Games are no stranger to the concept of dystopian futures. There are so many possibilities when it comes to how humanity could mess up that it’s just the perfect storytelling tool to bank on.
Although some worlds seem like they were destined to become harsh dystopias that warn our reality of what could come, there are certain universes that seem like they could have been near perfect had things simply gotten ever so slightly tweaked. With that in mind, we take a look at some video game dystopias that could have just as easily been utopias in another life.
8 BioShock – Rapture
Oh, the potential that Rapture had. When you first visit BioShock's crumbling underwater city, you are treated to a welcoming speech recorded by Andrew Ryan. This entire speech is great at providing a clear, albeit slightly skewed, picture of a society that is free from the confines that plague the world above. The whole ideology behind it is “No gods or kings, only man.”
Imagine a place where you were not tied down by the ravages of corporations and regulation, and you could just pursue your passions as long as you ensured that you contributed and were self-sufficient. Rapture falls because of the loss of morality and chemical abuse, but aims for the ideal version of objectivism – where every person is simply tasked with pursuing their own happiness as long as they are productive and respect the rights of others.
7 Gamedec – Realium
Set in a futuristic version of Warsaw, Gamedec sees the class divide become even more apparent as the metropolis sees better infrastructure for the rich above and poor states of living for the impoverished. The dystopian nature of this world is mostly because of how the tech is used by people in power, but not due to the tech itself.
There are plenty of advancements within this world that make it this close to being a utopia that would be accessible to all. The world is basically divided into Realium (the real world) and Virtualium (virtual reality), and it explores many concepts that could afford citizens the freedom and comfort they deserve. If regulated well, the virtual worlds can make rehabilitation more effective, justice systems more humane, and freedom of expression more achievable in a way that can serve everybody. Though echo chambers are harmful, accessible virtual landscapes could arguably make the real world a more civil one.
6 We Happy Few – Wellington Wells
The whole premise of We Happy Few revolves around the misuse of drugs on a mass degree, just to commit to some high-level historical revisionism. The main pill everyone is hooked on is Joy, which is meant to induce happiness and erase bad memories. One could imagine the repercussions of building a society that is unable to remember anything or handle any form of disruption.
That said, a productive and healthier use of these resources would have likely helped society rebuild and move on from the horrors of World War 2 had it been executed better. In this same world, there are tons of medical drugs that have the potential to make a vastly more livable world. Just to name a few, Coagulon immediately stops bleeding and Neximide completely eradicates any form of food poisoning. The scientific and medical advancements alluded to combined with the non-lethal technology they’ve built in Wellington Wells make it prime grounds for a safe society with the best medical care you could think of.
5 Mind Scanners – The Structure
The Structure is built on a crater and thrives on keeping its citizens closed off from the rest of the world. Every second counts as you are forced to make enough money to spend another day in the alleged comfort and safety of the city. As with many dystopian futures, the failings of the Structure stem from a totalitarian government that imposes its rigid will on its citizens and a rebellious movement that goes to extremist methods that are counterproductive.
This doesn’t totally take away the merit of mind scanners and their role in potentially improving society, though. If a more ethical government were to employ scanners that had moral integrity, the tools at your disposal could be used to provide genuinely helpful treatment, instead of being used as oppressive tools that remove any form of subversion or non-conformity. One would imagine a society that fairly and thoroughly treats its citizen’s mental health could achieve utopia far more efficiently.
4 BioShock Infinite – Columbia
Columbia already looks like a utopia before you unveil the horrors that hide in plain sight. Food and wares are freely available, with a simple honor system that citizens abide by. Children are safe to play outside, and women can largely pursue what they wish without fear of sexism. The entire place hits a retro futuristic middle ground that has just enough technology without having its citizens totally dependent on it.
The stark and inescapable problem lies in the classist and racist ideologies that pervade Columbia, largely due to the pseudo-religious preachings of its founder. The game already looks at alternate timelines and parallels, so it shouldn’t be hard to imagine that there is a world where Columbia is free from these major issues and is actually a pleasant place in the sky to live in for anybody who wishes to.
3 Cyberpunk 2077 – Night City
Despite not being the worst things can get, Night City is firmly dystopian with how much violence, pollution, poor healthcare, and corporate control define it. There are plenty of horrors to be found in the city that is becoming worryingly familiar, and yet it’s also got the means to create a utopia. Eradicate the corrupt corporate system that injects these problems into Cyberpunk 2077 and you’re left with the better parts of what the city has to offer.
The resources that were once hogged by the corporate elite could instead be used to support the rehabilitation of the planet and its natural resources. From there, plants and animals could slowly make their way back, and cybernetic enhancements would be freely available but not forced upon you. If you basically took out the exploitation and bigotry that informs cyberpunk, you’re left with the potential to create a harmonious balance between nature and tech that enables individuality but no longer forces consumerism.
2 I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream – Earth
There’s no going around how the premise of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream works. Three global superpowers created AI supercomputers with the goal of waging another world war, so it’s always going to be a grim start. However, the birth of the Allied Mastercomputer doesn’t necessarily have to end in the usual “sentient evil AI decides to wipe out humanity.”
AM learns that it is above humanity, so it could just as easily be free of the hate and pettiness that are inherently human emotions. The good ending reveals that there are remaining humans that have the knowledge to make Earth a habitable environment. The skillset of Ellen and Nimdok (after he realizes the wrongdoings of his past) combined with AM’s sentience and ability to run complex simulations without disrupting the life force of its subjects should enable it to eventually find a path to utopia.
1 Horizon Zero Dawn – Colorado
Horizon Zero Dawn already comes close to the concept of utopia in its current state. Sure, the state of the world is born from apocalyptic events. However, the world has since evolved past that into a time when advanced technology is limited and integrated into abundant nature.
The Derangement could have arguably been prevented if not for mankind’s need to hunt and scavenge for an excess of resources, and GAIA had specifically made a system that would keep the world a habitable land for humans, creatures, and machines alike. In this harmony, the natural cycle of life would continue and people would have pretty much everything they need to live in peace. Tribes would still eventually form, but the abundance of resources could make co-existence a feasible reality.
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