Science fiction has long heralded the future but what does its representation of gambling say about our relationship with games of chance and gain?
Being a gambling species, by dint of a physiology that lacks precognitive ability, there hasn’t been a human society since the dawn of time without it. From the early proto-bets between the cynical over what the Shaman might say this time round, through all the dice and card games, all the way through to the current crop of US gambling laws that keeps the lights of Las Vegas glittering, we have always liked to gamble, both on games of chance and on other people’s chances.
Gambling In Deep Space
• History replete with gambling
• Sci-Fi says future will be too
• Some predictions laughable
This will to enter into a risk-reward paradigm is seen as merely part and parcel of who we are, and whether you partake or not, it has a significance in our communal psyche that is most pronounced by how much part of the background it has become. We concentrate on the horrors of the Roman arena where rulers pitched men against each other to the death for sport, tutting at this example of power-mad authority’s excesses, but it was the mass audience that bet on who’d die.
We dote on the “old west” and it’s legends of heroes and villians, treating it like a cultural cornerstone, but it is never represented without the saloon based gambling establishment and the ubiquitous poker game in which, almost invariably, someone will cheat. The cheat tends to be the bad guy, and he tends to come to a sticky end, but he was most often playing poker with the good guy, who always seemed to win, both the pot in poker, and the gunfight afterward. There is no moral judgment of the gambling itself.
Whilst we represent the past for current consumption with gambling as a mere texture of flavor to give the scenes presented a verisimilitude we feel they need to be “realistic” or “authentic” the degree to which gambling is part of our culture is best seen not in the representations of the past, but in how it has wormed its way into the very bones of even the most disposable of assessments of our possible far flung future, in the realm not of historical savagery but of science fiction.
Your Tablet Computer In Spaaaaaaaaceeeeeeee
Science fiction is often dismissed as being a little childish, the preserve of geeks and nerds, but it doesn’t take long to see the science fiction writers get things right far more than many would like to admit. Often to make this point people drag out Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” pointing out how accurately it portrayed what submarines would become way ahead of the time they actually did, but these days one only need to reach for their mobile phone to be Captain Kirk.
Verne might have been gambling news of the new scientific wonder of his age, submarines, would bolster sales of his latest adventure tome, but Star Trek was imagining a future at which there were no hints, for which there were no clues, and yet they, like Verne, got it almost entirely right. We do all now have a communicator in our pocket or on our belt, and those silly tablets we thought impractical, usually handed to Kirk by an attractive yeoman in miniskirt and boots, are on sale right now everywhere.
Gambling, you would think, would have very little place in these childish entertainments, in envisioning the future, however, it would seem sci-fi writers are all certain that however far we travel into the inky black void of space, we will be taking risk-based gaming with us. Whether it be a dystopian Earth centuries hence, or the distant battles of an intergalactic war, it would seem we as a species are destined to take gambling with us.
So certain are they of this that gambling has been an acceptable part of science fiction, of these representations of the future that we seem to constantly attempt to emulate, that its inclusion isn’t even limited to the dark brooding adult sci-fi film world, it has seeped into the very core of the science fiction we watched as children and indeed that our children watch now. Sometimes obliquely referenced, sometimes right there in your face.
Gambling Taken To Extremes
What is significant is not that these references or inclusions exist, but that they are rarely portrayed in a negative light, even when they are held up as lamentable it is only when they are taken to ridiculous extremes (and ridiculous extremes in Sci-fi really are extremely ridiculous), the rest of the time, the vast majority of the time, gambling is just another acceptable part of life amongst the stars, included because science fiction is freed from the hypocrisy of moralistic judgment such a blight on our contemporary times.
This independence from current thinking probably gives a far more accurate assessment of the core nature of human’s relationship with gambling than any number of federally funded studies. Science fiction has to build a believeable future into which you can be hooked, jarring inconsistencies with accepted human behavior the downfall of many a cheap sci-fi flick. The accuracy of them as predictions is entirely moot, it is their hum-drum nature, their acceptability to the audience that stands out.
It is an audience that is typically quite young. Whilst those that like to bet on sport in the US, UK and elsewhere on sites like Bet365 do, at the present time, have to be legally adult to partake, representing gambling to this young audience in a vaguely positive light is entirely acceptable. Indeed independent of the societal norms of our current times it would seem the young accept gambling with barely a blink, seeing it as just part of the background, just another nuance of the culture or adventure being portrayed, as nothing particularly special.
So lets take a moment to look at seven examples of gambling in sci-fi from your formative years, from the swash buckling of Star Wars to the insanity of Red Dwarf, you’d be surprised just how many old favorites included this oh so human way to spend time and you can read about them in Seven Gambling Futures From Science Fiction (Part Two)