Similarly to films, genuinely utopian societies are uncommon in video-games because they are often taken to be utterly perfect and static, and thus less viable for dramatic representation than imperfect or dystopian societies. However, according to the well-known definition of utopia by Darko Suvin, any society based on a "more perfect principle of organisation" can be understood as a utopia. Classic utopias such as Thomas More's Utopia
or Francis Bacon's New Atlantis
focus mainly on political and economic solutions to social problems.
Also, utopian societies are not necessarily simply those with better economic or political structures. A utopian society may not have perfect economics or politics but could be utopian if it is based around some kind of moral code, such as environmental sustainability or removal of class distinctions (one example being Ursula K. Le Guin's
To complicate the definition of Utopia further, some cultural texts are read as having evidence of a "Utopian impulse", ie. providing gratification denied to us in our everyday lives. An example could be the Matrix
franchise, where the protagonist is given the power to bend reality to his will and the audience is encouraged to identify with the character. However, for the sake of clarity it is probably best to exclude this last definition as a means of classifying video-games.
Utopia vs. Dystopia
However, some games cannot easily be identified as simply utopian or dystopian. For example, Fallout
presents the Vault as a site of utopian promise, as indicated by the comical opening cutscene in which it is advertised 50s-style as the "Vault of the Future." However, outside of the vault is a ruined post-apocalyptic world devastated by an atomic blast and rife with conflict and social problems. The game world is pervaded with American pop culture of the 1940s and 50s, which was heavily invested in a technologically advanced and utopian future. In that sense, Fallout
is at once a utopia and a dystopia.
, the society is also not necessarily one or the other. Rapture is founded under the Utopian ideal presented in Ayn Rand's theory of objectivism, a form of capitalist libertarianism that argues humanity is entitled to the "sweat of its brow" and thus any interference in the pursuit of personal gain and advancement must be removed. Although this may have once been a functional utopia, by the time the player enters Rapture only the utopian ideal remains. The reality is dystopic.