Aliens, Astronauts, and Video Games

Since the 17th century, individuals have discussed the possibility of extraterrestrial beings. What is the possibility of extraterrestrial life? “Guaranteed,” Harvard physicist and search for extraterrestrial intelligent life leader Paul Horowitz declared in a 1996 interview with Time Magazine. It is “so overwhelmingly likely that I’d give you almost any odds you’d like,” he said. Not everyone shares Horowitz’s confidence, but most people still delight in films, books, TV, and educational programming about the subject. From Space Attack to Aliens vs. Predator, the video game industry has also provided us with a rich format to explore the possibility of life in another galaxy.

During my childhood, I favored aliens of the quirky, kindly, and often misguided variety like the Solomons, Mork, Alf, and ET. The one exception I made was when I played Space Invaders—a game that requires a player to control spaceships and to shoot at attacking aliens and flying saucers. Taito of Japan developed the game and in 1978 licensed it to Midway for U.S. release. Many considered the game out of this world. Malls, restaurants, and drug stores soon housed the game cabinet. Japan experienced spot shortages of 100-yen coins as players poured money into Space Invaders arcade games. In 1980, Atari secured the rights to port Space Invaders to the Atari VCS. Today, these aliens continue to invade mass society in the most unlikely of places. French urban artist Invader crafts Space Invader aliens out of small, mosaic tiles and pastes them up, seemingly at random, around the globe. The carpeting in ICHEG’s eGameRevolution exhibit even features aliens.

Amanita Design’s puzzle adventure series Samorost features a humanoid that more closely resembles the beings I befriended as a kid. In the first game, this space gnome clad in a white jumper that looks more like a fluffy snowsuit than a spacesuit attempts to prevent a collision between his home planet and an incoming spaceship. The game setting reminds me of Dada cinema rather than a typical outer space scene filled with glowing spiral galaxies, rockets, and sleekly-designed spacecrafts. In the second game, aliens abduct the gnome’s dog. In attempting to rescue his furry friend, the space gnome travels to a far-off planet. The graphics in the second game remain surreal; the alien looks like Slimmer from the Ghostbusters and the space gnome’s spacecraft is a tin can.

From scientists to rock stars like David Bowie, many question if life exists on Mars in particular. Tiger Style Game’s iOS Waking Mars game ponders this question, too. During game play, an astronaut explores the red planet. His mission: bring a sleeping planet back to life. The space cadet encounters extraterrestrial beings and plant-life that resembles aliens. Occasionally, two additional human characters create radio chatter. The soundtrack may create feelings of isolation. Sound designer Bobby Arlauskas said that to make the sound of the astronaut walking across Mars, he put on snowboarding boots and stomped around his backyard while carrying a recorder. The noise convinced me—but then again, aren’t many of our perceptions about life on Mars based on using our imaginations?

Whether you’re one to moonwalk like Michael Jackson, read books like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, or watch Battlestar Galactica, there’s an abundance of video games that will surely transport you to another galaxy.