Why video games are obsessed with the apocalypse!
For decades, video games have had a fascination with the end of the world. Why is it that we find it so enjoyable to play games set in the ashes of our civilisation?
Video games are, in a way, the perfect medium through which to depict the post-apocalypse. If we assume that after the collapse of civilisation everyone will revert to a brutal state of nature, then violence is the natural engine of the drama. And video games are very good at violence.
Indeed, in many video games the actual end of the world is simply an excuse to create a world filled with nothing but repetitive violence against monsters, without any annoying interruption by law enforcement or other social constraints.
So it goes in some of the early video game arcade hits, such as Robotron 2084 (1982), in which a lone hero must shoot his way out of a series of rooms populated by the robots that have taken over, in order to save the last human family on Earth. More eerily beautiful, meanwhile, is the post-apocalypse of British designer Sandy White’s classic 3D Ant Attack (1983), which is set in the walled desert city of Antescher – the reference to the Dutch artist Escher is deliberate.
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This place, long empty of humans after some distant tragedy, is now filled with giant ants. In it, a boy and girl enact a wordless love story while evading and throwing bombs at the pitiless insects. It is a masterpiece of monochrome minimalism: a couple of stick figures in an isometric wasteland of grey blocks haunted by the horrible snicketing noise of giant ants. No game since has better evoked the bittersweet melancholy of romance in the face of certain doom.
Most often, though, the video game post apocalypse is populated by one very specific type of monster: zombies. Apocalyptic fiction through history has often been a dramatisation of the social concerns of the time in which it is composed. The Book of Revelation, for example, assures early Christians that accommodation with the Roman Empire is unnecessary and that Jesus will return.
And ever since the first of the late George Romero’s classic movies, the zombie is the monster that most uncomfortably reflects modern anxieties about issues from unthinking consumerism to pandemic disease. So it is, too, in video games, where zombies have the added virtue of being enemies that we feel no qualms about killing, whereas depicting human beings of a different race or nationality as deserving cannon fodder is often a politically dubious decision.
So, what is your favorite apocalypse video game? Please share with us in the comment section below!