E3, the ultimate conference in the video game industry, is just days from beginning and Square Enix has previewed their hottest new title: Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This trailer rocks! Set in the year 2027, the game will explore a future where human augmentation is becoming more common, causing social and political disturbances. As fun as Deus Ex looks, all the gritty violence and social angst has me wondering: why do we always paint the future as a dystopia? Check out the very cool trailer below and see if you don’t agree that while the world of Deus Ex looks exciting, it’s not one you would want to actually live in.
From the opening images of Icarus burning his wings in the sky, it’s clear Deus Ex: Human Revolution is not a video game that paints humanity’s pursuit of technology in a positive light. Corporations are running amok, riots fill the streets, and licenses to kill seem to be handed out to everyone with cybernetic arms. That makes for an awesome first-person shooter, but not a great place to raise your kids.
Well, Deus Ex is far from alone in its point of view. Take a quick survey of Hollywood movies about the future and you’ll see that Americans don’t seem to think well of our chances in the upcoming years. Fictional futures always seem to include some sort of catastrophe, whether it’s a lack of resources (Soylent Green), biological disaster (Children of Men), or socio-political oppression (Brazil). Even potentially beneficial technologies like genetics (Gattaca) and artificial intelligence (Blade Runner) are painted in dystopian colors.
I understand that any good movie needs a conflict, otherwise we wouldn’t want to watch it. “Soylent Green is made of…a sustainable plant product!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I also know that the genre of science fiction was pretty much invented to speculate upon consequences of our climb towards technology. Still, I’m worried that the default portrayal of advanced technology is negative. What does that say about our hopes for the future? How does that affect our attitudes today? Most of the time when I talk to a friend about accelerating technology I end up hearing this sentiment from them: “Wow that’s really cool…we’ll probably find some way to *#$@ that up though. Ha ha.”
There’s a pernicious pessimism that pervades people’s perceptions about the future. It’s easy to find reasons why it would exist: there’s an oil spill poisoning our oceans, the global economy’s still having trouble, and wars keep going and going and going. Yet accelerating technologies offer some viable hopes for overcoming these problems. Institutions like Singularity University, for instance, are specifically geared towards leveraging new tech to solve humanity’s grand challenges. I’m perfectly willing to admit and face the possible dangers poised by our trip towards the Singularity, but I’d like to see a little more equality in our portrayal of that journey. So go play Deus Ex: Human Revolution (in 2011) but then watch a TED presentation or something. Balance is good for you.
[screen capture and video credit: Square Enix]
[source: Deus Ex: Human Revolution]