Friday, May 18, 2012

Where Has All the Science Fiction Gone?

As I was perusing the internet today looking to see when a favorite show of mine, Doctor Who, would be back for a seventh series, I was struck by an odd thought. With the end of Fringe in sight and a second season Falling Skies next month, I realized that was the full extent of the US science fiction I would be watching for the rest of the year. I was sadden to find that out, science fiction on US television has had some great runs; Quantum Leap, Stargate, Star Trek, and a number of smaller less well known shows.

I saw the trailer for JJ Abrams Revolution, to say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. J.J. Abrams has made a career out of cribbing sci-fi ideas from others and making them great; Lost, Star Trek, Fringe, Alcatraz, and now Revolution. The utter bombing of Fox’s poorly written Terra Nova, a hugely expensive show, means that science fiction is again relegated to the likes of USA, TNT and the Syfy channel. Science Fiction is a hard nut to crack, while other genres like procedurals and soaps can churn out shows ad nauseum, science fiction is far from a sure thing. Canada and Great Britain have thrown out some very good sci-fi in the last decade or so to pick up the slack as US companies get gun shy. Torchwood, Misfits, The Fades, Primeval, and the long running Doctor Who and others, have all been very good sci-fi, if at times hugely campy. And as television struggles to bring quality science fiction, so too are video games mired in mud. While there are a few highly notable series in regards to science fiction namely Halo, Mass Effect, Resistance, and BioShock among others the fact is that science fiction is one of the most underutilized genres when it comes to good video games.

Science fiction is what brought me to Halo. Before the rise of the modern console FPSs’ or First Person Shooters the only experience I had with that kind of game were old games. Nintendo 64s Bond, the PC games Doom and Descent, games that were not exactly big on story. The first time I saw Halo, I thought Ringworld, a series of books by Larry Niven. The idea that games could be science fiction, that they could have good stories outside of the RPG genre was new to me. Halo to me was a revelation, the idea that games could be so much more.

Science Fiction is risky and these days the economy forecast is cloudy with a chance of more storms ahead, it’s not surprising that companies are trying to go for the sure thing. The thing is, like John Cusack’s eponymous movie, the sure thing tends to be something you wouldn’t really want anyways; sometimes taking the risks gives the greatest rewards. Science Fiction has given us some of our greatest games; it would be a shame to forget it now.

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