Gaming is a medium that is finally coming into its own as an art form, and as a valid way of telling stories. While some still dismiss games as mindless entertainment, more and more people are seeing them for what they are; the interactive media of the new millennium.
The topics video games tackle have evolved alongside gameplay. Gone (mostly) are the one-dimensional days of “go there, shoot that, look at the thing, shoot some more”. Sure, some still do that, but they’re alongside themes of environmentalism, racism, science; real issues that mean real things. There are stories being told while we play.
This series will focus on one of the more niche topics tackled by modern games: transhumanism. The transhumanist philosophy is one of enhancing humans beyond what nature intended, and the idea that science and technology can be utilised to make us better than what we are. From cybernetic augmentation, to chemical enhancements, to genetic modification, we’ll be examining how these are handled by the gaming industry, and touching on the real-world inspiration behind them. This week, we’re looking at cybernetics, implants, and nanotechnology.
Who can talk about cybernetics without bringing up Deus Ex? Released in 2000, it was highly acclaimed for its excellent gameplay and astonishing depth, and is still widely regarded as one of the best games ever made. Set in the not-too-distant future, in an age where human augmentation with nanotechnology has become the norm, Deus Ex was among the first games to show what nanotechnology could conceivably be capable of in coming years, and certainly the most influential. Many nanotech augments are shown; cognitive upgrades and muscle enhancers being the most general categories.
In all honesty, none of this is that new. Body modification has been around for millennia, and people already ‘augment’ themselves all the time; biohacking is very much a thing, and has been for well over a decade. People have magnets in their hands, RFID chips in their heads, and are basically becoming as close to cyborgs as they can afford. We’re probably not going to see implanted sunglasses like Adam Jensen’s anytime soon, but you can bet I’ll be going for that as soon as I can. C’mon guys, get to it.
The idea of human augmentation through nanotechnology was novel and edgy at the time Deus Ex was released, but it’s no longer merely the stuff of fiction. Advances have been made using carbon nanofibers, which can mimic human muscle tissue, and are over 200 times stronger than actual muscle. Hello, punching through walls. Or, you know, replacing lost limbs.
Speaking of lost limbs, some companies are taking the gaming theme and running with it. Deus Ex apparently not only shows the potential future of human augmentation, but inspires it. Open Bionics recently designed a bionic hand for a young amputee, inspired by the Deus Ex series. Tilly, who had both her hands amputated due to complications from meningitis, can now grab and hold things again, and do it with the style of the not-too-distant future. Is this the future of augmentation? Yes. Yes it is. It’s also adorable, and go check out the full story.
Further to this, augments such as enhanced vision may soon be possible, as already we see advancements in the creation of devices such as microbolometers. A microbolometer is a tiny device that measures incoming infrared radiation by monitoring changes in the thermal readout of the material, effectively facilitating infrared vision. We are on the cusp or restoring eyesight to the blind, and rebuilding people.
Similar technology comes into play in the Metal Gear Solid universe, most notably in MGS4: Guns of the Patriots. Nanotech courses through the veins of the Patriots, slowing their ageing and increasing their combat potential, and nanites are used to accelerate aging in Solid Snake. The nanomachines in MGS4 are also described as being able to administer combat enhancing substances, such as adrenaline and Benzedrine, as well as cognition enhancing nootropics. Again, this is pretty awesome, and it’s not that far removed from the realms of possibility either.
In theory, nanocarriers could be specifically designed to release cargo given the proper conditions, and similar advancements are shown by the work of the Halas Nano Group. Dr. Naomi Halas of Rice University has been developing a system of nanoshells to deliver cancer therapy with less damage than conventional therapies, effectively much more targeted chemotherapy, which could lead to easier and more comfortable treatment of cancer.
Interestingly, the similarly named Metal Gear character Dr. Naomi Hunter is revealed to be suffering from a highly-advanced cancer and being treated with nanotechnology, in a similar fashion to this real-world therapy. This looks to be pure coincidence, but it’s still pretty cool.
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