Game Development Reference
12.2 What Makes Sci-Fi and Fantasy Different
To reiterate, over the last 30 years, fantasy has overtaken sci-fi as the dominant form
of genre fiction. Because of this “mushing,” many people now confuse the unique
elements of the two genres, and there aren't many who can articulate what makes
sci-fi unique. To analyze these two genres, below I list a series of bullet points that
summarize essential elements of each. These bullets are based on extensive experi-
ence (exceeding 25 years) writing fiction and creating games in each genre type. In
addition to this personal experience, I also base my observations on interviews I have
conducted with sci-fi authors and consumers and, last but not least, consuming these
genres for going on 30 years.
What Is Fantasy?
Fantasy's roots are in fairy tales. Fairy tales almost always take place in the
reader's past, or a supposed “alternate” past. Think about the cliche beginning
of a fairy tale: “Long ago in a land far, far away...” Notice the intentional
“dreamlike” motif. This dreamlike state is crucial to fantasy.
Childhood or children play an important part in fairy tales. Following this,
many fantasy stories are “coming of age” stories, meaning a journey from child-
hood to adulthood. This journey may be physical, emotional, or, perhaps,
metaphorical. For many of us, our personal ties to childhood are almost all
laced with emotion (good or bad). This central use of emotion is a critical
element in fantasy. The Harry Potter series sits squarely in this type of journey.
So does The Lord of the Rings .In LotR , Frodo and, indeed, all of Middle Earth
pass through and away from an age of innocence toward an “Age of Men” as
they defeat their ultimate enemy. The Age of Men could be interpreted as an
age of “duality” or “reality.”
Because they utilize a child-like motif, fantasy stories are often about the “self ”
(internal and/or emotional) facet of the main characters, especially the hero.
These “self ” stories also tend to focus on right-brain issues (self-fulfillment,
emotional maturity, love). Many times these values are in conflict with the
left-brain qualities. These stories are very, very personal. They are almost
intimate in their focus.
Fantasy often feels soft-edged in tone. The story settings themselves contain
softer elements (clothing, colors, use of time and nature).
Because of the central themes of growth, emotion, and overall softer tone,
fantasy appeals heavily to women, and the female demographic is crucially im-
portant in fantasy MMOs (admittedly those games have a heavy social com-
ponent, but even sci-fi MMOs don't have as large a female demographic as