SAILING TO DYSTOPIA

The French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard died today at the age of 91. His creative legacy is enormous, but I have wondered if a small and unappreciated part of it might perhaps be found in role-playing games.

His film Alphaville (1965) depicts a dystopian future society, where a controlling computer regulates the lives and thoughts of the inhabitants of Alphaville. The parallels with West End Games’ Paranoia (1984) are obvious. There is the similarity of the names Alphaville and Alpha Complex. There is the presence of dictatorial computers (Alphaville‘s Alpha 60 and Paranoia‘s Computer). Both computers strictly control freedom of thought. Behind both computers there lies a privileged elite (Von Braun in Alphaville and the High Programmers in Paranoia). Medication is used to control citizens’ lives in both the film and the game. Love is prohibited in Alphaville, just as sex is in Alpha Complex.

Some of these elements are not unique to Alphaville, and the resemblances are perhaps attributable to common ancestors. The control of thought, medication of citizens and suppression of forms of love are present in the tradition of dystopian fiction running from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) to George Orwell’s 1984 (1948). However, the computers, elites made up of programmers and similarity of the names Alphaville and Alpha Complex cannot be accounted for in this way. These correspondences could be coincidental, but they might point to a connection.

It is possible that George Lucas’ film THX 1138 (1971) was an intermediary. There are strong reasons for believing Lucas’ movie was influenced by Godard’s, and it has itself similarities with Paranoia, especially its underground complex, broadcast slogans and alphanumeric names (though the history of last stretches back to We).

It will not rank high in Godard’s achievements, but it might just be that his impact stretched as far even as role-playing games.

Title image from Alphaville (1965). Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.

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2 thoughts on “SAILING TO DYSTOPIA

  1. As a long time Paranoia GM, I find this fascinating. Paranoia is influenced by a lot of works of dystopian fiction – when we interviewed Allan Varney (writer for the early editions of Paranoia and the man behind Paranoia XP) he said that one of the biggest influences was Stanislaw Lem’s “Memoirs Found in a Bath Tub”. Regardless, it’s this sort of dark satire that really makes Paranoia pop – not slapstick “antics” and “shenanigans”.

    Liked by 1 person

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