The future, however far away it may be, has always been an easy time frame to tackle in games. Since we can't see into the future, developers have all the leeway to make a game as crazy as they want. I imagine the entire synopsis that Platinum Games had when they created Vanquish consisted of one line: "Giant robots, and you can do a Pete Townsend knee-slide with rockets in your boots." When questioned about the premise, their response was "Because, the future, man!" Then it got the green light. And thank God, because that game is awesome.
But as time goes on, it seems like more and more games take place not just in the future, but a post-apocalyptic future. I mean, just take a look at this Wikipedia page for post-apocalyptic games, and I'm sure that's nowhere near a complete list. Even games that take place in the past sometimes have an altered history that takes place after some catastrophic event, the Resistance series being a prime example. Remember the two-part episode of South Park titled "The Cartoon Wars?" If not, you probably know it by the name everyone actually calls it: "The episode where they ripped on Family Guy." There's the scene where the manatees choose random balls for Family Guy's non sequiturs. It almost seems like some games are concocted from that same idea, except one of the balls is always 'post-apocalyptic'.
Not to say that I don't love a lot of the games that fit into that category. Gears of War is one of my favorite series, and not just in this past generation, but in general. Even though that series doesn't take place on Earth, it is set in a very depressing world after an event called "Emergence Day." The Last of Us was easily my favorite game of 2013, but again, you're playing in a bleak, sad world following the events of a fungi outbreak that claims most of humanity. All those games about zombie outbreaks? I would put those in the same class, even though some of them aren't technically in the future.
Then we have the games that caused me to write this blog in the first place: Fallout 3 and Rage. Now, before I get started, I'll preface the rest of this blog by saying that I didn't play very much of either game. Fallout 3 wasn't my cup of tea, and while I didn't hate Rage, I didn't feel compelled to continue after my initial time with the game. But this is not a discussion about either game's quality, I simply want to take a look at their settings and premises.
First, let's compare what happened in each game to give the world its current state.
Rage's world is the result of an asteroid impacting Earth in the year 2029, and the game takes place in 2135. In Fallout 3, there was (duh) a nuclear fallout in 2077, and the game itself begins 200 years later in 2277. So, both had a cataclysmic event take place in the not-too-distant future, and both games start in a future that no one living today is likely to see.
Now, let's compare the player characters.
In neither game is your character given a name. It's not that surprising, they're both RPGs, where not naming the character is commonplace. But both characters do have nicknames given to them by other survivors. In Rage, you control the "Ark Survivor." In Fallout 3, you're referred to as the "Lone Wanderer."
What about the antagonists?
Both games have their various types of mutant enemies, and their various types of human enemies, but the comparisons are greater than that. Both worlds are controlled by oppressive, dictatorial regimes. Rage has "The Authority" and Fallout 3 has "The Enclave."
I don't have anything against either one of these games, but it's hard to argue that they aren't very similar in tone. If you were actually in either one of these worlds, it would just be...depressing. That's the only word that comes to mind. You ever see the film adaptation of The Road? That's the level of depression I'm talking about. It goes well beyond the "I'm 14 and my girlfriend of three weeks dumped me" kind of bummer, and more like the "Oh, there's no food, no water, no freedom, and no hope" kind of bummer.
But my question is who decided that the future has to be such a terrible time? Why does the world have to be a barren wasteland? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that all current games that take place in the future do this, but a lot of them do. Just because the world is being taken over and you face seemingly impossible odds doesn't mean you have to smear your guyliner and cry about it. Take Jimbo and Sully from Contra III: Alien Wars for instance, or "Bill" and "Lance" as we all refer to them as, because continuity means jack in the Contra universe.
Contra III takes place in the year 2636, and earth is overrun with aliens (again), but do Sully and Jimbo run and hide in the corner when Red Falcon comes to town? F no! They grab their machine guns and do manly poses underneath circling pillars of fire. There's none of this "Oh, woe is me. What is I gonna do?" bullcrap. They put their iPods on Slayer and go to town, kicking alien arse until the world is safe once again.
Alright, let's get away from topics like totalitarianism and alien invasions. Let's start talking about how fun the future can be.
I'm a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger. You give me a movie he starred in during the 80s and 90s and I'll fight you if you tell me it's anything short of a masterpiece. He's a master thespian even when he's not acting. Observe.
Simply brilliant. Anyway, one of his films that's been lost in the shuffle over the years is The Running Man. If you've never seen it, you really should. It's about a wrongfully imprisoned police pilot between the years of 2017 and 2019. The United States has become a police-state, and criminals participate in a television game show called "The Running Man" to try and win their freedom. In the show, the contestant fights what they call "Stalkers" to the death in various environments (imagine them to be like American Gladiators). The Running Man is kind of like The Hunger Games, but with less whiny teenage boys and more Jesse Ventura mustache.
This premise was later recreated by Midway in the form of Smash TV. I'm not sure if games like it existed before, but to my knowledge, Smash TV was the original twin-stick shooter. The game takes place in the unknown future of 1999, and has the player(s) taking out goons room by room, occasionally encountering a boss (like Stalkers), all while collecting futuristic prizes like VCRs and listening to the host's (Richard Dawson) little quips, before eventually defeating the host and winning the love of his beautiful, mulleted twins. At least, that's how it should have ended.
See? Just because you live in a dystopian future doesn't mean you can't have nice things.
Moving on to one final game, let's discuss why sports in the future will be so much better than they are now. If there's one thing that I know about the future, it's that there will be robots freaking everywhere! That's the one thing that everyone seems to be in agreement on, you can't get away from robots. They'll be used for everything from helping us with household tasks to playing baseball. Thus, we have Base Wars.
Did you see that? The pitcher shot the ball out of his arm cannon! I would watch every game of the season if pitchers could do that. Let's also take into consideration that robots have no use for monetary rewards, meaning we will no longer have to listen to multi-million dollar athletes cry about how they can't feed their family.
Also, in Base Wars, fighting is not only allowed, but encouraged, just like minor league hockey. And we're not talking about your average baseball skirmishes that usually result in a bunch of pushing, pointing, and name-calling, and no actual violence. We're talking about fights any time there is a close play, and they get to use weapons! How much better would actual baseball be if you could carry your bat with you around the bases and take out the second baseman? Also, guns...
Again, I'm not trying to take anything away from current games, I would just prefer it if developers started making the future seem like something to look forward to, and not something to dread. Think positive, folks.
Thanks for reading.