Whether you love it, hate it or feel aggressively indifferent towards it, Sony’s PlayStation 4 reveal conference happened this week. During the conference, we witnessed some interesting hardware announcements, some new and slightly confusing IPs, and some more Watch_Dogs gameplay (omg omg omg omg).
But despite the excitement surrounding Sony’s new console, and what it might mean for the games industry, something else about the conference stuck in my mind well after that moron from Media Molecule has departed from the stage and the word “creative” had stopped ringing inside my head like a church bell.
It seems like the growing concern towards an imminent “cyber-apocalypse” (or some kind of totalitarian government that exploits people’s dependence on technology to assume control) is the “in thing” with game developers at the moment. What with Watch_Dogs, Remember Me and now inFamous: Second Son focusing on the concept of surveillance states and the general public’s need for technology, it’s clearly something that’s been playing on the minds of many people for quite a
It isn’t the conference’s dependence on a single idea that has piqued my interest though (we saw plenty of that at E3 with the “bows and helicopters” debacle); rather, I’m more interested in the various ways in which Sony seemed to obliviously and hilariously address this “cyber dystopia”, or what I am now calling “Sonypunk”.
About a third of the way through Sony’s press conference in NYC, the audience’s attention was fixed on the large, “Titan Tron”-esque screen that loomed over the auditorium. On said screen, several major developers from all corners of the games industry could be seen waxing lyrical about the huge new steps the PlayStation 4 would be taking. Combining PR buzz words with real, tangible points about the console, the video segment resembled a talking heads documentary wherein every word was scripted by Peter Molyneux.
Humorously vague PR speak aside, the video segment took a rather strange, and quite frankly scary, turn when the developers in question started talking about shared experiences between both consoles and mobile platforms.
In minimalistic, animated form, a man can be seen on the screen exiting his house. He then boards a train, and after completing his journey, he travels the rest of the way on foot. He does all of this whilst glued to his mobile phone, his eyes and mind captivated by the sleek, black object he cradles in his hand. During this segment, the man passes by similarly fixated humans, each of whom are focused solely on their tablets/laptops/phones; not giving him, or each other a first glance, let alone a second. Looming behind these automatons, are huge block letters ominously spelling out: “INTEGRATE”. The automatons remain undeterred. Just to make things even more Orwellian, the developers are now spouting phrases like: “The world is changing”, and “Integrated gaming experiences will follow you everywhere you go.”
On their own, these things seem quite harmless. But when they’re assembled together by one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world in a video package designed to sell you technology, the whole thing becomes rather frightening. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not some Luddite or technophobe afraid of the overwhelming leaps in power technology has made in recent years, and I certainly don’t think Sony is behind some sort of conspiracy to control our hearts and minds with tech. Whilst the aforementioned video did leave me feeling uneasy, I think the whole thing was just a gross misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that gets even sillier when you consider what happened 20 minutes later.
Sucker Punch’s inFamous: Second Son reveal was undeniably silly in its own right, and was an uncomfortable contrast to what Sony had been boasting about just 20 minutes earlier. After being barraged with images of an alleged technological utopia; a world wherein all of our electronic devices are integrated and joined into one cohesive network, we are now seemingly being condemned for our reliance on technology, and the price our freedom has paid for it. Sucker Punch and Sony are almost endearing in their complete disregard for each other’s presentations; presenting two wholly contrasting ideas about how technology can control our lives, both in order to sell us more technology.
As Nate Fox informs us that 1.3 million US citizens have had their phones traced and monitored by the government, Sony wants us all to be glued to our phones as part of their “integrated PlayStation ecosystem”.
To top things off, Ubisoft then emerged from behind the Titan Tron to reveal more details about Watch_Dogs, another sci-fi game that revolves around surveillance states and technophilia. This presentation seemed to fit neatly in between the two presentations before it; offering players a world in which they can rebel against an oppressive, tech savvy government (a la inFamous: Second Son), whilst still using and exploiting technology to achieve their rebellious ends. Said exploitation seems to apply both the game’s world and the real world, as Yves Guillemot promised that Watch_Dogs would feature cross platform play with mobile devices (a la Sony’s PS4 reveal video).
Although the possibility of a cyberpunk/technological dystopia is a frighteningly relevant issue in today’s culture, I’m not trying to incite some sort of vendetta against Sony/Sucker Punch/Ubisoft. I’m not mad at any of the parties mentioned for their unique (and seemingly oblivious) portrayals of a technological utopia/dystopia, be they real or fictional. Rather, I just found the whole thing fun, entertaining, frightening and confusing all at once. The guts it took for each party to come out and contradict each other’s presentations, whether it was intentional or not, deserves notice, if not admiration; and I for one thought it was worth talking about.
As long as “surveillance state cyber dystopia” doesn’t become the new “modern military shooter”, I’m a happy bunny.