- GAMES AND TOYS
- For games as a theme within sf GAMES AND SPORTS. This entry deals with games and toys based on sf.Sf games have quite a long history. The first, fairly quiet, phase comprised board games or card games based on a successful film, tv series or comic strip. The second phase, the commercial explosion in sf and fantasy games (and toys), dates back only to the 1970s, and came about as a consequence of three factors: the introduction in 1974 of Dungeons and Dragons (D\&D), a very successful role-playing game (RPG); the introduction of the home computer, which only at the very end of the 1970s developed any real market penetration (though an early sf computer strategy game, Star Trek, was on display at the Worldcon in Australia in 1975) and the increasing realization by businesspeople of the fortunes to be made by marketing products associated with successful films and tv shows, everything from bars of soap through books and comics to games and toys. The first massive campaign of this sort in the sf field was associated with the film STAR WARS (1977). (However, sf computer games played on the huge, old, cumbersome mainframes of the period, antedate by a decade or more the sf games played on home computers. The game Spacewarwas invented at MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology - in the 1960s, and was the subject of an article by Albert W. Kuhfeld in ASF, July 1971.)The first phase. Sf scenarios lendthemselves readily to strategy games or war games (the latter being a specialized case of the former), often played on boards marked out in various grid patterns. Board games of this sort can be traced back to chess and Wei-ch'i, but miniature wargaming effectively began with H.G. WELLS, as described in his books Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars: AGame for Boys (1913); he was probably, despite his denials, influenced by Kriegspiel, a military training tool then used in Germany. The immediate ancestor of sf games is Gettysburg (1958), designed by Charles Roberts, the first board game dedicated to simulating a single military event. It led to a plethora of such games, including simulations of imaginary events.Once speculative warfare was admitted by gamers to be legitimate, the field was open to games like Lensman (1971), based on E.E. "Doc" SMITH's series of novels. Featuring space combat, it was largely a varianton existing naval simulations, with the addition of such sf tropes as FORCE FIELDS and tractor beams. Later games include: Robert Heinlein'sStarship Troopers (1976), a clever and complex development from Robert A. HEINLEIN's original scenario, John Carter of Mars (1979), based on Edgar Rice BURROUGHS's Barsoom books, and DUNE (1979), based on Frank HERBERT's novel. One of the earlier sf games - though probably not the first - with an original scenario (that is, not based on a book or film) was Cosmic Encounter (1977), a strategy card game in which players, as alien specieswith differing powers, competed to extend their "sphere of influence". An early fantasy board game was War of the Ring (1978), based on J.R.R. TOLKIEN's The Lord of the Rings (1954-5).The second phase. Until themid-1970s most games inspired by sf and fantasy were essentially glosses on existing forms, substituting Mars for Mayfair or Nazgul for Nazis. Then new game-forms appeared, notably role-playing games, which took their inspiration from fantasy and sf at a much more fundamental level. Dungeons and Dragons (1974), the first published RPG, inspired by Tolkien's books and other fantasy sources, was created by Gary Gygax (1938-) and Dave Arneson. D\&D was soon popular with students and sf fans, and by 1981 theircompany, TSR Inc., was earning $20 million a year. In RPGs a referee (or "dungeon master") acts as story-teller, prepares - or describes accordingto parameters set out by the games company - an environment through which the players move, and presents the players with a series of problems such as monsters, booby traps and complicated puzzles. The players control "characters", defined in terms of various ratings, and roll dice to seewhether they have succeeded or failed. Players tend to feel intense identification with their characters.Other companies saw the potential of the market and launched their own fantasy RPGs, but the earliest were little more than variations on the D\&D theme. Runequest (1978), published by Chaosium, was the first really innovative successor, providing a detailed and consistent fantasy GAME-WORLD, complete with history, human and nonhuman races, religions and politics. Meanwhile sf RPGs were being launched, such as Traveller (1977), published by GDW Inc., and it too later added its own detailed background; its predecessors were Metamorphosis: Alpha, Flying Buffalo's Starfaring, Space Quest and SpacePatrol. Set in a SPACE-OPERA universe, Traveller would feel familiar to readers of such writers of HARD SF as Poul ANDERSON and Jerry POURNELLE.By now it was clear that game referees were prepared to buy accessory materials, such as rules supplements, prepared adventures, pads for recording details of characters, etc., and would buy more material for an existing game in preference to a new game. Games not supported by such accessories soon stopped selling. An early RPG trend was increasing complexity of rules. Chivalry and Sorcery (1977), published by Fantasy Games Unlimited, tried to simulate every detail of medieval life, and playslowed to a crawl under the burden of dice rolling and rules consultation needed for every action. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1978-9), published by TSR, much more successfully added several hundred thousand words to the D\&D rules.Most 1970s RPGs used invented game-worlds, or left theirbackgrounds vague, but in the 1980s many RPGs were licensed from popular sf and fantasy works. Among these were Call of Cthulhu (1981), published by Chaosium, based on H.P. LOVECRAFT's horror stories, Stormbringer (1981), published by Chaosium, based on Michael MOORCOCK's novels, StarTrek (1983), published by FASA, based on the tv series, Marvel Super Heroes (1984), published by TSR, based on MARVEL COMICS, RINGWORLD (1984), published by Chaosium, based on Larry NIVEN's novel, Star Wars (1987), published by West End Games, based on STAR WARS, Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century (1988), published by TSR, based on the comic strip BUCKROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY, Humanx Commonwealth (1989), published by Steve Jackson Games, based on the series of books by Alan Dean FOSTER, Uplift (1990), published by Steve Jackson Games, based on the novel by David BRIN, and Aliens (1991), published by Leading Edge Games, based on the film ALIENS.Sf games in original settings range from the Wellsian STEAMPUNK Space 1889 (1989), published by GDW, through the humorouslyDYSTOPIAN Paranoia (1984), published by West End Games, through space opera such as Spacemaster (1986), published by Iron Crown Enterprises, to the increasingly popular CYBERPUNK setting: Shadowrun (1989), published by FASA, Dark Conspiracy (1991), published by GDW, and Cyberpunk (1991),published by R. Talsorian.The first mass-market UK RPGs also appeared in the 1980s, all from GAMES WORKSHOP. Golden Heroes (1984) was an unsuccessful SUPERHERO RPG. Judge Dredd (1985), based on JUDGE DREDD, did better, as did Warhammer Fantasy (1986). No other UK RPG manufacturer has achieved much success. All the most important RPG companies are US, notably TSR, Chaosium, FASA, Steve Jackson Games, GDW and West End Games. TSR probably sells more RPG material than all the others combined.SomeRPGs are PBM (play by mail); these may be administered and refereed by commercial organizations, which charge a fee and often use a computer database.However, PBM is not well suited to role-playing games; most PBM games are strategic war games.Many RPG manufacturers use a core game system for several genres, so that players need learn only one set of rules. By far the most prolific is GURPS (1988; Generic Universal Role Playing System), from Steve Jackson Games, which has supplements in everygenre from fantasy, sf and horror to Wild West, pirates and modern warfare, and leases rights from a range of sources, including Witch World (1988), based on the novels by Andre NORTON, Riverworld (1989), based onthe novels by Philip Jose FARMER, Wild Cards (1989), based on the WILD CARDS original anthologies, themselves inspired by an RPG played byseveral of the authors, and The Prisoner (1991), based on The PRISONER . (This company gained considerable notoriety when computers, manuscriptsand materials for Cyberpunk were seized by the FBI, who believed that the company was preparing "a handbook for computer crime".) Similarly Chaosium's Runequest system was modified for Call of Cthulhu,Stormbringer, RINGWORLD and other RPGs. GDW's near-future war RPG Twilight 2000 (1987) was the basis for their hard-sf 2300 AD (1989) and other games. West End Games also have a generic system, TORG (1990).It seems likely that the early 1990s will see a major shake-out of RPG manufacturers, since there are too many games chasing too few customers; there are currently at least 10 horror RPGs and six cyberpunk variants. At any given time there are likely to be several RPG magazines in production, but they tend to be short-lived. The oldest and most regular are Dragon from TSR, White Dwarf from Games Workshop and Challenge from GDW. Dragon and Challenge often publish fiction.An important RPG variant is the Live Role-Playing Game, in which players dress as their characters, fight withblunt or padded weapons, and explore real caves or fake ruins. Numerous groups are involved in these activities.A growing branch of publishing, especially for children, is the role-playing gamebook, the book itself being the game. Such books, often part of series like the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook series, offer branching narratives where at various points thereader is invited to make a choice, as between, say, "Go left" and "Go right", with a different scenario following according to the choice made. Usually the reader has first defined, by rolling dice or otherwise. thevarious attributes (skill, stamina, good fortune, etc.) that s/he carries to the game. Successful authors in the field include Steve Jackson (1951- ; not the US Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games), Ian Livingstone andJoe Dever (1956-). Although most such books are fantasy, some are sf, as for example Dever's Freeway Warrior series.In the 1970s, at the same time as the rise of RPGs, the COMPUTER game Adventure (vt Colossal Cave), designed by Crowther and Wood, was the prototype for computer games that used simple typed commands to explore the secrets and eliminate the obstacles of a "world" described in lively detail by the computer. At first the only players were computer professionals and students who had access to the mainframe computers then required for play, but the games became much more widely popular in the early 1980s as the first mass-market personal computers appeared. The original Adventure was easily converted to most machines, and soon new games added larger vocabularies, better parsing (conversion of typed input into game instructions) and more complicated worlds. Zork (1982), published by Infocom, typified these adventures early on, but more recent "adventure games" of this sort are very much more sophisticated. In the USA, Infocom produced a number of good adventure games with sf scenarios, including Planetfall (1984), Starcross (1984), the dystopian A Mind Forever Voyaging (1985) and-basedon Douglas ADAMS's best-selling novel - THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (1984). Also notable was the sf Silicon Dream trilogy from Level 9in the UK, beginning with Snowball (1983). Several multiple-player games appeared, the most successful being MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) (1982), played over computer networks or via modem.By the late 1980s many of the concepts used in RPGs had found their way into computer adventures, which were beginning to use animated graphics, sound and more flexible control methods. Several RPGs were converted to computer form, notably Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, in Pool of Radiance (1989) published by SST, andlater games. Computer adventures of the late 1980s and the 1990s often involve as many as 4-6 characters, much like those in RPGs, and these sometimes act independently of the player's instructions.While most RPGs stay in production for several years, the shelf life of most computer games is measured in months, and they become obsolete as systems evolve. Despite complaints from the minority of players who had enjoyed thelanguage-oriented input and output of earlier computer adventure games, almost all computer adventures now rely on highly detailed graphics, and often include music and electronically generated speech. Unfortunately, these embellishments mean that a game which runs on one type of computer must be completely rewritten to run on another. Conversion is usually expensive and difficult, and a game which is famous on one or two systems may be unknown elsewhere. A new trend is rapid growth in the sheer size of programs: some adventures are supplied on seven or more floppy disks. The huge King's Quest 5 (1990), published by Sierra, is most conveniently purchased as a CD-ROM disk.While sf scenarios are at their most interesting (and their closest to written sf) in these so-called "adventure" games, they are even more common in "arcade" games. Whereadventure games require skill at problem-solving (and sometimes language skills), arcade games put a premium on the dexterity of the player or players with joystick or pushbutton controls, and often involve manoeuvring small screen figures on moving platforms or around various moving threats, and shooting down moving obstacles (which in early arcade classics were space invaders or asteroids). Such scenarios - though visually much more elaborate - are still common in the arcade games produced, for example, by the Japanese computer-games company Nintendo. A classic game mixing strategy (trading between planetary systems) and arcade skills (space combat) is Elite (1984 UK), originally published by Acornsoft and now available in diverse versions, including Nintendo. Themodern computer adventure game commonly contains elements of play (requiring timing and dexterity) taken from arcade games; sometimes thesegames are known as "arcade adventures".Games presently under development will present their players with a VIRTUAL-REALITY scenario; their players will wear helmets, gloves, etc., in which visual display units and WALDO sensors will be incorporated. The subjective experience approximates the feeling of being placed in and able to interact with a real alternate world. Such developments are still at comparatively early stages (although of course they have been commonplace in sf since the 1940s).There has naturally been considerable cross-fertilization between RPGs and computer adventures on the one hand, and sf and fantasy in other media on the other. While many RPGs are based either on literary sources or on tv or film, it is now not unusual for the fiction to be based on the game. Several sf games have appeared with novels set in the worlds they presentas part of the games package. TSR's games have spawned numerous novels, comics and a tv cartoon series. Novel TIES have been based on RPGs, especially D\&D and computer adventures, such as Zork. Several well known authors have emerged from hobby writing, including John M. FORD. For more on this aspect of publishing GAME-WORLDS, themselves a specialized aspect of SHARED WORLDS.Games playing itself has become a common activity in sf scenarios in films and books (it is used to conscript a space pilot in The LAST STARFIGHTER (1984), for example), especially those directed at adolescents. Space Demons (1986) by Gillian RUBINSTEIN is not untypical in sucking its protagonists into a ruthless computer-games world, much as in the film TRON (1982). (See also CYBERSPACE.)There are many active RPG fans, and this group has a considerable overlap with sf and fantasy FANDOM generally. Annual CONVENTIONS include Origins and Gencon, in the USA, and the UK's Gamesfair, and are usually commercially organized (unlike most sf conventions). FANZINES tend to be short-lived and irregular. There is not nearly so much fan activity among computer-games enthusiasts.RPGs have frequently come under fire from religious fundamentalists and other pressure groups, who appear to believe that their depictions of MAGIC and SUPERNATURAL CREATURES are likely to deprave and corrupt. Any suicide byan RPG player may be blamed on the genre, despite evidence suggesting that suicide rates among RPG players are lower than average. It can be argued that such games are psychologically disruptive, sometimes distracting their players from education and other matters which should take a higher priority, but this is true of most hobbies. It can equally be argued, especially with some of the sf games (which may require, for example, a good working knowledge of physics and chemistry), that games-playing can be educational.From a commercial point of view, sf toys are more important than sf games, and they have at least as long a history. Wind-up toy robots had become popular by the mid-1950s, but they can be regarded as simply the latest incarnation of the "automata" that were being built as toys as early as the 18th century and celebrated in PROTO-SCIENCE-FICTION stories such as "Der Sandmann" (1816; trans as "The Sandman") by E.T.A. HOFFMANN and "The Artist of the Beautiful" (1844) by NathanielHAWTHORNE.Marketing campaigns for toys connected to hit movies like Star Wars made many millions of dollars and became the target of angry opposition from parents and educators when, in the 1980s, they became connected to the sort of tv shows often viewed by children on a Saturday morning - usually animated cartoons or animated puppet programmes. Three notable offenders were the sf tv programmes Transformers, He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all of which, whatever their virtues asentertainment, could be seen as 25-minute advertisements designed to encourage children to put pressure on their parents to buy toys which would enable them, in play, to reproduce the on-screen adventures (see also The TRANSFORMERS - THE MOVIE, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES). An additional criticism, perhaps less securelybased, is that many such programmes, including these three, encourage childen to indulge in fantasies of violence. The commercial clout of these product-advertising programmes - not all of them sf (Care Bears is a non-sf example) - can be enormous, spawning major industries. The USA and Australia are among the worst offenders; the UK has some regulationsdesigned to minimize this sort of advertising-masquerading-as-entertainment to a captive audience of children, and some European countries have banned such programmes altogether.MR/BF/ZB/PNFurther reading: On games, Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games (1991) by Lawrence Schick, and Adventure Games for Microcomputers: An Annotated Directory of Interactive Fiction (1991) by Patrick R. Dewey; on toys, Zap! Ray Gun Classics (1991) by Leslie Singer.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. Academic. 2011.