The End of the World As We Know It

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:

Doomsday list:

  1. Nuclear War
  2. Pandemic
  3. Religious “End of Days” scenario
  4. Global Warming
  5. Zombies
  6. Aliens
  7. 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?!

14 responses to “The End of the World As We Know It

  1. Sounds great Chris! I tend to think optimistically, therefore after mankind has wrestled with the devil (so to speak) and wallowed in the darkness, I believe he would begin to rise above it all and begin to love his neighbor as himself once more. Good grief, he might even re-invent the cell phone, once the light of goodness becomes more palpable to him…who knows? Good theme to think about eh?

    • I agree. In fact, that’s the underlying premise behind my RPG. “Reclamation” is about taking back the world from the brink of destruction and rebuilding civilization in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. In that regard, it is an exceedingly optimistic role-playing adventure.

  2. ‘Loss of communication’ was part of the reasoning behind James Cameron’s ‘Dark Angel’. While not as PA as what many consider, it was an interesting twist to a somewhat cliché genre.

    I do not think a PA scenario stems from any one thing. I think it is a combination of things that, in my opinion, boil down to 2 things:

    1. Threat of death or bodily harm
    2. Loss of Authority

    People die, it is generally accepted, even if the population gets wiped out to X%, we will continue to survive. It is only the continued threat of death that people will act out of character to make sure that they or their loved ones survive.

    Likewise, authority will keep most people in line. A charismatic leader can keep a group of people in check during a crisis situation. Its when people feel that there is no authority to make good judgment calls about a situation that they decide to make those calls themselves (and usually poorly).

    Some things that would contribute to a PA:

    1. Loss of resources
    2. Catastrophic events – which may coincide with the ‘End of Days’ scenario.
    3. Technomortalis – (ok I just made that up) The idea that you advance technology to the point that it wipes out humanity. Think Artificial Intelligence in “I, Robot”, “Terminator”, or “The Matrix”, but I believe it can extend to something as simple as cyberware that makes people more healthy, then when a EMP hits the planet, half the population of the world with cyber-hearts are instantly dead when they stop functioning.
    4. Dramatic change in eco-sphere – Global warming is one, global cooling is another, but I was thinking more along the lines of a genetically engineered species that sets the balance out of whack, like the Judas Breed of roaches from “Mimic”.

    • I totally agree with you on your two tenets of a post-apocalyptic scenario. In fact, I think I would take your first point one step further. I think it’s the PERCEIVED threat of death or bodily harm that undermines our thin veil of modern civility. When a person is driven to fear, that is when they act most irrationally/instinctually and that is when they make monstrously cruel and selfish decisions. In the post-apocalyptic setting that I created for my game, everyone knows that everyone is infected with The Sickness to a certain capacity. Not only are people unable to easily communicate with each other because of our broken communication infrastructure, but the people you do come in contact with could actually be pawns of The Black Dream. It seems that the cornerstone of any functional society is trust. We have to trust that everyone is not after us. We trust that those we elect to reign over us have our best interests in mind. Lose that, and EVERYONE becomes a PERCEIVED threat to our lives.

      Oh… and double points for technomortalis… that is just… awesome! I want to make that a Host evolution in my game! lol

    “The word “Armageddon” comes from a Hebrew word Har-Magedone, which means “Mount Megiddo” and has become synonymous with the future battle in which God will intervene and destroy the armies of the Antichrist as predicted in biblical prophecy (Revelation 16:16; 20:1-3, 7-10). There will be a multitude of people engaged in the battle of Armageddon, as all the nations gather together to fight against Christ. ”

    I will be buying your game from kickstarter. I really like your story. As a note, all the best writers from Tolkein to R.K. Rowling based their stories on mythology.

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