Don’t Make Me Go Post-Nuclear on You!

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Post-Apocalypse, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

(Originally posted 7 AUG 2009)

Nearly all media contains the inherent promise of a good ol’ yarn. Movies, TV shows and books may be the most obvious, and there’s always some type of story, or at least a background/meaning behind two dimensional art. Modern video games are rich with interactive storytelling, but even the eldest games (you know you remember Asteroids, which is purportedly going to be made into a movie based on its minimalist premise of shooting asteroids to save the Earth) contained some grain of an adventure beyond just pummeling the joystick fire button for the top score. Not all storylines are worth the cost of the movie ticket/ reading time/ hours wasted in front of the computer/ tv screen, but the fact remains they exist.

So what? you ask. There’s a story. I don’t really care about the story as long as I get to slaughter raiders/ mobsters/ bug-eyed aliens/ ghosts/ etc. While that may be true for some players, that fact is at the heart of all these stories, the author/ designer/ artist consciously chose the setting for the media. Some start with the setting “I’d like to design a space MMO*” and some with the character(s) “I’m painting fairies.” Occasionally an author or designer nurtures the storyline independently, then drops the characters into different settings to see what happens. Sometimes the setting is extremely important, and sometimes its just incidental (Star Wars could also have taken place in a Western or Fantasy setting with a little tweaking, and that’s why its called Space Opera and not true Science Fiction, but more on that at a later date).

So why choose the post-apocalyptic setting?

Post-apocalypse contains an inherent “cool factor” – the burnt out landscape dotted with skeletal trees and collapsed building and the possibility of the family dog mutating into a two-ton, acid-drooling, bloodthirsty beast make it an alien landscape in its own right. While post-apoc settings are beginning to become more commonplace, the “other” settings already count themselves in the “Done-to-Death” club. Some folks don’t mind seeing the same stories played out in the same settings over and over, but others prefer some novelty and the post-nuclear provides.

Then there’s the paranoia factor. Some modern games make it seem like everyone and their brother, sister, and even their grandmother is out to get the hero for little sense other than the main hero needs something to shoot back at. But move that to a post-apocalyptic setting, and suddenly everyone is out to get you, for their basic survival (hey, they can probably smell that can of Spam you just found. Or they smell you. Mmmm, tasty). Everyone trying to shoot or gut you suddenly makes sense.

Let’s not forget the interesting juxtaposition of the modern versus the primitive. We’ve already seen this kind of thing in history (the natives teaching guerilla tactics to the American colonists to best the better- outfitted English armies), in tons of science fiction tales where A) Space-faring earthlings encounter primitive alien species or B) vastly technologically-superior aliens arrive on earth. Then again there could be a more “modern” modern setting, where heavily-armed astronauts end up landing in the Amazon and for some reason being hunted by a tribe or tribes there. (If there’s a story like this out there, let me know. An interesting premise to try reading, at any rate).

Not always, but in enough media, the post-apocalyptic setting becomes the reason itself for the story, the backdrop as theme, if you will. The reason there exists a story of this type is that the world is the way it is because of mankind, and its folly in destroying itself. The promise is gone and its skeleton is the raped landscape, fallen buildings and spiritually-crushed people. Good stories in the post-apoc setting use it. It is a backdrop to show that mankind is continually spiralling downward, never learning the lessons of the past, the ugliness perpetuating until mankind swallows itself whole. It is a juxtaposition to illustrate mankind’s ability to press on, and even to learn from his mistakes and this time, try virtue. All it takes is one man to be the tiny white flower growing in the vast, barren landscape.

Next time you watch/ play/ read, think for a moment if the setting is important to the tale, or if it makes the movie/ game/ novel transcend in terms of the message it is trying to deliver. You may just discover post-apocalyptia holds a few cards that cannot be accessed in fantasy or space genres.

*Author’s Note: If there are any designers reading this who wish to design a space MMORPG that is truly character-based and isn’t going to nerf the crap out of itself like Galaxies, mucho kudos to you. We need more space and less fantasy out there. And by the way, I know about Fallen Earth, too, so no more e-mails on that one =o) Thanks. You’ve been kind.

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