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Sci-Fi games and Human Exceptionalism: Will we see games where humans aren’t special?

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Human Exceptionalism, or Anthropocentrism, can be defined like this:

 “…the belief that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet (in the sense that they are considered to have a moral status or value higher than that of other animals), or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective.”

It’s not really surprising that a lot of video games would adhere to this view: what other species is heading out to Game Stop or Redbox to pick up a video game? If you want people to feel happy that they’re playing a game, reward them a little by having the game make them feel special.

In Mass Effect, humans stand out as the new comers to the galactic community, and bring with them a unique perspective and fresh attitude to problems specifically because their lifespans are so short. In the Elder Scrolls series, human beings are in charge of just about everything from the standpoint of the last two highly-successful games (Oblivion and Skyrim). In Knights of the Old Republic and the Force Unleashed, humans have been part of the galaxy for a long time, and it just so happens that the savior of the Force is a human, as is his son.

If we alter our thinking a little, however, we can come up with the question “will we see games where humans aren’t the apex predator of the universe?”, and that will open up quite a few options. Dead Space stands out, where humans are more or less helpless to a horrific mutagenic force that plagues them from deep space. The Resident Evil franchise plays on that idea as well, where humans are helpless to a microscopic evil that turns us all into monsters. In Alien: Isolation, you don’t even have a weapon. The same goes for Amnesia. The game is completely based on stealth, and the goal is to simply survive. What do all these games have in common?

They’re horror games.

That’s right. Not being at the very top of the food chain is terrifying, and that’s the fun of playing a horror FPS. It gets your blood pumping, and the jump scares will make you scream (and then hopefully laugh at yourself). Horror itself, I have found, comes in two flavors. There are the games where the things predating upon your PC are about as inhuman as possible (Aliens, Doom, Amnesia), and then there are games where the things predating upon you were human once and have since changed (Dead Space, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Bioshock).

The moral of the story is that, yes, there are games where humans aren’t so exceptional that we’re number 1 all the time. Sure, just about every game is going to ask you to care about the fate of human beings to play on the ego and keep players invested in the story. But there certainly are stories where humanity is what’s for dinner, and those games can be quite a lot of fun too.

About Sarah Brunson

has always liked science fiction and fantasy. Dune, Lord of the Rings, the Last Unicorn, Jhereg, Grimspace, 2001, you name it, she was probably devouring it if she could find it. Two liberal arts degrees later, one wedding, going into business for herself as a freelance editor, then signing on as a contractor to do some medical editing, she's at a place where I'd like to publish some fiction for herself.

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