So, for the past 5 days, I’ve been playing Mass Effect. Yes I know, I’m a little late to the party when it comes to picking up these sorts of games, but I’m glad I showed up. As you make your way through the Science Fiction community, you begin to hear mummers of growing concern over the status of the genre as a whole. I think the recent news of NASA’s budget issues has only highlighted that issue at least in my eyes. I was a kid who grew up on Science Fiction, ate, drank, and breathed every bit of it whenever I could, so you must understand that when I levy claims that the genre is suffering, I don’t do so lightly. That’s not to say that I’m some kind of expert on Science Fiction, and really story writing in general, but I consider myself reasonably familiar with Science Fiction. At least, I consider myself familiar enough to sit here and do some pointless write-up that maybe someone will read.
Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to get to is these concerns that the Science Fiction genre is suffering as shows like Stargate Universe and Eureka are cancelled and the Television network that was supposed to be dedicated to Science Fiction has instead turned its interest to wrestling and finding loose brooms in dark and creepy houses. I like many other Science Fiction fans cringe as I hear more and more about the growing decline over the quality of Televised Science Fiction. But as I sat here and played a healthy 38 or so hours of Mass Effect (When all you’re doing is sending out resumes and making pizza, you have free time), I couldn’t help but be completely enthralled in the Universe as a whole. The Geth, the Protheiens, and all of that fun stuff; it makes for a fantastic story. I have to also admit that I nerdgasemed like a little girl around the end of the story when you get a communication from your ship letting you know that an entire fleet of reinforcements is on the way to get involved in a space battle slug fest.
And that’s when it hit me like a brick (Or Perhaps a Master Chief). The Science Fiction Genre isn’t dying, it just happened to make the leap to a completely different media much faster than its compatriot genres. I mean let’s think about this for a second shall we? Xenosaga, Halo, Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic, Half Life, and so many more. I could probably go about spouting video games that are based in Science Fiction for days and still not have covered the entire list. The thing is that Video Games were always going to be a medium for storytelling. Oh sure, there is that serotonin inducing component where you have the illusion of control (Or in Xenosaga’s case, no control at all Heyo!), but at the end of the day people don’t know about Halo because of”lol Frag Gernade”. Ask any actual Halo fan, and I bet they’ve probably picked up the novels its spawned and a great deal more. There is a gaming component there, but ultimately the truth lies more in how good the underlying Science Fiction story is.
And of all the genres to really jump ship and move over to a different media platform, Science Fiction is probably the best. Television and movies have always been constricted by what human beings on-screen are capable of doing (even in Avatar’s case). With a video game; however, people dismiss the lower quality graphical productions because it has an engrossing gameplay element. As such, you are getting a lot of incredibly good Science Fiction pieces that slip right under the radar of most Science Fiction nerds purely because they are viewed as nothing more than a video game. In truth, I would say that Mass Effect had a more compelling story line than at least 3 seasons of Voyagers. God knows, I certainly gave more of a shit when I killed that military brat Ashley off then when Voyager had Kes disappear. What’s even better about games like Xenosaga and the likes is the sheer amount of information that they’re willing to cough up about their internal universe.
I mean both Xenosaga and Mass Effect feature an entire codex centered on the idea of bullshitting their way through the Science (or lack thereof) to explain their universe. The thing is that it’s that kind of thing which drives me towards Science Fiction, a massive database of worthless knowledge in an imaginary universe. As was so eloquently put, Science Fiction is purely a method of explaining the Human Condition, and giving the viewer, or I suppose player, a view of the universe around that story thus making the story more meaningful. It allows the person that is playing their way through the story greater access and understanding of the human emotions that are involved. I think that’s why I liked KOTOR II so much.
It was a game that took the old philosophy of Good and Evil and then introduced a Character named Kreia. The entire purpose of Kreia in the game is to reveal that the Black and White morality that is the Jedi and Sith code are both inherently flawed. It explores the notion of what is good and evil. And I think it is game’s like this, that allow the exploration of rich and elaborate Universes, all driving at a single moral (That Humanity’s Determination is one of our greatest strengths, or that we must always be careful to monitor human nature even as technology evolves). These messages have not been lost, and Science Fiction as a Genre is not dying, in fact thanks to the video game industry it is thriving. Just as Star Trek inspired young children to grow up and become the Engineers and Physicist of today, so too will games like Metroid, Mechwarrior, and others go on to serve future generations with wild ideas about the future. We just have to be willing to embrace those things.
When the child shows off his collection of Halo inspired cardboard weaponry, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the activity. Sure, development of cardboard weaponry isn’t the top of agendas, but that kind of work isn’t without some amount of practical engineering and artistic skill. The scientist and engineers of the world grew up making the same silly kind of developments. They were drawing pictures of ships and submarines or looking into the stars wondering what might be out there. If it’s Gorn or Covenant Elite that draws the next generation of Astronauts into the stars I do not care. The important thing is the continuation of humanity’s scientific endeavor. That determination and willingness to thrive is the factor which drives us all and we must always be mindful of that.
Neil deGrasse Tyson said recently that he feared that the dream of Science is dead, and how scary it is that groups like NASA have had their funding so severely slashed. And while people may not see the connection between scientific progress and the genre of Science Fiction, I feel the need to remind people the two need each other. I’ve always heard Scientist talking about the notion that Science needs a better marketing department, and I’m here to say that Science Fiction has been playing that role for quite a while now. Science Fiction allows Science to dream, even if the Science Fiction is so completely off base that there is no hope of physics ever allowing it to happen. It provides humanity with a vision of what a better or worse tomorrow could be like, and as such gives Science a motivation and direction to aim for.
It allows the common man to see what Science can do (either for better or worse) to shape the path of humanity, and as such serves as a critical component to our continued outlook on the future. In times when the young are crying out under the crushing burden of mistakes of a bygone era, it provides a source of hope for the future. The Star Trek of the 60′s has evolved and changed. The heroes of the upcoming generation won’t be Picard or Kirk. Instead those heroes will be replaced by Commander Shepard and Master Chief. And while it is concerning that there is a massive military influence on today’s modern Science Fiction, it is science fiction no less. The most critical thing that we can do is be willing to embrace this new form of storytelling. As a community, Science Fiction fans need to be willing not only to get involved in this new media and more importantly be willing to discuss it, promote it, and most importantly have fun with it.
Let Mass Effect and the likes become the Star Trek of the modern age.