Games that Use Genetics as a Plot Device or Gameplay Element

A recent conversation got me thinking about the science of genetics being used as a narrative or gameplay device in video games. I started thinking back on games I've played that may have included genetics as a component of their stories or even as a fundamental part of the gameplay design.

As I think on genetics as a concept, I would include plot devices like genetically modified super-soldiers and genetic mutant creatures but also heredity and breeding. However, I think it's important to constrain the definition so that you're not just creating a list of "games involving mutant creatures" or "games involving heredity", so the genetic component of those sub-concepts should be specifically called out in the game. Most of these games are likely to be in the science fiction genre, though there may be a few in other genres as well.

To me, the ur-example is Metal Gear Solid. In this game, genetics is clearly called out as a component of the narrative multiple times and in numerous ways. I think this list should include games that are similarly direct about the inclusion of genetics, which means a game like Starcraft is also included (because some Terrans in the narrative are genetically modified, and the Zerg and Protoss races are the result of genetic experiments by a progenitor race called the Xel'naga).

An example of a game that I would not consider included that includes a related concept (heredity/traits) is Rogue Legacy because genetics is never specifically referenced.

With these definitions in mind, let's construct a list of games including the concept of genetics!

List items

  • Solid and Liquid Snake are "clones" of Big Boss. Liquid claims to have "all the recessive genes" and that Solid has "the dominant ones".

    The FOX-DIE virus is a virus that is specifically coded to attack particular individuals based on genetics and cause a heart attack. Solid Snake acts as a carrier of the virus and infects the members of FOX-HOUND, who end up dying to FOX-DIE.

  • The final boss of Metal Gear Solid 2 is Solidus Snake, another clone of Big Boss.

    The game also concludes with a discussion of genes and memes (the latter of which is a term coined by geneticist Richard Dawkins in "The Selfish Gene" to describe the transmission of ideas between individuals).

  • Solid Snake has aged rapidly due to issues with his genetics (from being a clone).

    Also, the FOX-DIE virus has genetically mutated in his body such that it is making him sick.

    There is also the plot point that FOX-DIE is mutating such that it will eventually infect anyone (not just those it was originally targeting) and could wipe out humanity.

  • The concept of "genetic memory" is brought up in Xenogears, as is the concept of genetic engineering. (More details?)

  • The Terrans of the Koprulu sector include some genetically modified humans who demonstrate superior psionic abilities as a result.

    The Zerg and Protoss are the result of genetic experimentation by a progenitor race.

    Some (all?) of this may be from the game's expansion, Brood War.

  • On top of the information in StarCraft, it is revealed that both Protoss and Zerg races were created by the Xel'naga, a progenitor race from "the Void".

    The Xel'naga attempt a return in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty by creating hybrid Protoss/Zerg through genetic manipulation.

    The game also contains the concept of parasitic infections resulting in genetic modification and physical changes to the infected subjects (Zerg infecting Terrans and creating zombies, essentially).

  • In Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, it is revealed that the Zerg race is a genetically modified species whose progenitors were rapidly-evolving organisms ("Primordial Zerg") on the planet Zerus.

  • The film Advent Children refers to a "Sephiroth Gene" or something. The story does certainly involve use of "JENOVA cells" to create Sephiroth and to augment members of SOLDIER, and presumably genetics is a component of that activity (though I'm not sure if it's specifically referenced, and of course it's a fantasy game containing magic so who knows?).

  • Genetic modifications are a form of soldier upgrade. Human DNA is augmented with alien DNA.

  • The protagonist is a genetic experiment.

  • The premise of the games is around using "genetic memories" to travel to a virtual recreation of the past.

  • Jurassic Park is about dinosaurs that are brought back through the use of genetic engineering and thus the games all have that as a plot element, and many of them explicitly have "genetic" elements (MacGuffins, etc.).

  • Agent 47 is the product of genetic engineering to create the ultimate badass.