Free Video Games as Science Fiction Texts
October 26, 2016 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm teaching Introduction to Science Fiction and I'm looking for a good, free, science fiction game with a strong story that the class can play and talk about later. Even interactive fiction would work.

They keep bringing up their favorite science fiction video games as texts, but I am old school and have them mostly reading books. I need to play more video games too.
posted by mecran01 to Education (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about having the class play together in an MMORPG?
Here is a list of free, science fiction based, online games.
Some are just bug hunts, but there are some that could be turned into a more cooperative and exploratory experience.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 8:33 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Playing together in an MMORPG would be great, I just don't know if I can pull it off this semester. I need to have the class in the computer lab the next time I teach it. Thanks for this link.
posted by mecran01 at 8:44 AM on October 26, 2016

Blade Runner
posted by humboldt32 at 8:56 AM on October 26, 2016

Small Worlds is a beautiful, award-winning short game. It's nearly wordless, simple to play (you don't need great reflexes or lots of gaming experience to enjoy it), and short enough to be practical for a class. It's also incredibly immersive, with a great piece-together-the-narrative gameplay mechanic.

You start in darkness, alone (possibly the last survivor of a catastrophic event). As you move your character around, more and more of the world is revealed to you, zooming out so you can see the full picture. You start on what seems to be a satellite or a the remains of an underground bunker. As you explore, you find several transporter-like hotspots. Each one transports you to a different "small world" to explore and discover. Each small world shows you a snapshot of how the catastrophic event came to be. My favorite is a world that appears at first to be a beautiful Christmas scene with snow falling -- but as you reveal the entire world, you realize (among other things) that the snow is ash. By putting together the story of all four small worlds, you can
posted by ourobouros at 8:59 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's a bit of a spoiler to say that A Dark Room has SFnal elements to it, but I think it would be interesting to look at as a text for a number of reasons. It's clicker-ish, but with some other elements wrapped up in it.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:07 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

First. has class already started? If not, then talk to your college library about putting some video game materials on reserve. If your academic library is anything like mine, there will be at least one librarian who would leap at the chance to buy games with company money. Copies of Mass Effect 2 are pretty cheap, far less than a textbook. Poll your class to see who has access to video game machines - I assume most do.

Second, if class has begun, you also can use your video game knowledgeable students to put on a classwide demonstration. I mean, they know more about the games, so why not use their knowledge? Your IT/AV department should be able to hook you up with a projector that your students can use to play in class. Task your students with loading saves at big plot/trope points in the game.

Finally, ask your knowledgeable students to recommend Let's Play videos on YouTube for certain games. Review the content, natch, but then you can assign the video as a way of getting a taste of the game without needing to play it.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:13 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I loved Marathon by Bungie and now it's open sourced. This is the series that became the Halo universe.
posted by advicepig at 9:13 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I suggest the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy text adventure from the early 80s. I know it has been re-released for free online--I think a couple of times. At the BBC website for it, it even seems to load on my phone. There are walkthroughs and author's notes by Douglas Adams available as well.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:30 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

IF recs:
Blue Lacuna (warning: very long)
Arguably, Galatea (a conversation with a work of art)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:51 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Beneath a steel sky is a solid point and click sci-fi adventure game that is free.
posted by demiurge at 10:32 AM on October 26, 2016

Suzanne Britton's Worlds Apart is another epic (and very worldbuilt) sci-fi IF, but I dunno that kids brought up on shooty video games would necessarily be into that kind of thing. Galatea is much shorter, but also less about telling a singular story; static prose may have multiple readings in the interpretive, academic sense, but more highly branching interactive works have multiple readings in a very literal, concrete sense.

(To be honest a lot of classic IF is more about exploration or puzzle-solving or indirect "storytelling" than about telling that singular story.)

Anyway, it looks like some enterprising IF player has put together an Annotated list of best sci-fi games (where I see Worlds Apart tops the list!). You can see by the annotations that a lot of interest has traditionally gone to things like puzzles, worldbuilding/atmosphere, and interesting mechanics, rather than plot; out of the other ones I've played from that list, I'd say Slouching Towards Bedlam and Creatures Such As We are plottiest. Porpentine games (which are mostly web-based, clicking on links in a browser) may provide some food for thought. Cherrywell games are fun crowd-pleasers that feature some very snappy writing (and satire), but I don't know that they're something you'd chew over in a general introductory sci-fi class.

Note: anything that says "commercial" in the IF context means it isn't free.
posted by inconstant at 10:42 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really like Porpentine's little text games. They're fairly short but have a lot of interesting complexity to them, a fun narrative style, and they're definitely on the science fiction / cyberpunk edge. She manages to do a lot with a very simple format.

High End Customizable Sauna Experience

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With Those We Love Alive
posted by bile and syntax at 11:18 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think assigning some short IF is a pretty good idea. Some of the best sci-fi options are on the long / complicated side, and it seems to me that you'd want to stay away from really puzzle-y IF if you want your students to get a comprehensive playing experience. Something like Worlds Apart would be great but I remember it taking a really long time to play through it (she describes it as novel-length, I remember it being longer than it would take me to read a regular static novel, though it's been a while). Here are some shorter ideas:
  • Photopia by Adam Cadre. Non-chronological character-based short-ish game with few puzzles. Very famous.
  • Aisle, by Sam Barlow. One turn meta-game. This is probably only sci-fi at the meta-level, and it's something that could never be done with ordinary fiction. Maybe also Cadre's 9:05, for another game where a single playthrough is less than 10 minutes.
  • Emily Short's Galatea has already been mentioned. She is my favorite IF author ever but mostly doesn't write "sci fi" per se, and the stuff I've liked best is longer. Floatpoint could also work. She also has a lot of writing/criticism about IF that may be useful to you.
  • Slouching towards bedlam has also already been mentioned, may be a bit long.
  • Spider and web, by Andrew Plotkin. (Probably too difficult.)
Also, seconding Beneath a Steel Sky -- it's really excellent, is strongly plot-based, and it's legitimately free (not just abandonware) on GOG.
posted by advil at 12:36 PM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I guess it would be helpful to understand what you're trying to have your students get out of this. "Spider and Web" and "Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!" are both SciFi IF games, for example, but they couldn't be more different.

Also, I think that many of the games that have been listed here are not really Sci-Fi (Galatea, for example, is much more magical realism than science fiction), and of the ones that are, many are hard, or long, or aren't really "traditional" Sci Fi. Spider and Web, for example, is a spy game where the Sci-Fi element is the collection of cool Q-style gadgets you can play with -- before seeing it listed here, I actually forgot that it even had science fictional elements.

Rover's Day Out is a fun game -- not one of my favorites, but absolutely Sci-Fi, but short, and uses the medium of IF in an interesting way.
posted by phoenixy at 7:09 PM on October 26, 2016

[Updating to add that upon reflection, Spider and Web actually has more SF elements than I remembered, most notably the framing device used for most of the story, but I'd still describe it as fairly untraditional when compared to, say, a game set on a spaceship. Great game, BTW, but possibly too hard.]
posted by phoenixy at 7:21 PM on October 26, 2016

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