Flipping the Sci-Fi Script
Just finished Beneath a Steel Sky, a point and click adventure game by Revolution Studios. Debuting in 1994, it’s held up remarkably well, and will no doubt be a point for further writing. For now, I focus on the ingenious commentary. Instead of the literal top-down approach most sci-fi takes when it comes to class, the game illustrates privilege though proximity to the earth. Lower members of the game’s caste system live int eh uppermost regions of the city, dominated by steel and industry. They are forbidden from descending to lower levels, where the richer citizens live. Of course, the object of the game is to work your way down though the buildings to solve the mystery of what truly lies underneath the city.Instead of harsh steam and tech, residents in lower sections have beautiful terraces and (fake) plants. It’s not a truly natural environment, as it still holds deep elements of artificiality, but it’s genuinely humane living to say the least. It’s an insightful commentary, illustrating how the poor deal with harsher conditions that remove them from a natural environment, while those with wealth have the means to literally live more healthy. Whether it be higher prices or the problem of accessibility, access to healthy food is a privilege today, and by extension healthy living. (I recommend portions of Jonathan Kozol’s book Amazing Grace as just one account of the awful things dumped into poorer districts that people have to live with.) So I say bravo to this game for literally flipping expectations while revealing a larger truth.