Infamous imaginary games from science fiction


Yo Austin, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish but Ready Player One had
one of the best imaginary video games of all time…one of the best imaginary video games of all time!

Also, the strategy/adventure/rpg game they play as kids in “You!” sounded pretty dope.


Growing up playing wargames and tabletop RPG’s, I always daydreamed about the Dueling Machine (from Ben Bova’s The Dueling Machine). Now, of course, the concept of vanilla Matrix-style VR is utterly passe.

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Azad in Iain M Banks’ The Player of Games, surely?

And how about a nice game of global thermonuclear war?


Similar to the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, the Mind Game / Fantasy game that the students play in Ender’s Game was fascinating (assuming you make it past the Kobayashi Maru-esque Giant’s Drink).

A procedurally-driven story that is fully interactive and abounds with problem solving and beautiful visuals? Sign me up… right after you get it away from the hate-ragey author.


My favorite imaginary game is still any Bethesda title without massive amounts of unpatched bugs.

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There is the imaginary shooting gallery in Clifford Simak’s Way Station

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For my money, any game that resembles my interpretation of the MMORPG “The Game” from the .Hack manga/anime series pretty much gets my money. None have yet reached a tipping point, but for me that is the one.
With my own pre-order for the Oculus Rift DK2, perhaps another step in this direction :smile:

Don’t forget Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy!


Also worth a mention, Zero-G Football. We won’t see another Roof Attack like Jim Bexley Speed in a hurry…

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Not science fiction, but I always loved the sound of the board game Albion’s Dream from the novel Albion’s Dream.

I spent weeks trying to design the game with my brother, drawing out the board and inventing rules, but the great benefit of fiction is that you don’t have to have a fully-fleshed idea for how a game works, and the actual game may be impossible.

In retrospect, if I were to describe it now, it would just sound like a fairly run-of-the-mill RPG, where players compete against each other but mostly against the board. I’ll have to read it (yet) again to see why it felt so much more compelling than that.

Many (many!) years ago, I read Andre Norton’s Time Traders:

*> "So Ross had no chance to speak to Kurt. Instead, he was drawn into the knot of men who, having finished their meal, entered a small arena with a half circle of spectator seats at one side and a space for contestants at the other. What followed absorbed Ross as completely as the earlier scene of the wolf killing. This too was a fight, but not a physical struggle. All three contenders were not only unlike in body, but as Ross speedily came to understand, they were also unlike in their mental approach to any problem.

They seated themselves crosslegged at the three points of a triangle. Then Ashe looked from the tall blond to the small Oriental. “Territory?” he asked crisply.
“Inland plains!” That came almost in chorus, and each man, looking at his opponent, began to laugh.
Ashe himself chuckled. “Trying to be smart tonight, boys?” he inquired. “All right, plains it is.”
He brought his hand down on the floor before him, and to Ross’s astonishment the area around the players darkened and the floor became a stretch of miniature countryside. Grassy plains rippled under the wind of a fair day.
The choices came quickly from the dusk masking the players. And upon those orders points of the designated color came into being as small lights.
“Red—caravan!” Ross recognized Jansen’s boom.
“Blue—raiders!” Hodaki’s choice was only an instant behind.
“Yellow—unknown factor.”
Ross was sure that sigh came from Jansen. “Is the unknown factor a natural phenomenon?”
“No—tribe on the march.”
“Ah!” Hodaki was considering that. Ross could picture his shrug.
The game began. Ross had heard of chess, of war games played with miniature armies or ships, of games on paper which demand from the players a quick wit and a trained memory. This game, however, was all those combined, and more. As his imagination came to life the moving points of light were transformed into the raiders, the merchants’ caravan, the tribe on the march. There was ingenious deployment, a battle, a retreat, a small victory here, to be followed by a bigger defeat there. The game might have gone on for hours. The men about him muttered, taking sides and arguing heatedly in voices low enough not to drown out the moves called by the players. Ross was thrilled when the red traders avoided a very cleverly laid ambush, and indignant when the tribe was forced to withdraw or the caravan lost points. It was the most fascinating game he had ever seen, and he realized that the three men ordering those moves were all masters of strategy. Their respective skills checkmated each other so equally that an outright win was far away.
Then Jansen laughed, and the red line of the caravan gathered in a tight knot. “Camped at a spring,” he announced, “but with plenty of sentries out.” Red sparks showed briefly beyond that center core. “And they’ll have to stay there for all of me. We could keep this up till doomsday, and nobody would crack.”
“No”—Hodaki contradicted him—“someday one of you will make a little mistake and then——”
“That’ll be the day! Anyway, truce for now.”
The lights of the arena went on and the plains vanished into a dark, tiled floor. “Any time you want a return engagement it’ll be fine with me,” said Ashe, getting up."*

And then, many years later, I played Sid Meier’s Civilization.


I think Stevenson’s Illustrated Primer may end up being the most prescient of all sci-fi videogame/computers/gadgets.

My wife downloaded an iPad “edu-tainment” app called Endless Reader, a simple spelling/reading game featuring funny sound effects and animations and cartoon characters. Our two-year-old loves it. He can’t read yet, obviously, but the game is already teaching him to match letters and words by sight, and I suspect it — combined with the standard practice of reading traditional picture books with him — is going to help give him a major leg up in reading skills.

In this way, our iPads and Kindles and Surfaces are gradually becoming Primers: Devices that could grow with a child, first teaching simple things like colors and shapes; then letters and reading; math; programming; infinitely nested Wikipedia trails leading you through history and culture and philosophy…

The only difference is that there’s no AI yet, the learning is self-directed, Montessori style.

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I was so taken with The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. As cool and fun as more immersive games would be, I have no problem getting lost in current media. Now a book that tells me the stories I want or need to hear to help me advance in life and feel less lonely, that would really be something special. In fact I can barely think of anything better.


Came here looking for Banks. It would cost a quintillion dollars to build Azad, but it would be the the greatest game that ever could be.

Here’s a fun game to play: Read The Diamond Age and the CS classic The Theory of Computation by Michael Sipser side-by-side. Every single puzzle Nell faces from The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is a chapter from Theory. I happened to be reading both at the same time, purely by accident, and the coincidence was astounding. Even better, with the help of The Diamond Age, I aced the class.


Damn, you beat me to it. Azad was awesome.

Did you ever play Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz? Whoa!

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The Game of Fencing by John Brunner (from his novel The Shockwave Rider – one of my favorite books).

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What about the genocidal game of makrúgh from Somtow Sucharitkul’s “Utopia Hunters”? The Inquest is one of the great visions of galactic empire.