Well, I’m back from a work-related conference in Las Vegas. (Life can be tough sometimes, ha!)
While I was gone, I had some time to think about what I wanted to talk about next. I think it’s time to share some thoughts on the post-apocalyptic genre in general. Needless to say, the genre is HUGE. Some might even call it over-saturated… not me though… because I’m biased! ;) However, I am more than willing to admit that there are countless books and movies out there and it seems like they almost all usher in the end of civilization in one of the following ways:
- Nuclear War
- Religious “End of Days” scenario
- Global Warming
- Whatever the hell happened in M. Night Shymalan’s “The Happening.”
I can’t help but laugh when I look over this list… partly because my game (Reclamation) has bits and pieces of all of these doomsday archetypes. In fact, if you are interested in reading up on the backstory of my game, click the link below for the prologue and epilogue.
But in reality… I think this list is missing a very important item… something that would devastate the modern world just as much if not more so than anything else on this list……..
Loss of Communication.
Believe it or not there was a time when cell phones and the internet were not ubiquitous. Go back long enough (and honestly, we’re only talking like 200 years here) and you’d find word-of-mouth and written letters as the fastest way to share your thoughts with others. That was fine then… but can you imagine stripping that away now? Our culture has latched itself inextricably to the 24/7 constant flow of communication brought to us by cell phones and the internet. We have woven ourselves up into a technological cocoon. People walk the streets with their faces buried in their phones. No need to talk to strangers because you always have a direct line to your social network. At a mass scale, think about how wars are fought, how politics play out, how everything we say and do is in some way influenced by this new communication paradigm.
So what happens when it goes away? I live in Ohio. We get the occasional tornado, but we are often spared from serious weather events like hurricanes, etc. But when hurricane Ike I believe it was last year swept through Ohio (and mind you, at that point the hurricane had lost much of its momentum), it knocked out power for days. Computers did not work. Cell-towers were overwhelmed. No calls were going in and out. AND IT WAS CHAOS! Order was cast aside. People fought each other for what they needed. Cars lined up for miles in front of gas stations. People literally got into fights. There was even some looting. It was just a few steps away from anarchy and that was just a couple days! It’s no small wonder places like New Orleans had so much trouble. When Katrina wiped out the communication infrastructure of New Orleans, it’s like they became completely isolated from the rest of the world.
While I certainly love my smartphone and would never willingly give up the internet, I do think that both of these things have destroyed our sense of geographic community. We have hundreds of facebook friends, but we don’t know the names of our neighbors. We twitter every random thought we have to our followers, but can’t mumble a good morning to the person we pass on the street. We are conditioning ourselves to only communicate with a community that would be lost to us in the event of a true global catastrophe.
This is something I’ve tried to capture in Reclamation–the loss of communication. The world holds no secrets to us right now. If a volcano erupts, it’s on television a few minutes later. We see wars fought in the comfort of our homes. We can turn on National Geographic to see every corner of the world and the darkest depths of the ocean. But rip out that infrastructure and suddenly the world becomes an alien place. There is danger and adventure right in your own suburb. You don’t know if there is a killer in this area or if a massive storm is on its way. A bloody war could be fought just a few miles from your home and you would never know. Who’s in charge? Where is food? Who can I trust? These questions could only be answered by going out and finding the answers for yourself.
In Reclamation, there is plenty of room to invent fantastical locations and unique monsters, but in the end, I think it’s the UNKNOWN that is most exciting. I think that’s what draws most people into the RPG experience. The Dystopia is Earth after it’s been stripped of everything we know without any way to gather information without trekking the land once more. The social norms and constructs of the past are buried under the burnt ash of a lost civilization. The face of the new world will be what survivors choose to make it. The freedom of not being bound by any sort of past and the responsibility to create something out of nothing… that’s the heart of the RPG catharsis… at least to me. With Reclamation, I wanted the familiar to become strange, the known to become unknown. I didn’t want this game to take place in a parallel universe or a fantasy landscape. It’s earth. It’s what would become of us after a tragedy that forever split us from our social norms and understanding of the world. Exploring the yard next door can be exciting if you have no guarantee about what’s going to happen to you next.
As always, I would love to hear someone else’s opinion on the issue! Am I missing Doomsday items? Am I way off with my communication assessment?!