One crucial scene in Frank Herbert’s 1965 landmark sci-fi novel Dune involves a young Paul Atreides guzzling down a substance called ‘The Water of Life’ – a grandiose name for what is effectively psychedelic sandworm phlegm. It’s deadly poison to most, but those who survive it are granted prescience over time and space through genetic memory. Such prescience, we’re shown, is more often a crushing burden than an enviable power.
So, in the spirit of exploring potential timelines and possibly dooming mankind to years of bloody holy wars in which billions die: what would video games look like today if Dune was never written?
Luckily for me, the groundwork has already been set by Chris J Capel, whose excellent piece on Dune demonstrates how that 50-year-old novel remains the template for the entire RTS genre. I’m always dumbfounded when I’m reminded that videogames are such a young medium – we get to watch them evolve rapidly in real time. It seems impossible that a strategy game from 1992 cemented and popularised an entire genre. But it did.