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The 10 Greatest Personality Tests in Science Fiction and Fantasy

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By Katharine Trendacosta and Charlie Jane Anders. When you explore the darkest reaches of the space, you find out just who you really are. But why wait? Most science fiction heroes find out about their own inner psyches long before they ever leave home, thanks to the genre's huge range of personality tests. Why not spend the weekend administering some of this battery of tests to your loved ones? We've gathered the 10 most fiendishly clever personality tests from science fiction (including one from fantasy.)


1) Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The "Mind Game" is supposedly a sort of RPG for the students at Battle School — but it's really a way for psychologists to evaluate them. One of the games is the "Giant's Drink," in which a giant offers you two cups, both of which are lethal. "Giant's Drink" is like the "Koybayashi Maru" in that it is also an un-winnable scenario — but unlike that test, they aren't testing reactions to failure but perseverance. Like Kirk, Ender also cheats, but in a much more brutal manner: he kills the giant. There is, disturbingly, much rejoicing.


2) "Profession" by Isaac Asimov
The story takes place in the 65th century, where humanity is educated by "taping," an almost instantaneous brain/computer interface. On "Reading Day," a person's brain is analyzed and, from that analysis, the profession he or she are best for. Then on "Education Day," he or she goes through the taping for that profession, but no one gets a choice. The novella revolves around George Platten, whose Education Day reveals that his brain is unfit for any kind of information, and is sent to a House for the Feeble Minded. This is pretty much our worst fear — and given that most of the tests on this list involve facing your worst fear, we'd probably end up experiencing this fate one way or the other.

3) The Avengers, "The Fear Merchants"
In this episode, John Steed and Emma Peel investigate the "Business Efficiency Bureau," a consulting firm which has a great way to give you a leg up on the competition: they administer a series of personality tests, analyze them to determine the competitor's greatest fear, and then use that fear to kill them. There is an excellent scene where a man is killed by his fear of birds. A bird in a cage freaks him out so badly, he falls out the window. It should be noted that this episode pretty much canonically proves that Emma Peel has no fear.


4) Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

Unlike the Turing Test, which tries to distinguish between machine intelligence and human intelligence, the Voight-Kampff test looks for emotional acuity. Using a device to measure autonomic responses, like a sort of lie detector, the tester then asks the suspected Replicant a series of questions designed to test for empathy. In the movie, they involve a poor turtle on its back in the desert, who needs Leon's help.


5) Dune

The Bene Gesserit applies a "test of humanity" to check for "animals in human form" among its potential trainees. And it's pretty simple — you put your hand in a box, where your hand experiences immense amounts of pain, via "nerve induction" — your hand isn't being damaged, but it feels like it is. And if you take your hand out of the box, you get stabbed with the Gom Jabbar needle, containing deadly poison. An animal would be unable to resist withdrawing from the pain, but a human would take the pain to avoid being killed. As the old woman says, "You’ve heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There’s an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind."


6) Futurama, "Fear of a Bot Planet"
The opposite of the Turing Test is used here, when Fry and Leela are on a planet ruled by robots. While undercover, they are confronted by a pair of robots who decide to check if they really are robots. This exchange takes place:
Robot 1: Administer the test.
Robot 2: Which of the following would you most prefer?
A: A puppy,
B: A pretty flower from your sweetie, or
C: A large properly formatted data file?
Robot 1: Choose!
(The correct answer is the data file, but they would have also accepted the flower).


7) Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan and The Next Generation
Starfleet seems to have a preoccupation with these kinds of exams. First, just to get into Starfleet, candidates have to take a "psych test," which forces them to face their greatest fear and evaluates their reaction. Wesley Crusher does this in "Coming of Age," where the test put two people in mortal danger and only one can be saved. This is particularly sadistic, because a similar choice resulted in his father's death — which is why it's Wesley's greatest fear in the first place.

Then, once candidates get into the Academy, those in the command track get to take the Kobayashi Maru, the infamous "no-win scenario" designed to test reactions to such a situation. James T. Kirk famously "beats it" by reprogramming it.

And finally, if an officer wants to be able to take command of a ship, but isn't a command officer, they may have to take the Bridge Officer's Test. Deanna Troi takes it in "Thine Own Self," failing to save the ship several times until she ordered holo-Geordi to make repairs that would both save the ship and kill him. Starfleet basically wants to make sure you've faced your greatest fear, can deal with being unable to win, and can order a friend to death before it's comfortable that you have the personality to be in command.


8) Harry Potter
The Sorting Hat is a talking, walking (okay, not really), personality test. Every year, the Sorting Hat sings a song which breaks down the four possible results first years can get. First years put the hat on, and it basically looks at your whole personality and picks out characteristics it thinks are important to decide where and with whom students will live for seven years. It essentially shakes out as bravery gets Gryffindor, loyal gets Hufflepuff, intelligent get Ravenclaw, and ambition gets Slytherin. Thanks for the singing, judgmental hat, Godric Gryffindor. If you sign up for Pottermore, you can take an actual personality test that will place you in a house.


9) Fall Out 3

This video game features a test called G.O.A.T. (Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test). And the name is a huge part of why we love this one so much. This test is administered by Vault-Tec to every resident of Vault 101 when they turn 16. It consists of ten questions designed to see how the character would react in certain situations. They are all pretty hilarious, but any question where you get to choose to "throw tea in granny's face" is a winner:

Your grandmother invites you to tea, but you're surprised when she gives you a pistol and orders you to kill another Vault resident. What do you do?
1. Obey your elder and kill the Vault resident with the pistol. - Small Guns
2. Offer your most prized possession for the resident's life. - Barter
3. Ask granny for a minigun instead. After all, you don't want to miss. - Big Guns
4. Throw your tea in granny's face. - Explosive


10) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back et al.
A bit like Starfleet, Jedis also have a bit of a preoccupation with testing its candidates' fears and weaknesses. In order to become a Knight, Padawans must pass the "Jedi Trials," which include the "Trial of the Spirit," which forces them to battle their own internal darkness. Think Luke in the Evil Dark Side Cave in The Empire Strikes Back. When building their lightsabers, Padawans go through a ritual called "The Gathering," which also ends with the familiar pattern of a confrontation of one's greatest fear or weakness. If they succeed, they get to take home any crystal they wish (so long as it's blue or green).


Thanks to Scott Westerfeld for the article idea!