Eighteenth-Century Britain

The Game: A supernatural horror-tinged mystery game. The player would take on the role of an investigator of supernatural phenomena during the climax of the scientific revolution. Armed only with a musket and the tools of the new science, the investigator would pursue rumors of murderous house-ghosts in London, diabolical witches in the countryside, and dark spirits in the Scottish Highlands. Through interrogation of witnesses and analysis of evidence, the player would sort fact from fiction and occult evils from man-made mayhem, all the while trying to avoid being murdered by highwaymen and the haunting dead.

Ancestors: Fable II, Alone in the Dark

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Further Reading: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow

Nineteenth-Century New York City

The Game: A crime-oriented sandbox adventure. Players would start the game as one of New York City's innumerable street orphans, desperate to earn a crust of bread and a little respect. They would then choose one of several prominent immigrant or resident gangs to join, and rise through the ranks via murderous and larcenous missions. These illegal escapades would take them from "the Five Points" to Brooklyn and even across the river to spread their criminal empire to the villages of New Jersey. The main character would have to navigate alliance and treachery among the city's growing ethnic enclaves and deal with corrupt politicians and vicious cops, ultimately extorting and murdering his way to the top of the underworld food chain. The player strives to become Old New York's King of Crime.

Ancestors: The Grand Theft Auto series, Mafia II

Further Reading: The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury

The Ascendant Cities of the Late Twenty-First Century (Beijing, Mumbai, Istanbul, Sao Paolo)

The Game: A cyberpunk shooter/RPG hybrid. Players would step into the shoes and wetware of a nanotech-enhanced gun-toting industrial spy or company enforcer. A complex plot of corporate warfare, neo-terrorism, and government collapse unfolds against a backdrop of biotech innovation, proxy wars, resource scarcity, and corporate skullduggery. The player would shoot, sneak, and hack their way through a globe-trotting assortment of levels infused with local culture touches, ranging from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experts to deranged Bollywood-obsessed assassins. The gameplay would consist of beefing up weapons systems and biotech enhancements, as they piece together the conspiracy that will eventually turn them against their corporate masters.

Ancestors: Deus Ex, Shadowrun

Further Reading: Dervish House and Brasyl by Ian McDonald, Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams

These are, of course, only a few of the unexplored possibilities out there - there are plenty of others. When the gameplay is fun and fresh, the old comfort foods - paladins, spaceship captains, Nazi-slaying soldiers - can still be satisfying. But given that game designers have a whole globe and thousands of years of human history to draw from - to say nothing of wholly invented eras and environments - why shouldn't hungry gamers also be treated to exciting new feasts of exotic fare?

Saladin Ahmed's fiction has been nominated for the Nebula and Campbell awards. His Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy novel "Throne of the Crescent Moon" is forthcoming from DAW books.

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