Exploring Character Vs. Technology in Fiction

Ever since Karel Capek wrote the play R.U.R. in 1920 and coined the term “Robot”, the character vs. technology conflict has become a very popular literary device – largely because it reflects the dilemmas and struggles we face in the real world.

While getting chased by a robot sent from the future is still pretty unlikely, technology has radically shifted the nature of our day-to-day lives and relationships over the past century.

And since fiction often serves as a mirror to society, it makes sense that novels, films, and TV shows that centre around the character vs. technology conflict are practically everywhere.

Together, let’s explore the ins and outs of this conflict so that we can not only analyze it better but also craft more compelling stories ourselves.

Character Vs. Technology: How the Conflict Works

Character vs. technology is but one of many conflicts that are used in literature, including:

In this particular trope, the main focus is usually on technology that has grown too powerful or that has gotten out of hand, propelling the character into action in order to save humanity or themselves.

Of course, the literary conflict has become so versatile now that character vs. technology stories contain a multitude of complexities and obstacles.

For instance, here are just a few different ways that technology can pose challenges to characters:

  • Physical threats from robots or AI (e.g., R.U.R. by Capek or a Black Mirror episode called Metalhead)
  • Moral dilemmas caused by advanced technology (e.g., surveillance themes in 1984 by Orwell or genetic engineering in Brave New World by Huxley)
  • Psychological or physical dependence on technology and its downsides (e.g., a Black Mirror episode Nosedive)
  • Loss of real-life human connection due to technology (e.g., Ready Player One by Cline)

RELATED READ: What Is Chekhov’s Gun?

Humans and Their Creations: Power Dynamics

The power of the character vs. technology conflict lies in the dynamic that is set up between humans and their creations.

Of course, AI, robots, or any technological gadgets are made up and created by humans, which automatically establishes an imbalance between the two players.

Humans typically have the upper hand at first, but once technology gains consciousness, realizes its own power, or becomes something humans absolutely depend on, the dynamic tips in technology’s favour.

And thus the conflict begins.

There are many different ways to go about this, for example:

  • Humans struggle to control their creations (Frankenstein by Shelley)
  • Technology evolves beyond human understanding or control (the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey)
  • Humans and technology form complex partnerships where the dynamic continually shifts and changes (movies such as Star Wars or Iron Man)

In all literary conflicts, there are two opposite forces that clash with one another. Character vs. technology is no different.

However, what makes this conflict so very powerful and appealing to wide audiences is that it reflects our own concerns and struggles in a world that is more and more technologically advanced by the second.

Crafting Compelling Conflict: 3 Tips

It is often science-fiction or dystopian stories that bring incredible value to the literary realm due to their portrayal of a potential future, warning us of the dangers that we ought to avoid in the real world.

If you’re looking to write a story that centres around the character vs. technology conflict, here are three tips to keep in mind.

Explore existential or philosophical questions that get the reader thinking, such as:

  • Can a robot become sentient? And how does one recognize sentience in the first place?
  • Should humans have the right to create artificial sentient beings?
  • Can technology replace human creativity and intuition?
  • What makes humans unique?
  • Should sentient robots carry the same rights and responsibilities as humans?
  • Can a human fall in love with artificial intelligence?
  • What is the psychological impact of relying on technology in one’s day-to-day life?

Create believable and impactful technological threats and challenges. Try to avoid repeating themes that have been explored in-depth before (a robot with supernatural strength who malfunctions, for instance) and seek out new and unique ideas that reflect some aspects of our reality and offer intellectual stimulation.

Clearly define the character’s motivations and values. The technology question is a complex one, and it’s important that you know where your characters stand and how their opinions evolve throughout the story.

For instance, a character who believes the robot standing before them is sentient and a character who views the robot as an artificial object will act completely differently, eliciting different reactions from the technological creation and therefore taking the story in different directions.

Research the genre to get a better idea of what’s been done before and what you’d like to explore in more depth. Speculative fiction is brimming with stories that provide a great deal of inspiration, be it Frankenstein by Shelley, Hunger Games by Collins, or Red Rising by Brown.

RELATED READ: Character Motivation: Types and Examples


Technology has always been an important question in the evolution of humankind, now more than ever before. From artificial intelligence that can answer any question and write entire texts to robots who have been granted citizenship, the conflict between humans and their technological creations is only growing stronger.

Fiction is an excellent way through which writers get to explore this topic in-depth while readers get to expand their view on the subject and think critically, helping all of us gain a clearer understanding of the world we live in.

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