has been a popular genre there has been a flood of new technology that has been introduced. In many cases, the technology which has been created over the years has somehow made its way into reality. One of the best examples is Martin Cooper crediting his inspiration for the cell phone to Capt. James T. Kirk’s use of a communicator in TOS. This was included in the 2005 documentary How William Shatner Changed the WorldOther examples of tech which have come into reality are not at all uncommon. Jules Verne is credited with coming up with modern space flight, the internet, weapons of mass destruction, and many other modern technologies which were once thought impossible, at least during the Victorian era he was writing in. examples can be found in this list of sci-fi tech origins.

While all of this has primarily occurred within the realm of books, TV, and movies it is not unreasonable to apply this to video games. Just last year Gamespot published a series of videos to Youtube called “The What If Machine.” In the series games like HaloMass Effect, and Portal were examined to see whether or not any of the technology from these games was feasible. In short it does not appear that most technology which appears in these games will be available in the near future.

What is the purpose of comparing the new technology presented in games with technology presented in books or movies? During much of the semester this class has attempted to place videogames on the same level as print and visual media. Could technology introduced in videogames become the inspiration for the next great invention? Certain people may think the idea is silly, but since when has that stopped human ingenuity? The reality is that the potential for videogames to be highly influential in the scientific field has certain antecedents. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others have been the inspiration for many individuals pursuing careers related to space or engineering, it is not unreasonable to think that Bioware or Bungie could also accomplish the same.

The technologies that would garner the most attention are capable of being debated indefinitely. However, the one which seems to be on most peoples’ (including NASA’s) list is spaceflight. The science of spaceflight in games varies greatly, but with one general unifying idea, it has to be fast. Proposed technologies include slipstream drives, FTL drives, and a few more exotic methods of travel. These different methods of travel are meant to pique the imagination of the gamer and make them want to explore (e.g. Mass Effect). While generally this is satisfied within the game itself it can spark genuine excitement in the gamer which lasts long after playing the game. It causes them to question why we aren’t working harder on trying to solve the problem of extended human spaceflight. That is just one example of how games could influence the development of technology. One of my personal favorite examples of technology is the Omni-tool from Mass Effect. The link explains it all, but Mass Effect brings in-game technology to the forefront with the Codex entries. As Shepard encounters different technologies, planets, and cultures from around the universe the Codex has entries which become available to read. What was intriguing about all of the technology entries was that there appeared to be some scientific grounding in each of them. It made me stop and wonder whether any of it was possible if the time and money were spent on it. However, as aforementioned it is unlikely any of this is possible, for now.

If there was a true reason why I have a fascination with sci-fi technology it probably has its roots in my childhood. I have loved Star Wars, Star Trek, and many others since I was old enough to understand the complexity to the universes that were created for those stories. If I could stand taking some math I likely would have not been a history major. I would be one of those people who wanted to see the technology of sci-fi lose its fiction. The introduction of new technologies in videogames only furthers that desire to create or to explore, just like books and movies.

  3 comments for “Sci-fi’s Technological Brilliance

  1. bharris
    February 14, 2013 at 10:08 am

    The worst part of sci-fi for me is the warp/hyperspeed/slipstream aspects. It just seems like cheating to me. I mean, I appreciate that it’s to make the stories more interesting, which it does, and I don’t really have that big of an issue with it. I’m sure that there are plenty of works that depend on sublight travel, but it’s generally something that is kind of swept aside in more popular sci-fi, which I think is a shame. Your What if Machine link was interesting, because after only watching the Halo video it seemed to me that they pretty much take issue not with the technology, but with the logistics. For example, they discuss genetic modification, but say that super strength would be kind of useless. I guess this is similar to the difference between hard sci-fi and soft(?) sci-fi, where one could really be considered a subgenre of fantasy and the other is much more realistic and, in my opinion, interesting. However, the issues brought up about Halo weren’t so much scientific or logistical, but more ethical and political. They bring up the great point that the military is entirely inept at predicting their next war, so it’s entirely likely that genetic modification could end up hurting whatever hegemonic master government ends up taking over humanity as we begin our move into space.

    Man moving faster than light would be cool.

  2. Isaac Whalen
    February 25, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    I think that it is important to consider that there is a difference between inspiration and prediction. The video and information about Jules Verne said that the reasons his ideas were so uncanny and unique is that they were more like predictions. I think that just because as of now gadgets and tools in video games can be actualized, we should look at what these items inspire. So wether the idea is based in real world fact, or seemingly impossible it’s important to look at what it concepts they might spark.

  3. Cameron
    February 25, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    I usually look at sci-fi in the opposite light. It never seems to be entirely about the technology, or if it is about the technology it’s exploring the implications of that kind of thing rather than the thing on its own. Science fiction is an interesting genre because its fictional technology alienates the genre from the ‘real’ world, granting enough distance between the narrative being delivered and the real-world issues to examine them relatively divorced from ideological or partisan bias. Star Trek, for instance, has a long history of dealing with race, gender, religion and sexual orientation by using alien races to represent those concepts, curtailing the knee-jerk reactions one would receive if the show were set on regular old Earth rather than the Starship Enterprise.

    I’m not entirely sure sci-fi games have reached the point of constructive social commentary comparable to something like Star Trek, especially granted games have an arbitrary fascination technology (e.g. Crysis, which accomplishes little more than showing off its own engine rather than delivering a solid message.) Even so, there’s plenty of social commentary to be found in Mass Effect. Undertones of racialism, in particular, permeate the narrative but aren’t really highlighted in the mechanics themselves. It’d be interesting to see a game which fully embraces something like racial commentary in its core mechanics, rather than merely mentioning the ideas through dialog.

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