How Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers Shaped FPS Games
How Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers influenced nearly every sci-fi first-person shooter on the market in a positive (and less effective) way.
DOOM, Halo, Gears of War, Titanfall, Helldivers, Warhammer 40K, Starcraft – all these games and many others owe their existence to Starship Troopers novel published by author Robert Heinlein in 1959, which popularized the “Space Marines battling alien insects” tropes so common in the FPS and RTS video game genres. Intentionally or not, many of these sci-fi video games also internalize the not-quite-dominant politics expressed in Heinlein’s original book – a lionization of elite all-volunteer military forces, brutal conflicts between individualistic societies and collectivists, and the belief that violence is a tool humans need to survive in a hostile universe.
Nowadays, more people know Starship Troopers from its 1997 film adaptation by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. Upon its release, many Robert Heinlein fans criticized Verhoeven’s adaptation for portraying the mobile infantry as incompetent and fragile cannon fodder that lacked the Mecha suits of the book and games. Aside from the cool military gear, the book and movie were also completely reversed; while the Starship Troopers was a Cold War allegory about the clash between the Western and Eastern blocs, the Starship Troopers was a dark satire on the dangers of fascism and the glorification of violence (to the point of invoking images from the old Nazi propaganda film triumph of the will).
Although very different in tone, both the Starship Troopers the books and movies follow the same plot in broad strokes; in a distant land ruled by an Earth federation, a teenage hero named Juan “Johnny” Rico joins an Earth defense force called Mobile Infantry and fights in a war between Earth and a species of alien lifeforms colloquially known as Bugs . the original Starship Troopers the novel spent more time discussing politics than exploring the details of future warfare; Yet Heinlein’s book ended up shaping the “future super-soldier” archetype for decades to come in science fiction novels like Joe Haldeman’s. The Eternal Warby James Cameron aliens movie, and virtually every FPS video game with a Space Marine protagonist.
Doom & Halo’s Space Marines are based on Starship Troopers Mobile Infantry
The Doom Slayer of Lossthe Master Chief of Halo franchise, Samus Aran of the metroid series – these are just a few of the video game protagonists who can be described as “Space Marines” – elite armored super-soldiers who drop onto their targets from space. These Space Marine characters and the weapons they wield owe much to Colonial Marines with the firepower of aliens film, which themselves owe much to the mobile infantry of the Starship Troopers new elite soldiers equipped with mechanized combat suits that give them the power of a tank. The mobile infantry of Starship Troopers and the other fictional Space Marine armies they’ve inspired are invariably small, elite volunteer forces with the best gear and a “leave no one behind” attitude, making them a solid character archetype for games. FPS like LOSS Where Halo where the protagonist fights his way through hordes of stretchy, non-human goons.
Starship Troopers inspired not-so-great “Cult Of The Badass” themes in modern FPS games
The Terran Federation of Starship Troopers is a society built around the idea that violence is the only way to control other violent people and that the right to vote should only go to those who are able to sacrifice themselves. Many sci-fi action games echo these ideals – and that’s not always a good thing. The values advocated by Heinlein – heroism, sacrifice, duty, strength and the will to commit violence – are at the heart of the esprit de corps many modern armies and many sci-fi FPS games.
These are also values adopted by the fascist archetype described by Umberto Eco in his Ur-fascism essay, which seeks perpetual conflict against an eternal subhuman threat. With this in mind, Paul Verhoeven Starship Troopers movie (and similar theme helldivers third-person shooter) seek to remind people that the original’s “humans vs. bugs” plot and “Service Equals Citizenship” message Starship Troopers and similar FPS video games about future warfare, in the wrong circumstances, can easily be misused to justify atrocities.
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