I love science fiction — Peter Hartwell once said “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve“. All life and possibility is open to you, and yet you have questions about what will happen to you in the future… where you’ll be living. And how things will be. Will life be better? Different? How will we change?
There is only one genre of fiction that can lead you to those answers. Anyone can look to the past and tell you what already happened. Shelves and libraries of books tell you what’s happening right now. Science fiction can help explain what will happen tomorrow. And the next day. And the year after that. How your great, great grandchildren might be getting along. What you can do today to make the future better. Or what you might want to stop doing because, hey, you’re screwing things up.
I love SF and I love MMOs. The problem with SF MMOs is that they don’t do what good SF does — let us look at ourselves from a distance. The original Star Trek HAD that, had that NAILED. So did The Twilight Zone. Babylon 5 did it, too. I’m just talking TV shows because if I started in on books, we’d be here for hours. And that’s not the point of this post.
My disappointment with SF MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies or Anarchy Online is that they use the tropes of SF as a *setting* but past that — don’t talk about the human condition at all. People let fantasy get away with it because that is the stuff of daydreams and fairy stories; anything can happen; there are no rules or boundaries and all fantasy is in the past and dead. It can’t tell us anything we don’t already know.
My challenge — to myself and to any other out there who care to join in — is to give a brief description of a MMO that could only be set in a SF-nal world.
Here’s my first.
“Book of Days”
The Earth is under attack, and nobody knows it.
Each day people wake up, go to work, watch the tube, eat, get drunk, go to sleep, wake up and do it all over again.
Literally. Because each day they wake up, it’s the *same day*. Like ‘Groundhog Day*’, but also like ‘Tunnel Beneath the World’, a similar story by Philip Jose Farmer, shades of Dick’s “Radio Free Albemuth”.
This day when the player wakes up, is the day when they first realize they’ve lived this day before. What the player does is important. Maybe they head to a military base and volunteer. Maybe they see a sudden flash in the direction of the next block over and decide to have a look. Maybe they follow sirens to a hospital and volunteer there. Maybe they meet up with other people who have come awake and try to leave the city (but they can’t… why not? Maybe if they found out…)
Each day they can explore more, solve the puzzles — and there will be many, many clues that this day has been replayed for quite a long time. Because not everything is back the way it was the next day. Sometimes the changes you make will stick.
And when you have done enough, found out enough… you come to Day 2. And the plot continues, along with all those others who have progressed enough to see the next day, find out a little more. Maybe you find out you needed to do something back in Day 1 — that’s okay, you can go back a day at a time, maybe bring news to the people there — do what you need to do, and keep heading up and advancing… until Day 7, when, with the knowledge you’ve gained through the previous six Days which may have taken weeks of play, you gather together with all your fellow travelers and fight off the aliens…
Only to find that the aliens were *protecting* you from Day 8, which has now become inevitable…
Or maybe you worked it out a different way, and your Day 7 ended with the bright spaceships landing in the park as you greet your new friends warmly. “Book of Days” takes place in one city, but based on the actions you take, that one city can be one of any number of possibilities, that slowly converge.
It’s a puzzle, it’s an MMO, you can change the plot, but there IS a plot and an ending that is no ending at all.
Got a better idea for a SF MMO? Let me know!
(* Groundhog Day is one of the best SF movies I’ve seen. I am proud to steal from it.)