Science Fiction Problems: Video Games (The When’s, Why’s, Do’s, and Don’ts) Part IV

This is the third part of a series. To see Part I, click here. To see Part II, click here. To see Part III, click here.

Hello all, it’s that time of the week again, and I’m here with another installment of Science Fiction Problems. I’ve still got a couple things left to say about video games in Science Fiction, but next week will be the last part of this series. I’ve got some new stuff after that , starting with a review of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. This week, I wanted to highlight another aspect of modern video games that I haven’t seen handled in a way that makes sense.

Mobile Games and the Future of Location-Independent Computing

Premise: Pigs steal eggs. Birds retaliate. Entertainment ensues.

Last week I talked about social games and the Skinner Box trick that’s used in many of them, but there’s another similar genre that most people lump together with Farmville and its ilk: mobile games. Games created specifically to be played on a mobile device such as a smartphone or a tablet PC, devices that otherwise have very limited hardware and are incapable of the sort of AAA games available for higher-end laptops and desktop computers. Angry Birds and other puzzle-type games are some of the most known, but a quick look online will return results for a much broader spectrum of games available, including a large number of surprisingly sophisticated ones, many with 3D graphic s and complicated programming that would have been considered current-generation only 7-10 years ago… now on a device that can fit in the palm of your hand.

While we’ve already discussed the Technological Singularity and how it’s not necessarily reasonable to assume that our current rate of development will continue to increase exponentially, within the span of 2 years, we have achieved a growth in the sophistication of mobile games that it took the rest of the video gaming industry 10 years to accomplish. And, the further we go into developing this technology, the more a particular trend becomes clear- the decreasing need for location-based computing, relying on a cumbersome, stationary system on which to play games or use our work-related programs.

Not only that, but there is currently a push for individual game consoles or computers to be done away with entirely. Listening to the news or browsing the internet, you’ve probably come across the term “cloud computing“, which essentially means using a network of computers as if it were one giant one. This method can be used with wireless internet to connect a smaller device normally incapable of a given task to use the cloud to handle it instead- meaning that a mobile device can use the computing power or data storage capacity of a whole group of computers instead of its own, meager hardware. A common example is the ever-useful (and beloved in our particular group) Google Docs. All that information is stored online, with practically no limits to memory, and can be accessed from a smartphone or any other device, without storing the data on the device itself. Go check it out if you haven’t already, its incredibly useful.

So, what does this mean, exactly? Well, right now there are limitations on how much data can be transmitted wirelessly, but after that’s solved, it could mean being able to play high-end games and use hardware-intensive programs on the go, without having to lug around an expensive laptop. This could mean playing the latest video games on your cellphone, or editing high-resolution images or videos, easily, on a mobile device.

What we’re looking at is a future without a limit on what can be done with a mobile device.

How this figures into Science Fiction

OK, so now that I’m done geeking out about mobile technology, we can get down to actually using this stuff. I think many of you have seen a sci-fi movie where the characters are using some kind of arm-mounted computer (usually with a holographic display), but I’m sure you just assumed that the little unit had all the hardware built into it, and it was cheap enough to be widely used. Well, while that would certainly be possible and plausible, it’s more likely that such a computer would use a network like the one I described above. Obviously, you could have such a device and never go into any detail as to how it works, but if you want to add a layer of world-building that will make your world feel more real, here are a few ways you could utilize this emerging technology:

  • Differences Between Consumer and Professional Devices: If there are very few expensive parts in the actual computers that the general populace of a culture purchase, the devices will be very affordable and inexpensive. There would likely be a service fee to connect the device to the network, but that wouldn’t be necessary. The only downsides would be that the device would not work as well (or at all) without a network connection, and using a wireless connection could open the door for government monitoring of data and possible hacking.  More expensive devices could contain the hardware, not relying on a network and therefore not be as vulnerable to hacking or connection problems. This could be a way to explain why the elite hacker in your group of characters isn’t nabbed by the evil corporation he constantly harasses, or why a group of activists is constantly found out by a government bent on global dictatorship.
  • Saturation of Media and Video Games: With such cheap, powerful devices available, the level of saturation a culture would see of media in all its forms would surpass anything we see today. As I mentioned in the last post, practically anyone could develop games or programs themselves, and depending on the culture, the kinds of media that the populace creates (or are able to create) and consumes would be a great way of characterizing them. With mobile devices, a government could easily censor forms of speech it doesn’t like, but potentially anyone could become an activist in their own right (or, as it were, the protagonist of your story).
As you can see, there are several avenues that have not yet been explored, and several more that can be discovered as we think about what this trend of mobile technology might mean in our future. The fact that such powerful tools could potentially be so widely available means that such a world could be radically different from our own, and the potential dangers and opportunities beg to be written.
Well, that’s all for this week. Next week will be a wrap-up and summation of what we’ve discussed in this series, and a list of questions to ask yourself when building a science fiction world with these ideas in mind. Until then, here’s a great video essay presentation from a small group of video game industry insiders that covers the topic I discussed in a very professional (and amusing) fashion:

Extra Credits: Consoles Are the New Coin-Op

(I tried to embed it, but alas. No youtube links. They’ve done several others, so if you’re at all interested in the video game industry and discussing video games as a medium, they’re all fantastic.)

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About erikthereddest

I'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.

Posted on July 20, 2011, in Cliches, Editing, Erik Marsh, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, science fiction problems, World Creation, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Miniaturization has been one of the defining technological developments of the entire computer age. Not too long ago, we thought it had died because, gosh darn it, those processors can only get so small, plus they were overheating like nobody’s business. Then we remembered something: there are other things to miniaturize. Thus mobile devices have taken off. Miniature wireless connections, miniature display screens, miniature video cards, miniature memory, miniature everything (including, sadly, controls and buttons).

    This too shall pass. And then we’ll start miniaturizing the next newest technology. Wrist-mounted fusion battery, anyone?

  2. Wayne the Shrink

    When considering this consider also the results of all this opportunity. Assuming that there is a world wide connection possiblity, that anyone can and does program, and that all this is constantly available either externally (wireless devices) or internally (direct connection to the brain) the impact of any single or even gtoup intervention is limited by the incredible amount available that is increasing geometrically all the time. Even today I am aware, probably, of no more than 1% of what is out there on the Internet. Yes, it can have a large effect, the Chinese revolution and what is going on now in the near East is evidence of this. At the same time it requires my interest to find it and be involved. A lot goes on about which I know nothing and have no involvement.

  1. Pingback: Science Fiction Problems: Video Games (Summation 1) Part V « While We're Paused

  2. Pingback: Science Fiction Problems: Video Games (Summation 2) « While We're Paused

  3. Pingback: Science Fiction Roundup: Space Tubes, The Internet Crunch, and Rat Paralysis | Lantern Hollow Press

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