What he loves
Nerds and outer space go together pretty well. So it makes sense that video games have incorporated the final frontier in their storytelling since the early days.
“Space has always been the palette on which people tell stories they may have a hard time telling in an everyday setting,” says astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, Neil deGrasse Tyson. (For a nerd, you can’t get much cooler than him.)
He applauds the efforts of space-themed games that use real life scientific principles in their play like Angry Birds Space.
“I think that’s a natural next step, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened earlier,” Tyson says. “One of the great aspects of Angry Birds Space is that it uses the laws of physics in your projectiles.”
He especially likes it because when you toss one of the birds into space, it could orbit, figure eight or crash into a planet.
“This could make people aware of the challenges NASA has,” he says, straight-faced, but “in the case of games that tap the laws of physics, I’m torn if a kid should spend time playing (and learning) or going back to the homework the game has distracted them from.”
What he hates
Not every game has got it right. One of Tyson’s biggest pet peeves when it comes to the popularization of space in pop culture is how gamers and makers envision what aliens look like.
“Aliens always tend to have two arms, two legs, a head and eyes. They essentially look human… most life on Earth doesn’t have a face. A face is something peculiar. Trees don’t have faces, worms don’t have faces, mushrooms don’t have faces, bacteria don’t have faces,” he explains.
Even in the case of characters like Jabba the Hut, popularized by the “Star Wars” saga and seen in many of the related games, the creature retains human characteristics, including a laugh, which can’t be found very easily in nature here on Earth. This makes it highly unlikely we’ll be able to find aliens who express emotions the same way humans do.
“I mean, can you be a little more creative please!” Tyson exclaims.
His other annoyance? Characters going from planet to planet and breathing normally.
“Most places you can’t breathe! At least show them with a breathing apparatus, if not a full space suit.”