Despite the mountains of rational evidence to the contrary there are still a lot of folks out there holding to the claim that come December 21, 2012 the ire of the universe will refocus upon the planet Earth and cast us all into an end-of-the-world scenario of some kind. If those folks are right then I’ve got just a few precious hours left to get some hard-earned advice out to my readers before this blog goes offline… It’s time for another Week of Lists!
…a broken future where society has fallen.
I play games. I play games set in a broken future where society has fallen, broken, or otherwise mysteriously vanished. And we can choose to think of these games as entertainment… or we can choose to think of them as predictions.
Generally I lean heavily on the entertainment category, but with the End of the World so imminently nigh — maybe — I’ve taken a look back at all the entertainment to see what they’ve predicted for days, weeks and months following the annihilation of much of humanity.
Here’s what I’ve noticed…
You’ve heard about the social contract, right? Wikipedia has a better summary of it than I could write: “Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit…to the decision of a majority…in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.” In other words, it is a broad way of suggesting ‘the rules of behavior for people living in a society’ those same rules that form the basis of many moral, religious, or legal code. The same rules, that according to most every video game, collapse into so-much meaningless drivel the literal second after society fails to have hope of continuing. But as every zombie-shooter we’ve ever played has taughts us, those rights do not extend to the walking undead cursed to roam the countryside in search of fresh braaaaains. Some would argue that this is the whole point of zombies — apolitical, generic and human-ish, they make for an acceptable target of ruthless slaughter — but only rarely, and usually in literature or film, do we explore the morality of slaying zombies without forethought. Think about it.
2 :: Society Can’t Actually Collapse until Batteries, Bullets, and Computer Systems Are Completely Standardized and Interoperable
If video games are correct, society is actually quite safe until we do a better job of technological standardization. Some might blame the nuanced simplicity of game mechanics, the reality of playing within a confined and limited reality created by mere mortal game developers. But I choose to consider it more of a premonition of the eventual convergence and singularity of our inventions. After all, when you are scouring the ruined landscape for supplies in a video game, usually you come across something like “you found a battery” and it’s the right size, voltage, et cetera. I’ve yet to play a game — and maybe one exists — where you’re rummaging through a pile of debris and all you can find are double-As and your med-kit only takes D-cells. It just doesn’t happen. Same thing with bullets (though usually there are four or five kinds and games like Left 4 Dead solve this by showing you a haphazard heap of random ammunition from which I assume you just take what you need.) So, until we standardize everything that may be of use to a survivor of armageddon… well, it just can’t happen.
If you survived the apocalypse, don’t kid yourself. It wasn’t by accident. You are now the last great hope for humanity’s future and it is your new job to carefully unravel the cause and mystery of what brought on the end of society. I recently played a game called Dear Esther which was a mysterious, narrative-driven exploration of a post-people society. The game started with a vague, dreamlike impression of simply being alone in a desolate place, long since broken by some unspoken disaster. Maybe it didn’t even take place after the end of the world. I couldn’t really tell you. It seemed so. But whenever it took place I was fairly certain that the plot was very ego-centric and that I could uncover the so-called-solution to the riddle of the game if only I walked around enough and followed the clues… which I did… and I did. And in the days following the (perhaps) approaching apocalypse, video games have taught me to follow the metaphorical breadcrumb trail if I ever want to understand and make sense of the disaster.
4 :: Somewhere Out There Humanity’s Last Hope is Probably Biding Her Time in an Underground Bunker
Don’t fret it: someone out there is more prepared that you will ever be for the end of the world. They are even right now, in the last hours before the world is due to expire, climbing down into a deep bunker somewhere, running one last inventory check of air filters and food supplies. They might, even as you read these words, be getting ready to seal up the blast doors or crank up the AC to cool off for the potential nuclear wind coming their way. According to video games these folks have an important role to play for the future of humanity. In fact, if best-selling interactives like Fallout 3 have it anything close to right, these are very likely the future parents of the hero of humanity. In about thirty years, some young innocent — the child of the people right now hunkering down in their shelter — will emerge from whatever crude and corrupt imitation of society has formed miles below the surface of the Earth. She will make herself know, gather supplies, cement her strength, and her optimism will fuel the first embers of Society Two-point-oh. I’ll be nearly seventy when this all happens, so here’s to hoping…
All you capitalists out there have probably been paying special attention to one of the more consistent aspects of post-apocalyptic video games: the economics of fragmented societies. If those games have taught us one thing it’s that in the broken future only a small handful of things will have any value whatsoever, and those things will definitely not be the wads of cash we all carry around in our wallets during the last days of society, y’know… just in case. In fact if I was a betting man, I would suggest you take a few moments now to stock up on food and water, because as society collapses the currency required to buy these things is probably going to be measured in all the gritty and illicit things we now associate pretty much exclusively with the black market and gang-land commerce. You are fully welcome to stock up on those currencies now, of course, but just in case the apocalypse fails to appear I wouldn’t exactly recommend having those in your possession, no matter how many video games you play. And good luck getting your hands on things like radioactive spider venom or bile of mutant rat: you need to be, like, level 10 or better to take those things on.
This post is part of my (satirical) Seven Days of Apocalypse Week of Lists countdown to (almost certainly not) the end of the world. Share and enjoy.