I’d wager everybody has spent a minute or two imagining their own utopia, and a decent couple of days asking themselves what demands I would make of this perfect world. Aside from a 24 hour library, my one wish would be that we raise our standards when it comes to our dystopias.
First of all, the absence of society does not a social critique make. Fallout claims to be a roleplaying game but exactly what role are we meant to be playing? Emotionally detached errand-runner is as much an interesting fantasy as a sepia-toned scrapheap is somewhere I’d like to spend upwards of 100 hours.
So often the standout feature of dystopian fiction is the personal experience, and the experience of having the personal ripped away from you by whoever happens to be in charge. The fiction on our shelves and screens has been doing this for years whilst our videogames use these societies as set pieces for hackneyed hero’s journeys or gratuitous combat.
Frankly we deserve better. Stop giving us the same old wasteland or reducing dystopias to open-world power fantasies. Give us powerlessness in the face of injustice and social experiences as incisive as they are unsettling. Indie games such as Papers Please and The Stanley Parable are streets ahead here. Their environments ensnare the player and force them to consider their own choices to conform and their power as individuals.
Video games have such untapped potential to provide rich dystopian experiences and create conversation in a way other mediums can only dream of. They needn’t sacrifice playability or zest, only the tired tropes that have exhausted the genre. It’s time developers answered the call of this cavalcade of bleak futures and ushered in a brave new world for the dystopia.