5 min read

What Writers Know About Games

Some quotes from some of my favorite science fiction authors that relate to game design.

vroooommmmm space travel, excelent

I'm a bit of a sci-fi geek, and I'm often struck by the prescience and thoughtfulness of some of the masters.  Sometimes it overlaps with my passion for game design and the result is sometimes scary but always awesome.  First up is the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness:

"The novelist's business is lying.

The weather bureau will tell you what next Tuesday will be like, and the Rand
Corporation will tell you what the twenty-first century will be like.  I don't
recommend that you turn to the writers of fiction for such information.  It's
none of their business.  All they're trying to do is tell you what they're
like, and what you are like -- what's going on -- what the weather is now,
today, this moment, the rain, the sunlight, look!  Open your eyes; listen,
listen.  That is what the novelists say.  But they don't tell you what what
you will see and hear.  All they can tell you is what they have seen and
heard, in their time in this world, a third of it spent in sleep and dreaming,
another third of it spent telling lies.

"The truth against the world!"  -- Yes.  Certainly.  Fiction writers, at least
in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it.
But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in
inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or
occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a
great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of
lies, they say, There!  That's the truth!

They may use all kinds of facts to support their tissue of lies.  They may
describe the Marshalsea Prison, which was a real place, or the battle of
Borodino, which really was fought, or the process of cloning, which really
takes place in laboratories, or the deterioration of a personality, which is
described in real textbooks of psychology; and so on.  This weight of
verifiable place-event-phenomenon-behavior makes the reader forget that he is
reading a pure invention, a history that never took place anywhere but in that
unlocalisable region, the author's mind.  In fact, while we read a novel, we
are insane -- bonkers.  We believe in the existence of people who aren't
there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle of Borodino with them, we may
even become Napoleon.  Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.
Is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its

- Ursula K. Le Guin, 1976
"The group of artists and scientists that had so far done least was the one that
had attracted the great interest - and the greatest alarm.  This was the team
working on "total identification." The history of the cinema gave the clue to
their actions. First sound, then color, then stereoscopy, then Cinerama, had
made the old "moving pictures" more and more like reality itself.  Where was
the end of the story?  Surely, the final stage would be reached when the
audience forgot it was an audience, and became part of the action.  To achieve
this would involve stimulation of all the senses, and perhaps hypnonsis as well,
but many believed it to be practical.  When the goal was attained, there would be
an enormous enrichment of human experience.  A man could become - for a while, at
least - any other person, and could take part in any conceivable adventure, real
or imaginary.  He could even be a plant or an animal, if it proved possible to
capture and record the sense impressions of other living creatures.  And when the
"program" was over, he would have acquired a memory as vivid as any experience
in his actual life - indeed, indistinguishable from reality itself."
- Arthur C. Clarke, 1953
"They had changed the simulator.  He could still control the perspective
and the degree of detail, but there were no ship's controls anymore.
Instead, it was a new panel of levers, and a small headset with earphones
and a small microphone.

The technician who was waiting there quickly explained how to wear the headset.

"But how do I control the ships?" asked Ender.

Mazer explained.  He wasn't going to control ships anymore.  "You've reached
the next phase of your training.  You have experience in every level of strategy,
but now it's time for you to concentrate on commanding an entire fleet.  As you
worked with toon leaders in Battle School, so now you will work with squadron

They're already in place in their own simulators.  You will speak to them
through the headset.  The new levers on your control panel enable you to
see from the perspective of any of your squadron leaders...

It was pleasure; it was play.  The computer-controlled enemy was none too
bright, and they always won despite their mistakes, their miscommunications...

The simulator would display the situation on the screen.  In that moment
Ender learned for the first time what his own fleet would consist of and
how the enemy fleet was deployed...

Ender waited for his conclusion.  "But instead of mindlessly following
these same patterns, I will be controlling the enemy simulation."
- Orson Scott Card, 1985
Sadly, OSC is a bit of a nutjob now as far as I can tell.
Le sigh!  Still, interesting stuff from great minds. 

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