Spaceships. Lasers. Robots. Aliens.
The science fiction genre has been central to gaming for decades—from Space Invaders to Half-Life, Starcraft to Eve Online, gamers have been living in one futuristic fantasy or another for decades. It’s common to see games touch on the possibilities—and potential dangers—of life among the stars or a world of advanced technology.
While in gaming as a whole an equal amount of attention has been given to the fantasy genre, virtual reality is overwhelmingly dominated by science fiction titles. A look at some of the promising up-and-coming VR games shows just how stacked the new technology is with science fiction stories. Sure, there are titles set in the modern world or fantasy settings, but they’re definitely in the minority.
So what is it about virtual reality that has developers quickly reaching for the sci-fi setting? What makes VR the perfect platform for exploring the possibilities of the future of humanity?
Looking Forward, Not Back
VR seems so futuristic to us, that the mere act of putting on the headset feels like we’re entering into a world of science fiction. Slipping a VR headset on, it’s hard not to think of Elijah Wood’s character in Back to Future 2 being disgusted at how simplistic retro 80’s arcade games were—this is the future we’ve been expecting, and everything else pales in comparison.
With the excitement that comes from experiencing a new form of technology, it’s natural for the mind to wander to other cultural pillars of the ‘future’—hovercars, spaceships, and robots are all common ideas that come up when people talk about what they’re hoping to see in the next few decades of humanity. While Back to the Future 2 didn’t feature the most accurate vision of our age, the idea of future technology is still fascinating to many.
It’s natural, then, for these ideas to appear in VR games—the excitement surrounding innovative technology makes science fiction a comfortable fit for a virtual experience. But this is far from the only reason why sci-fi fits so perfectly in a VR environment: virtual reality also benefits from the freedom of storytelling provided by visions of the future.
Across many types of media, science fiction has appeal for a variety of reasons.
It’s often used by storytellers either to suggest the possibilities of future civilization and technology (as with anything by Isaac Asimov) or as a lens through which modern society can be critiqued (as with anything by HG Wells).
For the most part, video games have stuck to looking at conflict in a science fiction setting: Games like Halo show the problems of living in an intergalactic community, while Portal shows the dangers of giving machines too much control over our lives.
VR science fiction games are exciting opportunities to explore both types of stories; developers are salivating over the possibilities afforded by inhabiting a wholly imagined futuristic setting. Many of the upcoming games for VR platforms, such as Adr1ft, The Assembly, and Robinson: The Journey all use far-flung science fiction settings to tell powerful stories full of moments of wonder, poignant drama, and suspense.
This is how Loading Human uses its setting: it’s a story about the not-too-distant future, using the concept of a life-prolonging technology to drive a story that’s centered around family ties and how much people are willing to sacrifice for their loved ones. From stylish futuristic apartments to dark, atmospheric laboratories, the game uses the time period in which it’s set to deliver a relatable story of how life might continue in the future. At its core, the game is the story of relationships, and how in the years to come humanity will develop around our familial ties. The human interactions at the center of the story give a depth and grounding to the science fiction world, which means that the story is more than just a planet-hopping fantasy.
Marriage of Old and New
Loading Human is in good company when it comes to blending grounded, human challenges with a futuristic setting. The best science fiction stories don’t just dream of the future: they borrow from both the here and now, and the tales of the past, to create a fictional world that feels believable and touches on the struggles that humans have had throughout our time on this earth. Our culture and the challenges we face are typically cyclical, with the same societal flaws causing us problems time and again.
The Assassin’s Creed games take this concept of revisiting the past in science fiction to its absolute extreme, as futuristic technology allows the protagonist to revisit the memories of his ancestors, providing a science fiction story that is also a historical drama.
Similarly, it’s common for sci-fi games to reference ancient mythology as a way of reflecting the tales of humanity’s past. Mass Effect, Halo, and Loading Human all borrow names and character archetypes from Greek myth—this gives a depth and historic flavor to the games, making the lore behind their stories feel more relatable and grounded, in spite of the high-flying science fiction setting.
Next Stop: The Future
Science fiction is a lot of fun, and it’s no surprise that developers are excited to bring gamers futuristic tales to experience with the exciting new technology—plenty of VR games currently in development are no doubt going to be a big hit with players, creating new science fiction worlds that will be remembered for many years to come.
Sci-fi can entertain, educate, and leave players with a sense of hope or concern for the future. The genre has the power to tell emotional and thought-provoking stories about where humanity is heading.
To be its most powerful, though, science fiction needs to rely on its past. The best VR science fiction stories won’t just look forward to the possibilities of new technology: they’ll draw from history to show a more nuanced idea of what’s next for humanity.
As VR makes the leap from science fiction to common usage, gamers have the chance to experience the simulated future of technology.
After all, who needs a real hovercar? Virtual reality is much more fun, anyway.
Loading Human is a science fiction virtual reality game that shows both the wonders and dangers of scientific advancement. To try out the game for yourself and discover its powerful message, preorder your copy today.