Over the years one of humanities’ main goals has been to try and predict the future or just have a slight idea of what the next day will bring. Therefore, humanity has turned first to deities and the supernatural then to science in order to get a better understanding about the world and the universe surrounding us. For centuries people have been fascinated and afraid of nature; be it such occurrences as storms, blizzards, tsunamis, earthquakes or events, which seemed apocalyptic to many civilisations of the olden days. However, nowadays scientists are able to explain and predict these events as well as use computers to simulate them, with surprising accuracy. Moreover, there are now measures that prevent or dampen the effect of such natural disasters example being the anti-flood methods that are implemented in many countries. But this still does not mean that we know for certain what will happen in the foreseeable future. Be it the next five or the next fifty years, we have a general idea, based on some assumptions and statistical analysis, but we don’t have any concrete supporting evidence, that definitively say what is going to happen.
This fascination with the unknown has intrigued, interested and inspired many to speculate about the future. In turn, this curiosity gave birth to a new literary genre called “The Science Fiction”; in which writers made hypotheses about the future of humanity, and explored problems of their day through the lens of the future. While some came eerily close to the truth others had overestimated our capability, since most regarded the year 2000 like distant future, and a year of greatness, which it certainly was, but not to the same scale as predicted.
Prediction made in media:
It is also important to understand that the Science Fiction like many other literary genres, has gone through many iterations: proto Sci-Fi, Pulp Sci-Fi, Hard Sci-Fi (also known as the Golden age of Sci-Fi), New-wave, and last but not least the Digital Age of Sci-Fi. Each of the aforementioned periods had unique features which defined how accurate the predictions were, and that is mostly due to the fact that each era approached the topic of future in a different matter. In the early ages most of Sci-Fi was focused on mysticism and the properties of the ether, also known as the occult, meaning that authors were leaning towards the fiction part in Science fiction. Later on, however, the trend shifted towards real science, and based in somewhat plausible situations.
When one talks about the art of predicting or forecasting in science fiction; Jules Verne (one of the greatest authors of the 19th century) comes to mind. Since, from his early career he was making pretty accurate predictions: in his novel “From the Earth to the Moon (Extraordinary Voyages, #4)” where at a time when no one even fathomed the thought of rocket science; he, to some extent, depicted the mechanics of space travel- to be exact; the need for helmets, in order to combat the lack of oxygen, and a launch pad, as well as the elliptical trajectory needed to get to the moon, since unlike depicted in most of the media rockets don’t fly straight from lift-off, they require a curved movement. Moreover, in “Around the World in Eighty Days (Extraordinary Voyages, #11)” Verne explores the new concept of globalization and how one could theoretically travel around the world, in as little as about two months and a half, an idea which was unheard of at the time.
Furthermore, such authors as H. G. Wells and Alexander Belyaev were able to predict future in their own right. Wells in his acclaimed novel “Like Gods (1923)” predicted the creation of the email service almost a century prior, and some of its features: how there was no time limit on reading them, and the fact that they could be stored securely indefinitely. Another novel of interest includes “The Island of Dr Moreau (1896)” which was to some degree able to predict the rise of genetic engineering decades before the controversial chimera studies, or even the thought of combining animals became somewhat feasible. In addition, Alexander Belyaev (who is commonly regarded as the Soviet Jules Verne) has predicted many things all with varying degrees of success, be it the “Seller of Air” with the concept of a dystopian future where fresh air becomes a luxury due to global pollution, a prominent topic in the world of today, or “The Star of KETS” where he introduces the idea of orbiting space stations long before the International Space Station also known as the ISS went into orbit. Finally, we come to the Big Three: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein. Each in their own respect has revolutionised the genre, and ushered in the Golden age of Sci-Fi, setting the laws of robotics (Asimov), the three adages (C. Clarke), and many more achievements and breakthroughs to go over which in a short manner would be a disservice to their legacy. Furthermore, there were other authors, from many different cultures who dabbled with the idea of predicting the future, and as previously mentioned some were more precise than others.
Prediction made in media:
Nevertheless, such speculations were not just condemned to the literature genre, the movement outgrew into media both TV and cinema. To begin with, in one of the most famous animated tv shows of the current century The Simpsons have a notorious track record of being able to exactly predict the future. Such cases include but are not limited to: the discovery of The Higgs Boson particle also known as “The God Particle” (S10 E2 “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” which aired 14 years prior to the discovery), the modernised version of Smart watches (S6 E19 “Lisa’s Wedding” aired 9 years prior), and the 2014 American Ebola outbreak (S9, E3 “Lisa’s Sax” aired 18 years prior) as well as many more. Other notable TV shows which were able to make accurate predictions, are Family Guy with Caitlyn Jenner coming out as a woman; Star Trek with their depiction of google glasses and talks about the moon landing.
Other notable instances of media predicting the future include several movies which were able to come very close to the truth, “The Cable Guy” (1996) predicted the online gaming and google TV, “Airplane: The Sequel” (1982) was first to depict body scanners at airports, and “Blade Runner” (1982) the predicted the idea of bill boards or even digital bill boards at that. Each of those were shown either decades or years before the actual implementation of the said items. Then the trend slowly shifted towards gaming, where there was much more space for the exploration of the unknown.
History of Gaming:
To start it is vital to understand the origins of gaming; now unlike its bigger brothers in the media industry, gaming can be considered still a relatively new sphere with a lot of room for growth and ideas to explore, yet it is old enough to be analysed and broken down. To begin with we must first look at the origins of gaming, since the original games didn’t exactly have much plot to them, due to the technological limitations or the experimental nature of the genre. Hence most developers focused on other aspects, such as Music, Gameplay, and Looks. That is the reason why most early games had little to no plot, thus making it an inferior source of story telling in the eyes of many, this attitude, despite the modernised change still lingers in the minds of many.
Furthermore, in its infancy the gaming media had no books written on game design and most games were made by people experimenting with totally foreign technology. In the beginning there were two types of games: the life like simulations the rules of which were already known to the public. Such games include but are not limited to Baseball, Basketball, American Football, card games such as solitaire, bridge and others. On the other hand, there were totally unique games like “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Ghosts ‘n Goblins” those that taught very little about themselves to the user and were quite difficult to play. That caused many game developers to write booklets about their creations and why the consumer should spend their hard-earned money on the product. Although some might argue that by doing that the developers were shooting themselves in the leg, since the expectations would not coincide with reality. This process stagnated the development of the scene.
But as the years went on such companies as Nintendo, Sega, and partly Sony entered the scene, revolutionising both the consoles on which the games were played, thus, creating additional wiggle room for the developers, and the games themselves. The flagship gaming company was Nintendo which made games as “Mega man”, “Castlevania”, and “Pokémon”, each made a huge impact on the scene; and pushed gaming into the public eye. Therefore, seeing the potential money that could be made, more and more companies hopped on the developing scene, bringing the consumer the most incredible games, the world has ever seen.
Now it is time to get into the detailed depiction of gaming, since just like its predecessors gaming went through iterations, but this time since there are a lot of genres, it will be approached by time periods.
Nowadays, in the digital age, when it is possible to fit an entire Terabyte of data into an area smaller than a finger nail, games have entered the area of surrealism, becoming more detailed than ever, pushing the console capabilities even further. So, now to put it in layman’s terms gaming can be boiled down into three broad categories, RPGs or Role-playing games, FPS also known as First-person shooters, and Simulators which are distinct from RPGs by the fact that simulators are usually set in our reality, and simulate real tasks performed by people. If one were to assume in which genre there would be more predictions one would reasonable argue that the “Simulation” genre would have most accurate predictions since as the name suggests the games in that genre simulate life. However, upon further examination it can be clearly seen that RPGs (Role Playing Games), and FPSs (First Person Shooter) have more accurate predictions.
Predictions made in Video Games:
Predictions made Pre-2000
Due to the aforementioned factors, there weren’t many plot heavy games created back in the 20th century. However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any, as well as the fact that as it will be covered a bit later some games which had little to no plot were able to come up with concepts never heard of before and predict some details with precision. But before hand it is vital to clarify that games are more often than not part of franchises, and despite being developed by the same company, franchises rarely overlap neither with the sister-franchises (developed by the same company) or with other.
To start off with, lets take a look at the top most prominent examples: first being “Smash Tv” the game is set in the year 1999, but released in 1990; the game is sent in a run and gun arcade fashion, made to be endlessly replayable, with little hints of a story. The main concept of the game is that the protagonists are put into a reality show where they have to fight for their life to survive, and at the end of each round they gain a certain amount of money based on the performance. The significance of it is, that the game predicted decades before, the rise or reality TV shows, since looking at the statistics, it can be clearly seen that after the year 1998 there is a sharp rise in the popularity of reality shows, which becomes stable at around 2007.
Moreover, there is the game “Sid Meiere’s Alpha Centauri” a turn-based strategy, released in 1999, which revolves around the user’s own civilisation and one of the defining features the science tree, a set of progressively developing scientific achievements, spanning from agriculture to rocket science, also has no plot to speak of. Nevertheless, in that science tree there was a special project for players to carry out, that project being: mapping the human genome. A feat completed in the real world in 2003, and the project itself is now known as one of the greatest achievements in human history.
Finally, the most accurate prediction is also the most tragic one. The specimen is “Deus Ex” a role-playing FPS with a heavy emphasis on single player story mode, was released on June 17, 2000, and is set in 2052. This game has predicted the 9/11 attacks a year before they happened, in the game the New-York’s sky line had the twin towers noticeably missing, a factor which many players found odd. Thus, the developers wrote an inworld justification, which mimics the real event, saying that there was a terrorist attack on the western world. The real explanation given by the developers was that there were memory limitations, so it would have been easier to just omit the Twin Towers, from the background of the game.
Predictions made in Video Games:
Predictions made Post-2000
Transitioning into the 21st century, gaming becomes slowly but surely more and more mainstream, meaning that the number of games created increased, and unlike before there is a new path in game development. One thing to highlight is that pre-2003 most games were developed by triple A companies (in other words, by corporations with entire teams and finances dedicated to making games). However, with the rise of the Internet, games were being developed by random people who coded in their free time, thus creating indie games.
To start off with the predictions and the instances of games being correct. The previously mentioned “Deus Ex” franchise in one of its later titles “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”, released in 2011, had a non-playable character by the name of “Mr. Trudeau” as the Canadian Prime minister, most likely referring to Justin Trudeau, who became the prime minister four years after the game in 2015. The game also states that he will be in office until 2027, something which remains to be proven. Furthermore, same franchise also predicts the declining economic worth of humans, a problem which we face today, as science and technology advance, automations seems inevitable.
On the other hand, such game as “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon” released in early 2001 being the first game in the “Ghost Recon” series, focused on the conflict between Russia, Georgia and some Baltic states, with Russia trying to bring back the land it previously owned during the Soviet reign. The prediction itself is that the game is set in 2008 the exact year of the conflict between Russia and Georgia.
Also, in November 2001, the game “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty”, predicted a fuel producing algae, and sure enough in 2012, algae fuel started rolling out at four gas stations in San Francisco. Furthermore, the game also depicts that post 9/11, NSA will be collecting data on civilians, a fact discovered in quite recently and made public by Edward Snowden.
Finally, the in a later title in the franchise “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance”, released in 2013, one of the antagonists Senator Steven Armstrong, makes a grim claim about his plans for the Whitehouse, which as of writing this haven’t come true, except for one key phrase of his “They’ll make America great again!” a slogan which was echoed by a presidential nominee, and current US president Donald Trump.
Explanation of these occurrences:
Upon reading the aforementioned examples when not only games, but also other kinds of media were quite successful in their predictions, one might reasonably conclude that maybe, there is some hidden power at work. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth, each of the instances have their own logical explanation.
First, there is Survivorship bias, which can be demonstrated in one historical event. During World War 2 many of American fighter jets were being shot down, and those that returned had holes at the bottom parts of the wings, and near the cockpit. Therefore, at the time engineers decided to reinforce with additional armour those areas, what they failed to notice, and thankfully later understood. That, if there were bullet holes in those areas and the planes returned, that meant that all other areas needed to be reinforced. Meaning, that people tend to look at the positive aspects without taking into consideration the negative sides. As seen in how often media gets the predictions wrong, and that out of thousands upon thousands of details, only a few get to become reality.
Second explanation comes in a form, that it all is indeed a coincidence, since such shows as The Simpsons, as of today had over 320 hours of episodes and most had contradicting predictions, as well as the fact that at some point it would have been inevitable for them to make a few accurate predictions. It is the same argument as leaving an immortal monkey with a type-writer, since no matter how low the probability of the monkey writing Shakespeare, sooner or later, during infinity, it will get it right.
Thirdly, such franchises as “Metal Gear Solid”, and “Ghost Recon”, have incredible directors, Hideo Kijima and Tom Clancy respectively, who made some educated guesses, based on the information they had at the time, same as most other writers with their predictions listed above, such as mapping of the human genome, the rise of reality TV and the rest, creation of a space station, or even the use of email.
And finally, we can’t excuse the fact that maybe, these incredible works of art might have inspired the real-world events, and to some degree affected reality. The Canadian elections could have been affected by the game, since it subconsciously planted the idea of the candidate, or maybe inspired someone in the marketing department, to make advertisements on large screens.
In conclusion, to answer the question “to what extent it is a coincidence that Video Games have predicted the future”, I would have to say that it was all a coincidence. Furthermore, until someone invents a time machine, no one can be 100% certain of the future, even the statisticians, and analyst, sometimes forget to factor in some details, also knowns as black swans, and other times there could be some unexpected events which change the way the world works, such include, the tragic event of 9/11 or the market crash of 2008. Thus, it is important to state that future alludes us, and the only thing one could do is just keep moving forward, and at times when it seems that the future was predicted, it was most definitely either a coincidence, or an educated guess.