[personal profile] wingedbeast
Only You Can Save Mankind is a book you probably haven't read. Even if you really enjoy Terry Pratchett, it's not in his Discworld series and... in all honesty, it's not a great book. I know. I just stated a paradox. It's by Terry Pratchett and I... don't like it.

I don't hate it or even dislike it. I can see how others would like it. If you have the chance, give it a read. I didn't find it a chore to get through the whole thing. And, hey, if Amazon is any indication, a lot of people loved it. (Though, one did give it a one star review and called it liberal indoctrination, which actually endears the novel to me.)

My issue with the book is that it left me with the feeling that... nothing really happened. Oh, there was action, there was exploration of a theme and the beginnings of what could open up to a deconstruction of common game tropes of "Always Chaotic Evil" and the application of the Social Anthropological Principle of Out-Group Homogeneity Bias*. Unlike other stories that never notice their own potential, this one notices, but doesn't really have a grasp on how to engage it.

In Only You Can Save Mankind, the main character gets a new video game and plays some. In many ways, it's a standard alien-invasion video game. The goal is to destroy the aliens and save the world, to save, indeed, all of Mankind. The name of the game is also the name of the book, something to remind the player that, within the game, only you, the player, have the power to save humanity.

The main character plays the game then has a dream where he interacts with the game and the alien race. The dream doesn't make sense, but they never do, do they? In this dream, the leader of the alien invasion fleet surrenders and demands to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. He takes a little convincing, but, in my opinion, not enough.

The next day, he finds out that this wasn't just a dream. If it was, there's been an amazing coincidence. Everybody who has tried to play the game has turned it on to find the aliens gone. They left. And, it wasn't the intention of any of the game's producers. Whatever's going on in the main character's dreams, they are, in some way, real... and so are these aliens who have surrendered to him, begging him for protection.

I'm not going to give everything away. There's some good story there. As I said, I don't dislike this book and I do see how other people would. So, if you find yourself interested, go ahead and give it a read. I'd like more people with whom I could discuss more books, even ones I didn't enjoy as much as the name Terry Pratchett insists that I should.

Still, I think that the movie or TV series or Miniseries shouldn't be beholden to the book. I'll try to avoid spoilers to say that I think the book did not make use of the potential scope or the potential deconstructions available.

So, much like the book, a video game is coming out. Much like the recently out Overwatch, this is with a good amount of hype and anticipation. Aliens are coming to invade and the tagline of the video game's advertising will, of course, be "Only You Can Save Mankind."

Different, and updated from the book, the game should be an MMORPG. Unlike World of Warcraft, the players are stuck to defending Earth. Though, they can form their own groupings (not guilds but, I imagine something along the lines of Teams or Squadrons). Such groupings can compete for ranking in things like body-count, resource to kill ratio, logistics, protected civilians, etc. These different stats, with different foci for things like Squadron-v-Squadron competition versus Role-playing.

This would allow the alien invaders to do something the programmers didn't program, they would surrender to a particular "Squadron", one that is focused on saving civilians and role-playing. Not only do they surrender, they demand the players, not the characters but the players, treat them in accordance with the Geneva Conventions (an element not factored into the game.)

This will change the nature of the MMORPG. It was sold on the notion that everybody would be on the same side. People want PVP, they can challenge each other to training exercises or compete in stats. No need for PK... until now.

Not only has this changed matters to a matter of PVP. There will be the Players who have accepted the surrender and will, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, protect the aliens on their way out of Human Controlled Space. There will be the Players who respond as though it's still a game and slowly find out that it isn't... slowly find out that these are real beings afraid for their lives.

It's important to note that this changes some of the essential rules of video games, rules that were once thought to be immutable laws. Laws like, video game characters can't do anything that progammers didn't program or that things that happen to characters don't really happen to players.

The threat isn't just to the aliens. There needs to be some legitimacy of threat from the aliens or at least some legitimacy of that perception. By breaking the rules, the aliens have made it so video games can, to some degrees, impact real life.

Part of how they'll find out that things are so different involves a concept that I liked from the book, a mutable video-game space. Again, this will not be anything the programmers did. They'll be looking for ways to correct this but, for some reason, and without any viruses or other identifiable glitches to cause it, some things are just out of their control. One of those things is the mutable video-game space.

One of the scenes I liked from the book was a quiet moment. The aliens went past a Space Invader. That may seem funny, and it is when you think about it. But, in the moment, it's a giant, dead vessel making clear that the humans, the Players, have been killing them for decades... and not thinking of it as anything but a quarter's worth of fun. This concept can allow a video game history as viewed from the other side.

Eventually, it will come down to human versus human and, eventually, the humans protecting the aliens will have to stop and say their piece. Not in ships, on some small planet gravity-augmented asteroid. They'll explain matters, explain what's going on and, even if these aliens are just programs, we players are still people. Then, they'll give the other guys a choice. If they want to kill the aliens, they'll have to kill the players.

The tagline will come up again. "Only You Can Save Mankind" What does that mean?

Terry Pratchett wrote Only You Can Save Mankind in 1992, reacting to the first Gulf War, which had been labeled the Nintendo War. It was a time when it felt like the reality of war was being burried under this advancing technology that made games more realistic and other people's deaths more distant. I don't think that was at all new. We've been telling stories and composing games on the notion that war is a glorious enterprise of noble heroes defeating evil monsters.

It's not Pratchett's best work, but I can't help but appreciate where he was coming from. If not in exact, I think it would make a good movie. At the very least, I encourage people to give it a read and a bit of consideration.

* Thank you Matt-Patt, The Game Theorist https://www.youtube.com/user/MatthewPatrick13
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