If I was really paying attention and looking to cash in on a trend it would be post-apocalyptic gaming. I know this genre because I grew up gaming in the 80s, and we were pretty sure we were going to die in a nuclear fire. I mean for real — we dealt with enormous levels of stress because other countries were pointing megatons of warfare at us just for being beside the sea. For myself, I was certain I would not live to see 30 and my behaviour bore that out: I did not seriously pursue my schooling, I did not care to work for some hypothetical future ease, and I didn’t save or otherwise prepare for a future that seemed increasingly unlikely.
Instead I drank and danced and fucked and, well, gamed. A lot. And an enormous amount of that gaming was training for possible survival in the future: post-apocalyptic games like Twilight:2000 and Aftermath. Our expectations about the future were highly masculinized and militarized. Then, a little later, they became much softer and we started inventing our own games about reforming communities in remote places while facing the consequences of nuclear war. That at least carried with it some hope. Maybe we could plan for the future but oddly we were empowered by the idea of erasing the present. At no time did we make games about making now better.
It took a long time to recover from that trauma. For a long time I didn’t even realize that I had been traumatised, that that constant threat of death had had a lasting impact on me. It eroded my sense of a future and I had to manufacture one, to talk myself into preparation for a later that in my heart I had surrendered a long time ago. When feeling nostalgic (I remain something of a nostalgiac) I even go back to that well — we published Deluge when it was finally obvious that the world was going to die by flood rather than fire. And yet even that was hopeful: the old world washed away, submerged, and a new and hopeful world of communities making something previously unseen. Something new. And maybe with the help of intelligent bears despite their perfectly understandable distrust.
Being old now, or at least old enough, I know that most deaths aren’t sudden and fiery. That happens, but the norm is slow, decaying, degrading struggles down the slope. Digging in your nails all the way, weakening, failing, and ultimately surrendering. And I’m not sure that makes for a ton of fun gaming, so I’m more nipping around the periphery–exploring not so much the sudden death of a culture but rather the slow struggle against it, right from the start, from the realization that something horrible is wrong. And that initial horror, the revelation of mortality — the wrong king, a shadow on the lung — while everything still seems fine and normal but the future has been stolen from you. There’s still years to go, but the end is revealed and it’s not a long winding road. The bridge is out, the brakes are gone, the driver’s a maniac, but it’s miles to go and you have a nice packed lunch.
It’s a phase. When we’re less certain of death, when we can see the bridge being repaired just in time, when the driver comes to their senses, well then there will be a new phase. Maybe then I’ll dream of space stations and faster than light travel again. But not yet.
2 thoughts on “what’s with all this apocalypse”
I remember back in ’84 when The Day After played on local TV in Puerto Rico how the next day we were all in numb shock, and we couldn’t stop talking about the bomb. I remember going to bed at night during those years crying, praying to God that the world wouldn’t end, that I would live past the year 2000 (for some reason that was THE year of destruction). I’ve never stopped to think about how growing up with that specter messed me up, but reading your account, and looking back on my own life, I’m sure it did. The 80s were so fucked up.
Your last paragraph resonates with me. I’m currently very much in a sci-fi mood, have been for most of the year, and while it’s not all roses in my sci-fi visions, it’s certainly hopeful. I think my wife and two daughters have a lot to do with that.
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