Lately i’ve been thinking about why I prefer playing in fantasy worlds over sci-fi worlds. For my reading I tend to like the futuristic sci-fi type stuff more (I do enjoy both almost equally), yet whenever I get invited to play in a sci-fi campaign I tend to decline. It felt right in my head even though I couldn’t explain why. This happens in video games as well. I tend to have more complaints about sci-fi games then fantasy games. it has taken me a while to figure out why, and the fact that Mass Effect was just released has gotten me thinking about it more and I’ve pinned down the main reason.
I have a higher tolerance for fantasy trappings used as plot devices. In science fiction settings I get frustrated that advanced tech is pretty much either ‘modern stuff with chrome’ or ‘macguffin plot device that moves the plot’. In fantasy settings I don’t mind this as magic doesn’t make sense. In sci-fi settings I get frustrated that there isn’t anything exciting or new. In mass effect there are shotguns that are basically the same as today’s shotguns with some silvery finish and glowing lights (well, the shotguns of a decade or two ago anyway. Apparently we lose the tech for shotguns that bend around corners in the future) . Where is my gun that sends out a sweeping wave of 5G gravity that throws everything loose backwards at immense speeds?
I just get frustrated when the only ‘advanced tech’ in a game is merely a game mechanic force field or re-skinned tech from a decade ago. In the mass effect games this happens a lot. It looks all sci-fi and there are some really cool single moments of ‘what if?’ that are really good science fiction. Between those moments is nothing but boring normality that swings between chromed-up version of 1990’s tech and cinematic plot devices to simplify things so they don’t get in the way.
In video games this is somewhat understandable. The limitations of the hardware doesn’t let games do the really cool stuff. Tabletop games don’t even have this excuse. Even in miniature/battlemat heavy games the majority of the game takes place in the player’s imaginations. Some of this isn’t the game’s fault. Perhaps I just need to talk to more out-there people when talking about campaign settings. But when I hear my gaming group talk about how powerful flashbang grenades are in a advanced tech setting, all I can think of is how useless that would be against proper battle helmets with computer-aided displays, or robots, or aliens that don’t have the same response to overstimulation as humans, or any number of other things that a advance science fiction setting should have all over the place.
These are the types of weapons the human race is working on now: http://www.cracked.com/article_18473_6-new-weapons-that-you-literally-cannot-hide-from.html
Why isn’t our science fiction game settings have things at least this interesting?