This is an extract from my Master's Thesis, which I'd like to turn into a book. I'm crowdfunding the project here - please help to make it happen
Every ship seen in Skies of Arcadia has a unique design, organised around the logic of the six moons and six civilisations. This elemental logic determines the mechanism by which the ship is conceived as being able to fly, as well as its overall appearance. Valuan ships, which take their power from the yellow moon, run on electricity, while ships from Yafutoma are more dragon-like in appearance and benefit from a water-like ability to permeate areas ordinarily inaccessible.
Technology is here presented not as temporal advancement, but geographic determinism. Electric power, propellers and steel are not technologies that are accessed later on in the game, nor is the Valuan civilisation presented as more advanced than others. All technology is relative under the meta-structure of the Arcadia game-world, and in fact the most powerful technologies are the individual Gigas of each moon, rather than the cultural products of one civilisation over another.
This technological levelling is not a common theme in video games. The materiality of weapons in the Final Fantasy series presents a progressive path of advancement from crude materials, to valuable materials, to amaterial weapons created through cosmic means. This progression of material value can also be applied to technological advancement; metal alloys and magically imbued materials require more technical skill than primitive metals, and the cosmic processes by which ultimate weapons are created in the game are the apex of technological achievement. This parallels the advancement of players’ technical affinity as they learn how to game the battle system in order to achieve progress.
Another game that very clearly presents technology as a product of temporal advancement is Sid Meier`s Civilisation series. In these games, the player controls the development of a civilisation by managing the resources of a city-state, military strategising, and directing technological research. Technology in these games is presented as a tree leading from primitive technologies such as `the wheel’ and `meditation’ all the way to refridgeration, space travel and `future tech’.
Narratives of technological progress are so prevalent in video games that it is tempting to read them as essential to the medium, not least because the commercial success of software producers depends so closely on the favour of hardware manufacturers. It is surprising that a game such as Skies of Arcadia, designed to show off the 3D graphics rendering abilities of the Dreamcast, would diverge from the majority of games in its presentation of technological diversity.