Friday, 10 June 2011

My Favourite Setting

This was done as the Day 19 Entry to the VG Resource's 30 Days of Gaming.

I spend way too much time on the computer. It’s an undeniable fact, and a little sad. Yes, the advent of social networking, and the ability to deal with work via my computer makes my addiction look a little less suspect, but I can’t avoid just how anti-social it makes me look. So when there’s a game series that’s entirely based around absolutely everyone using computers and the internet as if their life depended on it, it’ll strike a chord with me. And that would be the MegaMan Battle Network series.

What’s more, in this imagining, the complete and entire devotion to the Computer doesn’t result in a dystopian, Neuromancer-esque vibe. This is MegaMan we’re talking about here; a series typically dealing with grisly robot destruction with smiley faces and bright colours. According to Capcom, the future is a bright one, where hooking everything up to the internet seems like a perfectly sensible idea; from your washing machine to trees. It sounds foolish, but having your fridge notify you when it needs cleaning, or your garden twittering about the health of your flowers has useful applications.

And then there’s how they deal with A.I. In a concept shift that’s been somewhat divisive for Mega fans, MegaMan isn’t a Super Fighting Robot, but instead a computer program. For some, it feels like a bit of a jump to go from the concept of death-dealing android to a desktop buddy, but even the classic Mega Man started out as a cleaning assistant for Dr. Light. MegaMan.exe and his operator, Lan are tasked with deleting viruses and other malicious Network Navigators (Netnavis), which becomes a gargantuan task when you realise that with almost everything Online, a virus or hacker could cause major problems. In-game this is taken to some rather silly extremes, like the occurrence of rainstorms and earthquakes being computer-generated, but in a more realistic context, a hacker having a degree of social control is very real. The public response to Sony’s Playstation Network servers being hacked was impressive, and has made people think hard about the consequences of having so much of themselves accessible over the Internet.

But just think for a moment – what if Netnavis were thrown into the equation? We would all have a more overt level of protection; smarter and more adaptive than your regular anti-virus. By being a personality more than a tool, we would pay more attention to the safety and maintenance of our data. Tech-savvy members of the family would breathe a sigh of the relief when they’re no longer called on for trivial computer issues. With a few minutes of setup and explanation, grandma could be deleting viruses and surfing the Internet with the best of them, maybe even better than you.

Though, what I like most of all about this setting (and it embarrasses me a little to say this), having a digital friend to call your own is incredibly charming. While obviously not a substitute for a flesh-and-blood human, no one need ever feel alone as long as they had their Personal Terminal to hand. Think of the practical applications for therapy and social conditioning. Give up smoking! Have a (non-corporeal) shoulder to cry on! Never forget another deadline or birthday again!

While the Battle Network series does have its ridiculous moments, treating science as a magical phenomenon has its charm. I’m slack-jawed at how a virus can make an oven start spitting fire, or why a meteorology team would build a facility 30,000 feet in the air, powered by rockets (with no hand rails!), and then I also see how everyone’s quality of life has been improved by better and smarter computers; how their internet community is more polite and unified; how the digital age has been whole-heartedly accepted as a progression for society, and my heart is warmed.

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