Given my “day job”, I love games. But, they seem to be conspicuously absent in a rather technical-minded genre like cyberpunk, particularly in the classic works. So, let’s take a look at the role of games in the future.

The only older cyberpunk type story I can think of that includes games is the story “Dogfight” by Michael Swanwick and William Gibson. In the story the loser protagonist becomes fascinated with a holographic plane combat game called Spads & Fokkers. The story has typical cyberpunk elements: mental “blocks” imposed by others to control people, mental-enhancement drugs, a bleak outcome, etc. Really, the game is just another prop in the story, something to drive the protagonist and maybe give a bit of “future shock” to someone from the mid-80s. But, it does serve the story well as it shows a mental competition involving technology.

A more modern example would be Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, where there is mention of a game that uses the book’s ubiquitous augmented reality technology. But, even this is more of a passing mention than a major plot point in the book.

I’m not sure about more recent stories and if they’ve included games. Perhaps some of avid readers or actual authors can chime in and share your perspective on this.

Even with the dearth of games in cyberpunk, we obviously have a lot of cyberpunk in games. Neuromancer was turned into a fairly popular graphical adventure game for the time. There are also conversions from other media, such as the Matrix and Ghost in the Shell games. In traditional paper RPGs we have Shadowrun which melded fantasy and cyberpunk aspects together.

So, why are game developers so interested in cyberpunk, but the classic cyberpunk authors generally seem uninterested in games. I suspect that the main reason is because games in the mid-80s were not quite as awe-inspiring as they are today. You had to be a pretty serious computer geek to be into games and an even bigger geek to see any potential. The great “Video Game crash” also happened in the early 80s, so video games were falling out of favor with the mainstream. In the end, I expect most of the classic cyberpunk authors thought games were more of a passing fad. By the time Vinge wrote Rainbows End in the mid-2000s, video games had re-established themselves as a dominating force in the mainstream.

One interesting modern trend in where games and control comes into focus is “gamification“. Taking game elements that make gaming compelling and putting them into a non-game scenario. Usually this is put in terms of getting people to do things beneficial for a company that they might not want to do normally. One example given have included a toothbrush that tracks your tooth brushing habits, awarding points good for a discount on toothpaste if you brush regularly. Another example I’ve heard is where a customer service representative (CSR) might find helping customers like playing a game; by helping customers the CSR might gain experience and levels, allowing for more options to help others. A true cyberpunk wouldn’t take long to see how these types of systems could be subverted for use that’s not in the target’s best interest.

What do you think? Any more stories that have games in them that you can think of? Any theories as to why the classic stories seem not to take much notice of games? What about games in the future?