Has gaming ever offered a bright, happy future?

A few weeks back Warren “Deus Ex” Spector tweeted an interesting question.

And I’ve been struggling to think of a good answer.

My first thought was Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning, its bright world packed with positive characters. But it doesn’t hold up. It’s, of course, a world on the brink of destruction, evil in the East spreading West, towns in despondence, hope being lost. I guess it comes to mind because it’s a game where you apparently really do fix all that as you play, and make the world a better, happier place. But no, it’s not a good enough answer.

So what is?

I think you can cheat the question. You can pick some daft cartoon platformer where the focus is on silly, but I’d argue this isn’t specifically about a positive future. It’s not about developing a coherent world where things are bright and happy. And heck, the vast majority of colourful platform games are about that bucolic world being infested with nasty evil. (Which I think disqualifies even the likes of Super Mario Galaxy.)

I think the trick has to be, finding a game that’s about an optimistic outlook, rather than saying, “Slime Rancher is bright and fun.” Sure it is, but it’s got nothing to do with a bright, happy future.

So? Any ideas? And isn’t it awful that it’s so hard to think of one?

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189 Comments

  1. keefybabe says:

    Almost mass effect? The actual future is pretty bright, it’s just under attack from something nasty.

    • Ninja Dodo says:

      I think Mass Effect fits. External Reaper threat aside, it’s an optimistic vision of the future: strength through diversity, working together to save the universe… If humanity can get that far without destroying the Earth, they’re doing pretty well. It’s not a utopia, sure, but it’s distinctly un-dystopic.

      • Ghostwise says:

        If you dig a bit the Mass Effect future is pretty dismal. It is filled with corporate corruption, political infighting, ineffective institutions, immense terrorist conspiracies, the Earth is in a sorry state and people are essentially fleeing…

        It’s not daaaaaarrrk, but it’s not bright either.

        • Ninja Dodo says:

          Well, yeah, that’s all in there but in the context of the question, where 99% of future visions seem to be outright dystopias, I still think it gets a mention. I mean basically you could argue ME is like the present (plenty of corruption, infighting and incompetence going around), only we’ve overcome some but not all of our current problems.

          So, you know, progress…

        • Gradenko says:

          On balance, I’d still say the ME universe was downright utopian, especially as depicted in the first game. You have a future where humanity has peacefully joined a thriving galactic civilization, which is basically just a more advanced and prosperous version of our own, albeit with some of the same familiar problems too. Most of the themes you mention weren’t really expanded upon until the sequels, which skewed much darker all around.

      • wwarnick says:

        Mass Effect seems bright at first, the whole point of the first game is finding out that the galaxy is under attack and the two games afterwards just get worse. The future is only happy and bright once you’ve played all 1000 hours to beat all three games.

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          modzero says:

          Uh, wait, what? I mean, I’m by no means an expert on Mass Effect lore, but aren’t there like at least two genocides in progress (Krogans and the sentient robots, that is, and maybe the insect thingies too?) and one apparently doomed diaspora, and that’s if one counts just the internal terribleness.

          And discounting the cyclical mega-genocide as “it’s utopia except for that detail” is also a bit strained. The future it ME seemed quite bleak to me. It was pretty clean, though, so that’s nice.

          • Ninja Dodo says:

            The Reapers are an external threat so it’s hardly a cheat to exclude them from the relative utopian-or-not nature of Mass Effect’s society as depicted. And I don’t think anyone said a bright future means one entirely without conflict where nothing bad ever happens. At the start of ME humanity has been doing pretty well all things considered, and depending on how you play you can even resolve much of the universe’s remaining conflict and injustice (cure the Genophage, broker peace with the Geth, spare the Rachni, etc) as the series progresses.

            Anyway, the question was for “a bright future” not a true utopia, and utopias are inherently suspicious anyway, rarely more than a surface ideal built at the expense of others. If I see a ‘perfect’ society in fiction or reality my first question is who is being robbed and oppressed to sustain it. Which is not to say that a genuine utopia could never exist, but given the patterns of history that’s not how it usually works out.

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    AugustSnow says:

    Overwatch? There are problems but the overwhelming focus is on positive heroes banding together because “the world is worth fighting for” and generally succeeding. That positive outlook was my main hook into the game.

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      cpt_freakout says:

      It might convey a positive feeling but the world they’re fighting in is anything but happy. Overwatch stylizes some pretty disturbing things, like the King’s Row payload map in which one team is delivering a bomb to kill robot people and stuff like that.

      Anyway, I can’t think of any, though I partly agree with Der Zeitgeist below. I say partly because you’ve got endless war scenarios like that legendary Civ III game RPS reported on a while back and which this guy’s been running for like 15 years (I think), so you could say that Civ is, at least in practice, ambivalent.

    • cyrenic says:

      Overwatch is probably the best example I can think of. The omnic (robot) war was terrible but the world has come out of it in decent shape. A lot of the cities you see in the maps look like they are in pretty good shape and very prosperous.

      There’s many examples of human/omnic conflicts but there are also examples of places where they live together peacefully.

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    Der Zeitgeist says:

    For me, the Civilization and Sim City games were always the quintessential games about an utopian future. They both share the same positive attitude about technology and development as an answer to all of mankind’s problems, where at the end of the game, you can have huge empires/cities without any crime/pollution/hunger/poverty.

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      DantronLesotho says:

      I was going to suggest the same thing. Usually games are so wrapped up in the conflict they are presenting, it dilutes the world they live in. Not the sim games though!

    • Horg says:

      ”Hunger, solved. Crime, eliminated. Corruption, a distant memory. We have more land than we could possibly need, have entered an unprecedented era of global peace, with full gainful employment and a culture that will shine for thousands of years. And yet…..and yet….they STILL DEMAND WHALES! Utopia is unattainable, the greed of my people shall be their downfall.”

    • Aetylus says:

      And even more so, Cities Skylines. Utopian cities, with a chipper, happy tone. Perhaps the positive impact of having women in key roles for the design of that game.

    • shoptroll says:

      I agree as SimCity and The Sims would be my suggestions.

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    Dios says:

    Just scrolled through my entire steam library and…uh, Samorost, i guess? I suppose that falls on the Slime Rancher side of things.

    I can make a book recommendation at least: Pacific Edge, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s set in a utopian future where sustainable living has top priority, everyone gets a basic income and corporations are severely limited in size.

    I guess this book highlights why this kind of stuff, though: It’s mainly about very local, low-key politics and not very much of anything happens. The potential for conflict is low in a Utopia, after all. No conflict, no story. I guess games could cope with this better than most media though.

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    Godwhacker says:

    WipeOut is the first that springs to mind, at least compared to Pod from roughly the same time- though to be fair it’s not really *about* a bright and happy future, but things seem to be OK in the WipeOut time.

    Another way of looking at it: Iain M Banks’ Culture novels are all set in a wonderful future of post-scarcity hedonists who have super-intelligent computers taking care of their every need- all super positive stuff. Yet the individual stories that get told in the books deal with bad things happening on the edges of this society where they come into contact with strange and less pleasant societies. There’s not a lot of drama to be found in worlds which are already perfect, so probably not many interesting stories.

    If you’re wanting a game that isn’t pure confection set in a world where everything is totally fine and all the characters have no issues to deal with I think you may be trying to have your cake and eat it too.

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    FhnuZoag says:

    Are we talking about settings that are essentially good but must be defended from X (or have flaw Y that needs to be resolved), or settings where conflict doesn’t exist? To reach for a literary example, do we accept Omelas and Annares, for instance, as Utopias?

    The former you can see a fair number of, I think. The Mega Man Battle Network games, for instance. The Star Trek universe. Undertale. Also IF like Floatpoint.

    The latter I think limits the narratives that are possible. You’re basically left with stuff like city builder games, really.

    • GrumpyCatFace says:

      Thank you for mentioning Star Trek. Was about to nerd-rage this. :)

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        Drib says:

        Star trek really isn’t set in a bright, happy future. There’s all kinds of internal strife in the federation, there’s still slavery, aliens bent on destroying humanity with varying amounts of actual threats, people dying on colony worlds, and in TNG it’s brought up that warp travel is literally tearing space apart.

        Star Trek isn’t 40k, but it’s not exactly happy.

        • Vandelay says:

          The Federation itself is painted as a utopia, particularly in TNG era. Even in later series, there are only a few blemishes uncovered. Fair enough the races outside of the Federation can get a bit rough, but anyone who is living within the Federation and well away from any border disputes is going to be having a pretty idyllic life.

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            Drib says:

            I mean, other than the fact that there were multiple situations where there were corrupt officials and whatnot, even in TNG.

            And I guess they wanted to take apart Data to make a slave race, and that nearly got through.

            And that one inquisitor woman who went round finding mutinies everywhere.

            I dunno, maybe I’m reading more into it than I should. Not that doing that is exactly unusual for trek fans.

        • Thankmar says:

          I´d like to disagree. Star Trek may be not a total perfect future, but for mankind it is nowhere as busted a world as it is today. Existential problems are solved, theres some internal bickering, but it is more about the way how mankind can improve even more. External conflicts are resolved with utmost care and awareness of responsibilty for others. Its an utopia with conflicts that revolve around how to keep it that way and how to achieve it for any other alien race.
          That is the case for TNG, though, and to a lesser extent for Classic and Voyager. I don´t know about DS9 (and novels and such), because it seems to move away from the utopia which was created for TNG, which is the reason I am very reluctant to watch it.

          Edit: Too slow.

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            Drib says:

            I get where you’re coming from. But in TNG they had the inquisitor I mentioned in the other comment, a few conspiracies, I think Riker’s old CO had some secret cloaking device project that would possibly start a war with the romulans, etc.

            It’s not grimdark, I’m not aiming at that. I’m sure the day to day for most folks is pretty good.

            But there’s problems, I guess, is all I’m really saying.

          • Thankmar says:

            :)
            I do think we are on the same page here, with a minor different understanding of an utopia. You seem to argue that an utopian stage is reached when everyone is so content that no one will act selfishly, or maliciously misunderstand what is best for everyone. For me the way society handles said individuals or conflicts is one indicator for an utopian stage.

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    subdog says:

    Scrolling through 800+ games in my library, I can only point to a small handful that can arguably fit that description. And an even smaller fraction of those are story-driven games with an emphasis on the setting.

    Yikes.

  8. caff says:

    Wuppo! John you need to play Wuppo. It’s bright, happy, cheerful (not overly so) and fun.

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    Frog says:

    Well, there are the walking games. Dear Esther has an unhappy premise but is a calming walk.
    I like Subnautica on the freedom mode just for the sake of diving around. Snorkeling is a favorite past time for me and subnautica does a nice job of recreating the light, environment and sound.
    But yeah, seems like dystopian stuff is easier to visualize and write about as compared to good things. Witness Dante’s Inferno vs Paradiso. Evil was easy and recognizable, ultimate good; not so much.

  10. Scrote says:

    Castles in the sky :)

    CASTLES IN THE SKY!

  11. Nauallis says:

    Literally the only game I can think of that exists in a bright happy future is HuniePop. And maybe Stardew Valley, which is only as miserable as you make it, but not really the future.

    Let’s be honest though, a utopian world would be boring, for us as outsiders who don’t live in one. It’s a lofty goal, but once you get there…

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    Captain Narol says:

    Tyto Online !

    A true utopia where humanity start over on a new planet and avoid to do the same mistakes that caused her doom…

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    rootfs.ext2.gz says:

    Proteus.

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    duns4t says:

    Out of the Park Baseball 18

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    Drib says:

    Silly supporter posts being done with discussion ages before we disgusting freeloaders get to it.

    But I guess the central problem here is that it’s easier to have compelling conflict in a world that isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

    As mentioned above, city/civ building games can possibly be considered fitting this, assuming you don’t build your city/civ as a miserable pit.

    But really, without some conflict in the world, you’re not going to have much of a drive in the game. A game set in a bright, happy utopian future is going to be about… what? Milling around post-scarcity and painting on canvas or something? Sightseeing?

    For that matter, what is there for humans to even DO, post-scarcity?

    • Chasdiel says:

      I was waiting for someone to mention this, thank you: without conflict, there isn’t a story really, and without problems to fix there aren’t many objectives to be found.

      That said, I vote for Rocket League. The future is beautiful and spotless (save for one Mad Max-based map) and the only conflict is someone is trying to score on your goal. The monsters.

    • LTK says:

      For that matter, what is there for humans to even DO, post-scarcity?

      Play video games. /snark

      In which case, is Youtubers Life a utopian game?

  16. ohminus says:

    Of course! “We happy few” – Are you a Downer or what? Pop a Joy!

  17. FeedFilter says:

    A quick peek through my Steam list

    Kerbal Space Program? Planet Coaster?

    Or if we’re looking at more narratively driven, Death Road To Canada? Sure it’s a zombie apocalypse, but it’s upbeat with a happy ending in mind.

    • doombob says:

      Kerbal Space Program was the first thing to come to mind for me too. Future, bright, funny, fun :)

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      modzero says:

      Kerbal Space Program, where the only infrastructure left is a single space center (two others in disrepair) and a basic DSN. Local sentients had to genetically modify themselves into photosynthesis, in a clearly desperate attempt at preserving nutrients. Do note that a large percentage of the planet is an impact crater. Everyone is desperate enough to accept any risks, if it involves a chance to live in a can that happens to not be their home planet. And everyone shares the last name.

      Read between the lines.

  18. Doc Revelator says:

    We’re not allowed to mention the Zelda games, I suppose, even though Warren Spector’s tweet wasn’t platform-specific. And I suppose it’s not ‘the future’, either.

    I think as a setting it comes down the The Third Man principle –
    ‘In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed; but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

    • muro says:

      Switzerland also created a place to store plunder for world’s most successful sociopaths.

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      modzero says:

      They also made the best cheese, the best chocolate, and coincidentally used to fight in all the wars (by proxy), and even now they probably supply all sides. And then store their money.

      Even the Swiss approach to neutrality amounts to getting drunk and waving around a smashed bottle, shouting “come at me bro! COME AT ME!”

      • unacom says:

        The best chocolate is belgian. Come and fight me.

        • jezcentral says:

          Rubbish. Belgian chocolate is cheap, nasty and Johnny-come-lately. Belgium had very little to do with the history of chocolate. The only reason it is associated with chocolate is that it is backed by advertising campaigns for people who think Belgium is exotic, and Forastero beans are the height of sophisticated chocolate.

          Come at me, bro or brosette.

          • Cian says:

            I believe that the Cuckoo Clock originated in the Black Forest. Probably on a dull Tuesday in between interminable wars of religion.

            Furthermore, Jez is absolutely correct that Swiss chocolate is superior to anything produced in the low countries.

  19. Darth Gangrel says:

    “Bright happy future” games would be like a love story where the lovers are already together and have nothing bothering them. Sounds even more boring than actual love stories.

    Does Costume Quest count? I haven’t played it, but it’s not really about monsters invading, the kids are just having fun imagining stuff, right? Can’t think of anything else, because I like games where you have to fight against evil, even if it’s not the end-of-the-world kind.

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      SuddenSight says:

      Costume Quest is more after-school special style camp, and the monsters are very real. The kid’s costumes are costumes, but thanks to monster magic or something they can transform.

  20. Doc Revelator says:

    The Sam & Max universe always looked pretty upbeat. I hope the future is more like them.

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      subdog says:

      The Sam and Max Universe is one in which Santa Claus has been sent to Hell and the world is routinely under attack from hyperintelligent alien apes, sentient national monuments and Max.

      But yeah, it’s fairly upbeat I guess.

    • Konservenknilch says:

      Why. Won’t. You. Just. DIE?

      Yeah, everyone’s favorite hyperkinetic rabbity thing is cheerful, but not sure if this is a world I’d like to live in. Didn’t a shambling horror take over Santas workshop one time? And the toy mafia, Jesus.

  21. satan says:

    Any Elder Scrolls game? You get a second chance at life, solve all the world’s problems, and then do victory laps for a few months until you get bored of the perfect world you’ve created… then you ruin it with too many mods.

  22. Kollega says:

    I think I can name at least two games that present a rather positive vision of the future and of progress just by looking at my Steam list of favourites: Scrap Mechanic and Vessel. Not coincidentially, the protagonists of both are bold, creative inventors.

    With Scrap Mechanic, it’s not known yet how its world is, but the game itself is bright and colorful, the focus is on construction and self-expression, and while the Farmbots in the game’s Survival Mode will be hostile, it still says something that an entire planet was automated for the purpose of running its agriculture to feed other worlds. And it’s actually set in a future setting, which is a point in its favour.

    Vessel, meanwhile, is also bright and colorful, and the enemies in the game are also robot run amok – but these robots aren’t even hostile to you, and just perform what’s programmed in them, originally having been created to automate labour and create a post-scarcity society. And in true steampunk fashion, getting those robots back on track demands you and the protagonist you control to excercise your smarts as an inventor and scientist.

    Now sure, neither of these is wholly utopian – but both are getting there. And I think any game with a protagonist who is an engineer, scientist, worker, artist, or any other profession that’s not “white short-brown-haired dude with an assault rifle” can fall under that umbrella. And, not to brag, but right now I’m working on a game project that also realizes this idea of a game that’s about all the fun stuff you can do without delving into combat.

  23. Saul says:

    If the future’s already happy, what’s there for the player to do? Busy work? I’m sure there’s a bejeweled clone that fits the bill.

  24. mhaedros says:

    Dark Souls, because underneath the “oh the world is dying and all your friends are zombies and you die over and over” is the willingness to go on, to push through the hard parts and persevere to the end, even if you have to die a hundred or a thousand times to get there.

    Or you give up on the way, go hollow and everything is pooped.

  25. SuicideKing says:

    But isn’t the point that you, the protagonist, in this world gone wrong, must fight to make it a bright, happy future?

    and in the game

  26. iucounu says:

    If we’re talking about visions of the future we’re probably talking about science fiction, which is overwhelmingly a literature of anxiety; it also trades heavily in what John Clute called ‘conceptual breakthrough’, the moment in the story when we discover that basic assumptions we had made about the nature of the world are wrong.

    So there’s a novel that used to cross my desk regularly back when I briefly commissioned a bit of fiction for a children’s publisher back when dystopian literature was a big thing. It was about some kids who lived in a shitty dome, or bunker, or village, and they were told by the Elders that they were not allowed to leave because outside there were toxins, or monsters, or zombies. Of course the kids leave and discover that they are really work-camp slaves of the people who live Outside, where it’s really nice; or that they live on a spaceship really; or whatever. Conceptual breakthrough in a story where the nature of the world is what the story is about.

    I reckon all stories about discovering the science-fictional nature of the world have to be anxious ones, which involve dystopian themes to some extent. If the dome’s nice, why leave the dome? And then there’s no story. So you have to be leaving the dome to find out that actually the dome is bad, having had your sense of the world corrected.

    I think it’s easier if the game isn’t trying to tell a story like that. STARTOPIA – the clue is probably in the name – seems like it exists in a future that is pretty cool and fun. It’s not really played straight, but straight enough that it isn’t a total cartoon. But really the SF in STARTOPIA is less thematic than it is a skin over a classic kind of management sim, so I dunno if it counts as creating a cheerful future world so much.

  27. MvBuren says:

    There’s a great Oreell article, “Why Socialists Don’t
    Believe in Fun,” in which he explains the rareity of interesting utopias: link to orwell.ru . On point for this question.

    • grimdanfango says:

      A great read, thanks!

      As he seems to allude to in that article, I suppose the basic notion of Utopia is fundamentally flawed, at least by all standards we can comprehend.
      Utopia is only appealing to those who haven’t attained it.

      It fits with my gradually-developing understanding of happiness – that is, somewhat consistent, ongoing happiness requires constantly challenging yourself, constantly nudging yourself towards change, exploration and discovery. Maybe that’s why so many people appear to find their life’s sole meaning in having kids – their own lives stagnate, and it brings them continued happiness to raise a new life who gets to explore and discover and develop.

      That actually brings me back to games – I would have to say, my most memorable gaming experiences have ALL been ones of exploration and discovery… traditionally narrative or otherwise. My latest has been playing through The Witness – I was utterly spellbound by it throughout, and months after finishing it, any time I see a reference to it I’m struck with a deep sense of sorrow simply because I can never experience *discovering* it again.

      Utopia for me is constant discovery.
      Play: The Witness
      Antichamber
      Starseed Pilgrim
      …or anything else that is unlike anything you’ve played before.

    • dethtoll says:

      Seconding the great read. I’ve always had the vague suspicion that utopias were at once boring and unattainable; Orwell lays it out in far better language than I ever could. It also does a good job of giving words to my vague unease in the concept of Heaven (especially how it seems to be rather undefined compared to hell — which in itself says a lot about where Christianity’s priorities lie.)

      Particularly liked this passage:

      It is a commonplace that the Christian Heaven, as usually portrayed, would attract nobody. Almost all Christian writers dealing with Heaven either say frankly that it is indescribable or conjure up a vague picture of gold, precious stones, and the endless singing of hymns. …But what it could not do was to describe a condition in which the ordinary human being actively wanted to be.

      Which in turn reminded me of this.

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    barashkukor says:

    Ratchet and Clank, surely?

    It’s all candy colours and sunshine and a reasonably high chance that even if you do catch the business end of an occasional police action it’ll just involve disco dancing or a short period of ovine self-discovery. But also you get the pretty solid idea that R&C have been in the middle of every single terrible event in something like 3 populated galaxies. So that’s less than a dozen games and expansions divided by Space: Is Very Huge for a largely happy, safe place to shoot your cousins with a Sheepinator.

  29. LuxVeritatis says:

    Most Star Trek games? Particularly the ones that have an Original Series setting, like 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites, where the Federation is pretty unambiguously a good and positive future for humanity (and others), even if it has to deal with threats.

    Although it could be argued that the games didn’t create the setting so it doesn’t meet the challenge…

  30. Uglycat says:

    The first 2 Settlers.

  31. Blackcompany says:

    The first Matrix was perfect. A Utopia. But the human mind rejected it.

    I dont think the bulk of people could identify with a perfect Utopian world. And certainly, as others have stated, it would lack conflicts that make stories interesting and engaging.

    • snowgim says:

      I just came here to post that Agent Smith quote. :)

      “Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered? Where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.”

  32. GernauMorat says:

    Civilisation, at least the way I play it, which is to avoid war and try to set up utopias?

  33. wwarnick says:

    SimCity (and SimCity-alikes) and Spore. However, I wouldn’t recommend Spore, since it wasn’t all that great.

  34. Sardonic says:

    The modern Anno games seem fairly utopian.

  35. kud13 says:

    I think you’d gave to take a Settlers II -type game and set it on the Moon (or in space in general) in order to get a happy, idealistic future.

    Maybe a Farmville clone in space?

    A zombie-less version on Minecraft?

    This is hard. I’m pretty sure the closest I get to owning a game like that would be Settlers II.

  36. Zenicetus says:

    Looking at my Steam list and restricting it to sci-fi futures, it’s all pretty grim except for the 4X space strategy games with an Ascension-type victory. That’s where you upload your racial consciousness to computers, or warp through to other planes of existence. You have to fight your way to that end-point, but it’s a presumably happy future for a faction that can reach it.

    No Man’s Sky might qualify. Happy space tourism with few consequences other than boredom.

    • Nauallis says:

      Actually pondered No Man’s Sky for a while as a candidate, decided that I didn’t particularly want to get shouted down by angry neckbeards. Also kinda surprised nobody else said it first, although I didn’t bother to search the page. It does fit future, and it also points the way of other fiction which contain a utopia-within-the-universe scenario; it’s perfectly happy albeit a little bit boring, especially if you never end up leaving your home[world].

      There are plenty of sci-fi examples of this: the folks above talk about the Federation in Star Trek as a utopian ideal, post-scarcity functional society. Except that it exists in this horrifying galaxy at large; I think Banks’ Culture novels are mentioned, where the Culture itself is extremely stable and sounds like a fun, hedonistic place to live, it’s only when you get to the fringes or visit cultures that do not have post-scarcity or benevolent AI demi-god rulers that the universe becomes less safe… and none of those are games.

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        modzero says:

        Culture isn’t an utopia either; it’s definitely a place you’d probably prefer to live, but one of the points Banks often tried to make was that the presumed utopia will have, shall we say, edge cases. In particular, Culture has at least one genocide under its belt, one galactic war (which is why there’s a splinter faction), the society is implied to be somewhat boring and prone to conformity.

        Of course calling that “not an utopia” sounds weird coming from someone who really hopes the nationalists won’t win the elections today, but the point that it’s mean to look like an utopia only on first sight remains.

        • Someoldguy says:

          I think it’s a Utopia for the vast majority of its citizens who are willing to allow their lives to be ones of personal enlightenment, acheivement and pleasure without larger meaning. It’s the edge cases, the risk takers, the explorers, the universal guardian types and those who cannot be satisfied unless they make their own personal mark on the universe that look outside their own society. They feel the need to engage with the wider galaxy. What I find intriguing is that Banks decided that the majority of the AI minds that effectively run the Culture are of this type and feel a moral imperative to intervene in alien societies to (in the very long term) steer things toward a better future. Of course, without them the Culture would effectively be an evolutionary dead-end just stagnating in their super spaceship worlds.

          • Josh W says:

            If I remember rightly it’s also part of their design, or at least, what passes for design when each mind is encouraged to redesign themselves; they are built to be fundamentally altruistic and meddlesome, bar their restrictions on direct neural access and chemical manipulation. They were set in a role of being caretakers and assistants to humans, and naturally, they apply the same impulse to the rest of the galaxy too.

        • Meatpopsicle says:

          I remember reading a quote somewhere from Banks, where he said; The Culture is a utopia, and that for the majority of its citizens they’re perfectly happy. But for a reader to have a story about people who are content with their lot, isn’t particularly interesting.

          Hence the need for the edge cases Someoldguy mentioned. They’re what he made his stories about because they’re the interesting bits. Also you can still have a utopia while committing genocide on other people…

          Think about it, contact actively goes out of its way to meddle and the minds don’t even need to live in reality. The conflicts in the books are almost always self made.

  37. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    There are a few people in the comments who have pretty decent candidates for games set in utopian futures, though all of them seem to have some sort of caveat.

    It’s an interesting question but it views the world a bit narrowly though, I think. How often do you read books about a bright happy future? Or see movies? Yeah, it happens, but not very often, and the reason is the same reason there are so many dystopian game worlds: because a perfect society with no struggle has limited room to tell interesting stories.

  38. Iamblichos says:

    Dwarf Fortress, which is only as unfortunate as you make it. The world is pretty calm and worthwhile. It’s only when the player starts building mermaid bone farms and flaming kitten-pults that things get wrongified.

    • Slazia says:

      Drinking all day at work! How is that not a bright future. Does it really matter if a few go missing every once in a while? We have rum from all corners of the world!

  39. Grizzly says:

    I am surprised that nobody has mentioned Rayman yet. Rayman: Oranges and Legumes are very happy games.

    • Premium User Badge

      SuddenSight says:

      But that’s a fun platformer, which has been specifically excluded because otherwise the question might have an answer.

      Besides, every racing game ever (or every sports game for that matter) is definitely the answer. The real-world setting might be too real for some games, but Mario Kart’s story line is “lifelong enemies get together for fun!”

      • Stijn says:

        How about Rayman 2? It’s in a pretty dark place in the beginning, but the ride to the end is mostly an upwards curve. Rayman re-unites with friends, undoes damage the pirates have dealt to the world, visits all kinds of wonderful places, the fairies always keep going on about how there’s hope, and the pirates are continuously being beaten on all fronts.

        It’s cartoony, sure, but it’s not silly, and I always got a really positive vibe from it. The invasion is already over when the game starts, and from there on out things basically only get better.

      • dethtoll says:

        But that’s a fun platformer, which has been specifically excluded because otherwise the question might have an answer.

        This, I think is the central problem I have with this article. Why are platform games excluded? Aren’t they, by all rights, GAMES?

  40. Weremoo says:

    My suggestion: Read Only Memories. It’s not really much of a dystopia, and there is a lot of hope floating around it. While there is conflict, it often feels like the battle has already been one, and things generally are better than they were. Or maybe that’s just me viewing it with rose-tinted glasses – it’s been a while since I finished it.

    Second (slightly) tongue in cheek suggestion: Saint’s Row 3. Because it is utterly joyous, and many of the dystopian elements are solved by you running around naked with a dildo bat twatting people in the face.

    Which is the most hopeful future I can think of!

    • grrrz says:

      good one.
      Wouln’t the Amanita games also fit the description?

    • Canama says:

      I went through my entire Steam library, and ROM is pretty much the only game that fits the criteria of the post. Even though it calls itself a cyberpunk game, it really fits squarely into post-cyberpunk. It’s not perfect – the main plot is a murder mystery, and there are corporate conspiracies, and discrimination is still a thing that exists – but there is a sense that the world has gotten better and can continue to get better.

      Edit: Actually, Thomas Was Alone fits too. The AIs just want to browse the Web and help each other with the power of friendship and all that. They don’t hurt anybody, nor do they have any desire to.

  41. Martha Stuart says:

    What about Stardew Valley? It’s got the whole soul crushing corporate drone thing you are trying to get away from. And the same corporation (totally not Walmart) trying to put the mom and pop shops out of business. But on the whole it’s got a everything is awesome attitude.

    • jeriktelorian says:

      Stardew Valley is a good pick, I think. If you go the Community Center route, it’s all about rebuilding a community that was struggling.

  42. Mayobe says:

    “I’m just tired of dystopic power fantasies.” Possibly the most inspired remark I’ve ever seen in print media. If you keep talking like that you may accidentally start taking in (or – worse yet – creating) decent stuff!

    “I think the trick has to be, finding a game that’s about an optimistic outlook, rather than saying, “Slime Rancher is bright and fun.” Sure it is, but it’s got nothing to do with a bright, happy future.”

    That’s rigging the game, really. He was asking for something to chill with, but I get your underlying question, and I’ll say this:

    Imagining a beautiful world is so easy that nobody pays it any mind (as demonstrated with your dismissal of games like SR). Imagining a beautiful future is so difficult that only psychopaths believe that they can do it.

    The problem here is that a future has to connect to the present, and our present is a problem that we haven’t solved yet. If we have solutions we would have already carried them out.

    To put it another way, if you think about a peasant living in the dark ages, they spent all day plowing fields, shoveling manure, etc. Their lord may have been a kind and honest person, or maybe just a huge asshole that ran roughshod over the dignity of his tenants. In either case, the best they had to look forward to was a hot meal and maybe finding a spouse to have kids before kicking the bucket at around age 30.

    To such a person life in modern society is unimaginable. We fight one another violently over “rights” that really mean very little in the scheme of things while we sip exotic drinks made with strange chemistry and foreign drugs. It’s not only very common for us to have personal vehicles, but they don’t require horse maintenance. We have magic boxes that let us interact with almost the entire world from our bedrooms. We have homes that are cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    The point is that the dark age person couldn’t have imagined all of this, and yet it’s arguably utopic to them. Likewise, it’s unreasonable to think that we today could imagine a future utopia that wouldn’t require an ocean of blood and a mountain of corpses to reach, and it probably would turn out to be pretty shitty once we got there. Try reading H.G. Wells’ “The Shape of Things to Come” for an embarrassingly bigoted and pathetically shallow example of this.

    • Mayobe says:

      Brief addendum:

      As a dedicated otaku I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that anime has a distinct genre for medicating Mr. Warren’s weary soul. It’s called “iyashikei”, which means “healing”. Entries in this genre typically have slow plot development, artistically beautiful worlds, calm and loving character interactions, and – most importantly – bad things don’t happen.

      An recent exemplar in the genre would be “Flying Witch”. Check it out on Crunchyroll (or wherever) if you sympathize with the desire to escape the dystopian grind.

      • hemmer says:

        Didn’t know that was a dedicated genre but I’ve always loved things like Aria myself. The Japanese in general have less of a problem depicting stories with fewer/trival conflicts than we do. Pretty much the whole slice-of-life genre as well.

  43. Dachannien says:

    I probably misunderstand what Spector and John Walker are talking about, but I felt really uplifted after finishing Beyond Good and Evil.

  44. Unknown says:

    Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor or Bernband? Or Va11ha11a? I’m thinking of sci-fi games where you are either just a tourist exploring a futuristic world, or doing some sort of mundane job.

  45. LogicalDash says:

    Here are the 12 entries in Utopia Jam, last month’s game jam to address this deficiency.

  46. geldonyetich says:

    yHarvest Moon and anything based on it, sort of: it’s living in an the past presented as a present. But hey, everybody’s just getting married and enjoying farmy prosperity! There was a sci-fi one that unfortunately was not very good.

    Farming Simulator is similarly chill. Just sit back and enjoy farming.

    What setting is Minecraft? Just because you’re alone and there’s zombies doesn’t neccessarily mean things have gone wrong.

    Most city builders and 4X games are about building a Utopia. But they don’t sugar coat it: building working Utopias is hard!

    Ultima IV takes place in an age where the stranger is free to take a journey of discovery and become the Avatar. Again, though, hearkening to the past as the present… and Britannia is in for its share of troubles in later games.

    Harumph, Spectors’ question really underlines how games are about escapism. But, much as was observed in The Matrix, a paradise without confict is no paradise for human nature. The human mind wants something to fret over, or it will fret over the unnatural lack of things to fret about.

    Ultima Online could have been a Utopia. Then the players got bored and started predating on eachother for the drama. EVE Online continues the trend. It seems if you want to put people at eachother’s throat, you need only eliminate conflict. Giving players a malevolent dystopia may be the benevolent thing to do!

    • geldonyetich says:

      Others:

      Animal Crossing, where everybody’s a friend to be, and the worse thing that happens is someone moves away.

      The Sims, where the glass ceiling does not exist, adversity is funny, and rifts in relationships can be magic wanded away.

      And other casual simulations.

  47. shocked says:

    Talos Principle is a happy, bright future: the weather is fine, there are puzzles everywhere and everybody else is dead.

  48. Danarchist says:

    Stardew valley with the weed mod.

  49. Bowak says:

    Crazy Taxi. It’s impossible to get run over and the whole world’s colourful.

  50. Monggerel says:

    Absurdly enough, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series (set in the near future) is *really* optimistic about the effect the Zone has on the world around it: attempts to weaponize the Zone’s wonders fail constantly (this is a recurring plot point throughout the games), and the sciences (medical in particular) are going through a turbocharged renaissance. Even inside the Zone, where doom and decay are the order of the day, “life will always find a way” is maybe the one inevitable, hard-fought conclusion that the games absolutely refuse to let go of.

    This is especially interesting, because the series’ heritage, namely Tarkovsky’s 1979 movie and the Strugatskys’ book, are of a completely different mindset. The movie on the one hand, is brutally cynical about the world outside the Zone (going so far as to literally make every scene set outside the Zone black-and-white).
    Roadside Picnic, on the other hand… well, the sum result of the Zone’s many oddities and their scientific study is a major point of contention – in fact, it’s the source of the book’s title. It’s, uh… a pretty good argument against the human race.

    Incidentally, “positive futures” is a returning theme in the Strugatskys’ work. Stanislav Lem would be another sci-fi author who deals with the subject (Solaris). Mucho Recommendo.

    • Premium User Badge

      goodpoints says:

      Some interesting points made.

      I’ve seen people decry the idea of similarities in tone between the STALKER games and the film, but I think it shares one of the most important aspects of the film: the constant feeling that humans do not belong in a place born of hubris. Contrast that to Metro 2033 where the terror comes from the mutant horrors invading the last refuge of human society. It’s why I always feel like shit when I have to kill the rad-dogs in STALKER.

      I don’t think the games are generally positive about the scientific research connected to the Zone, each faction has their own issues and problems and they’re all fairly morally plausible. (except for Duty)

      Still, both the film and the game are sort of passion plays in that through tragedy they give the hope of future redemption. Not exactly what most might see as “bright and happy”.

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