Monstrous Humanity

Posted by on Jul 13, 2013 in Featured, Newsletter

I’ve spent most of my life consuming video games, anime, comic books, and other assorted geeky stuff. As I’ve grown older I’ve not only mellowed my stance on everyone else secretly being a robot, I’ve come to realize that one of the greatest challenges to creating good sci-fi and fantasy *anything* is finding a human story inside all of the strange and weird and wonderful things that we make up. But when it works, it’s powerful stuff.

From the 60s through the 80s Doctor Who told stories about  a being from another planet travelling across time and space. It worked more often than not, with Tom Baker’s version being the most relatable. By the end of the 80s it seemed more about the strange than the human, and it went off the air. When it came back in 2005 the show was focused on how a human companion can bring compassion and understanding to an alien being. It’s essentially Pinocchio, but with better monsters and cooler special effects, and it has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Superman is another friendly alien with a a long history of trying to be more human, and if you watch the trailer for the Man of Steel  you’ll see it clearly sells that quest for connection. That, I think, helped make the movie a success, even if I find his deep love of humanity (and human woman) kind of creepy…

But it’s the utter lack of humanity in the trailers and posters for Pacific Rim that I find kind of strange. “To fight monsters we created monsters”, says the poster.

Okay, but who, exactly, are we rooting for? The tiny human? This isn’t a movie about friendly aliens, but the best robot stories are secretly Frankenstein stories: if we’re creating them in our image are we playing God? Have we given them a soul? If you tell everyone that we’ve made monsters, what compels me to go see the film?

The movie may be a success this weekend, but if it is, I think it will be in spite of it’s alienating marketing, and not because of it.

For creators of interactive media there’s a lesson hidden here: When you create something for humans it’s important to think about how your  “alien tech” is going to connect with the people who will be using it. Revealing the relate-ability and humanity of your software gives people a reason to interact with it. (Preferably before they’ve downloaded the app!)

It can be tough to get excited about the quality of your UI and user experience after you’ve spent the last year focused on the minute details of your technology, but the point of any app is to help solve a *human* problem and/or fulfill a human need.

Just make sure you aren’t creating a monster.


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