Why Don't More Sci-Fi Games Drop Humans and Replace Them with Machines?

Machines are equipped with all kinds of bells and whistles that make them cooler and deadlier than humans. But can they replace humans...?

The genre of science fiction takes its audiences into distant time periods and settings. The themes of time travel and life on other planets also play an important role, since they technically define the term sci-fi. As a result, MMOs (or any other games for that matter) that are based on science fiction take place in space, on other planets, and often in largely technologically advanced worlds.

So why don't we have any sci-fi MMOs that feature more robots as the primary character or the supporting cast?

After all, what's cooler (and really, more practical) than a robot or artificial intelligence that must obey commands and is much smarter than your average human? Robots and androids can make necessary calculations and act accordingly, devoid of emotion. Yet humans are still prominently featured in MMOs... why might that be?

Robots Are Robots

Robot Rising, an MMO about robots.

Yes, robots are awesome and amazing (just take a look at Transformers), but they are still robots. If you take a machine or robot, what can you do with it in its normative state? It can't think on it's own, it has no feelings, it experiences no emotions, and it can't act or think like a human can. Transformers don't really count because they're special, sentient beings. The majority of other robots are made of advanced artificial intelligences, sure, but those intelligences need humans to program them. 

In many MMOs, stories require characters to talk to and interact with people. And since MMOs have so much interactive content like main missions, side quests, faction/guild storylines, etc. dealing with calculated robots all the time would, invariably, get a little boring. Because ... 

How can a machine help a human being that has been attacked by space pirates, for instance? The machine's primary directive will be to terminate the alleged threat, and do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission. But will the machine do so voluntarily? Probably not. Will it feel sorry for the victims (the person attacked by the enemy)? Don't think so. Will the artificial intelligence be able to comfort and relate to the victim as another human could? Probably not. 

That leaves our narrative, while probably kind of accurate, really kind of cold. Even if the machine or robot is given some sort of A.I. that makes it look and act like and even speak like a human... it's still not the same! It doesn't have the intelligence required to make truly interpersonal connections. 

Humans in Sci-Fi

Star Trek Online

There is nothing wrong with having human characters in a sci-fi MMO. It's natural. Who says that they need to be replaced by machines? Just because it's sci-fi, it doesn't mean that your character (or any character for that matter) must automatically be some sort of robot or artificial intelligence.

Sure, it wouldn't hurt to have a few machines scattered around for variety's sake (as NPCs or as machines that do whatever they are supposed to do), but for the most part, being human makes perfect sense. Why? Because humans connect with humans. In other words: Players don't readily connect with robots. And that's really the most important point about any game, even MMOs. If players don't connect with their on-screen avatar, the experience won't live up to everything it possibly can be. 

Humans feel compassion, display feelings and emotions, and express themselves much more intricately than robots ever could. 

However, Robots are Badasses

Do you really want to screw around with this guy...?

Though robots aren't as humane as humans, that doesn't mean that they won't prove to be the perfect adversary (or vicious army). Robots can be programmed as unrepentant killing machines that will do whatever it takes to terminate their targets. Going back to the example above (with the space pirates), the robot won't be able to feel any pain if it gets hurt, won't die as quickly as a human would, and would continue to attack until the mission is a success.

A headshot to a human isn't the same as a headshot to a robot. Yes, if a robot is shot in the head, that might do some serious damage, but the greatest things about a robot is that it will continue to fight if it survives, and fight on until the screen goes blank.

Think about it. With a human, if he or she gets shot, what are the chances that they will press on and continue the fight? Robots won't care! They will continue to attack until they are completely destroyed. As a result, that potentially increases the mission's success rate. 

On the other hand, humans can think and act rationally. As a result, their conscience will tell them to do the right thing, which might cause problems during a mission (or any other interaction for that matter).

That's why stories, even for MMOs raids and side quests, need to have both humans and robots on-screen. Each brings a perfect balance to the other -- and each needs the other to survive, especially in most sci-fi-centric worlds. 

That Means MMOs CAN'T Drop Humans for Robots

A Sci-Fi setting. But who would be more suitable?

Compassion. Emotion. Rational thinking. These are the things (in theory) that separate humans from machines and robots. Science fiction isn't just about technology, but instead the symbiotic relationship between technology and organic matter -- the relationship between robots and humans.

If humans were dropped from science fiction games and replaced solely with robots, their stories wouldn't resonate. They would be cold worlds devoid of emotion and intricacy. 

And honestly, can artificial intelligence really be trusted? Just take a look at Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey to see what can actually happen if you trust a machine...

What do you think? Should more science fiction games drop humans for robots or should the human element remain to draw players in? Let us know in the comments below! 


Long time gamer (15 years+). Most favorite title is either Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask. Prefer single player games to multiplayer games, but occasionally play them as well. Proud owner of N64 and Nintendo SNES.

Published Dec. 10th 2016

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