Post-Apocalypse in Video Games

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With the modification for ARMA called DayZ and arguably the introduction of Minecraft to the gaming world, we witnessed a surge of post-apocalyptic themed video games. The surge in these video games is a direct result of the huge demand these games were producing. These games are widely successful and considered the most immersive video games across all genres (the ones that were finished and done properly). Most of the times, they are also very simplistic in nature. There are usually no actual goals other than surviving for as long as possible. The player has a bunch of variables (hunger, thirst, health, sometimes temperature, and rarely sanity meters) which have to be maintained for the video game character to survive, and that’s pretty much it. There are only backstories in these video games. The narrative being directly derived from the experience of the game itself. The visuals (with the exception of the referenced screenshot from Nether, which truly has stunning visuals) are usually sub par, focusing on quantity versus quality (worlds are usually huge).

What these games have going for them however is atmosphere and immersion. Atmosphere comes form sound design, which is mostly minimalist, having the player constantly aware of potential threatening sounds amidst the usual calm ambient. The immersion is rooted in the fact that people actually love the post-apocalyptic rulebook (or the lack of a rulebook (in that the rules are that there aren’t many rules, other than your survival)). Similarly to my comment on Philip’s post, I argue that it’s exactly that no rules approach that is so appealing about these games, and why people keep coming back to them. It’s a chance for escapism, except the character is a reflection of some anarchistic instinctual and primal version of yourself (or something like that (it’s basically a playground where you can get away with any crime)). It’s a little scary how badly we want games like these and how huge their following is then. If we think about it, it’s like, there’s a lot of pent up anarchistic energy in people and we’ve finally been given a place to exhaust it, and it’s crazy how high the demand is.

You know, the reason I say it’s scary is when you’re playing one of these games with a friend, and that friend befriends another person from the game world, and they spend hours working together, and then your friend shoots that other friend in the back and collects all the hours worth of collected loot – and you sit there wondering if this is going to happen to you as well. And you never see your friend the same way again, because now you KNOW they’re capable of backstabbing in virtual reality – it says something about them doesn’t it? Jokes aside, it’s a fascinating thing to watch people show a much darker and sinister version of themselves when granted the opportunity where the results aren’t actually real.

Death Post Digital Age?

Although we have talked about death in this digital age we are in now all semester, it is interesting to now think about post-digital age death. While it might not be a true visualization of future generations and how their deaths are remembered, it is interesting to see how death is portrayed and people’s lives are remembered (or not) in Station Eleven.

In flashbacks to when Kirsten is 15 and in her first year with the Symphony, we see a man that comes on too strong and is implied to have a want to assault her when she kills him. Two years later, Kirsten and the sixth guitar each kill a gunman in order to survive. For both lives she takes, Kirsten gets a little knife tattoo to remember them by.

Dagger Tattoos found here

On page 296, Kirsten takes a third life, the life of an archer, while August takes his first life ever. The advice we read going through Kirsten’s head after seems to be pretty telling of how killing and death is seen in this post apocalyptic world: it alters you but you will survive.

Survival is a main theme in the face of death in this post- digital age in Station Eleven. Are tattoos and altered lives of the surviving the only remembrance a life receives or can potentially receive in that type of age?   In the prophets old town there were the graves and all of those markers but s that truly remembering those who died if no one who stumbles upon those markers in the future knows who they were?

We may say that there is so much oversharing and lives are wasted on the internet nowadays, but at least there is something to go back and see parts of their lives if someone dies in the digital age, unlike with Kirsten and her friends who merely have the tattoos and the memories of those who have died. Who’s version of death is better? I like to think the digital age gives us access to people’s lives and lets them leave a legacy and a digital fingerprint in a world where they otherwise wold be a forgotten grave marker on the outskirts of town.

Hidden Stories: World War Z, Station Eleven, and the Everyday in the Apocalypse

As I’ve been reading Station Eleven, I find that the book very much reminds me of one of my favorite “end of the world” novels, World War Z.  If you haven’t  read it, WWZ is presented as an “oral history of the zombie war”, and is set some years after the zombie apocalypse has both come and gone. The book is a collection of interviews with various figures from the zombie war, from Presidents to soldiers to astronauts to housewives turned warriors, as well as everything in between.

wikipedia.org, accessed 5/3/17

What sets both WWZ and Station Eleven apart from other apocalypse stories is their focus on the day-to-day and reality rather than any grand “saving the world” narratives. It’s angle I find fascinating, as it is often overlooked in these kinds of stories. Whenever we see a zombie movie, or read an infection/disease story, we never stop to think about anything beyond what we are shown. Yes it can be exciting to read about scientists scrambling to find some sort of cure, but how often do we stop and wonder about what happens to any astronauts stranded on the International Space Station? Or how governments and societies would undergo monumental shifts in policies? Or even how art and culture would survive and change as the years go on. There are real people hidden in the pages of every apocalypse story, and I think that often goes overlooked.

At its core, Station Eleven isn’t about saving the world or bringing things back to the way they were, there’s no “chosen one” or miracle cure. It’s just a small melancholy story, about a small melancholy group of people, doing the best they can with what they can to keep the dream of the human spirit alive. There’s something so romantically admirable about that. What other stories are out there that we have missed, that have been left out of the grand apocalypse narratives?

How Do We Measure a Life?

In reading the last few chapters of Station Eleven, there was one quotation that particularly stuck with me. At the beginning of chapter 53, Emily St. John Mandel details Arthur Leander’s last day on Earth. She describes how Arthur, “made his late breakfast—scrambled eggs—and showered, dressed, combed his hair… all of the small details that comprise a morning, a life” (317).

I noticed a similarity between this quotation and a song from the famous Broadway musical Rent: “Seasons of Love.” In this song, the main characters contemplate how you measure a year in a person’s life.

“Seasons of Love” seeks to understand how to measure a year. It is not a big leap to go from a year to a life, as a life is the culmination of all the hours, mornings, days, and years in a person’s existence. Thinking on this quotation and the message in “Seasons of Love,” I began to wonder: how do we measure a person’s life after their death?

I believe that this is one of the fundamental questions at the heart of Station Eleven. How are we remembered after we are gone? I believe that the best exploration of this question is found through the book’s use of Arthur. Arthur is remembered by Kirsten after he is gone thanks to the legacy he left behind due to his fame. Tabloid pictures of Arthur, along with Dear V., along with a few shadowy memories, inform Kirsten’s view of Arthur. However, Clark also remembers Arthur and remembers the person he met when they were both young upstarts.

I am not sure what Mandel is trying to say with regards to how we are remembered. Is she saying that we are remembered by the legacy we leave behind or by the people in our lives that we have touched? Perhaps, Mandel is saying that we are remembered for “all of the small details that comprise” our lives. Regardless, I think that this is a question that deserves exploration when discussing Station Eleven.

Quarantined.

It can protect more people from getting sick, but if you are already quarantined, especially with an epidemic or a plague, quarantine can be a death sentence. An admittance to the fact that you are sick – or will be soon – and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it, or maybe even nothing that they can do to save you.

The word quarantine is derived from two Italian words, quaranta giorni, translating to 40 days. This was the amount of time during the Black Plague that ships had to wait outside of Venice before landing if they came from an infected port. Whoever was still alive at the end of the 40 days could come ashore.

The plague of Florence in 1348. Photo courtesy of Ars Technica

Many quarantined areas in Station Eleven were not so fortunate. With no cure for the Georgia Flu, those areas designated as “quarantine” were themselves their own coffins, sealing the people inside off from the rest of the world. When the Air Gradia flight announced that it would not be docking because it was now quarantined, Clark knew that there was no hope for the people onboard, and reflected on the final moments of those passengers at other times throughout his sections of the novel.

What is most interesting to me is that Emily St. John Mandel decided to use a fake airline here for the quarantined plane, even though she uses real airlines in other parts of the books and Severn is a place in Michigan. Why would she give a fake airline the disease, sealing the passengers inside like a tomb, instead of an airline that exists in our world? Was it the fear of quarantine, the impending doom that it strikes within us in the book, the horror images that come to mind when Clark thinks about it – too much for a real airline? Or some other reason entirely, like pertaining more to Tyler’s growth and his obsession with reading to the planes?

Whatever the reasons, quarantine isn’t a promise of eventual recovery in Station Eleven. It’s a death sentence.

 

Optimism in the Face of Annihilation

Sourced from Nathan Burton’s Website

Reading the last quarter of Station Eleven, I was struck by how much the author romanticizes our social connections. It seems as though the web of connections she created- surrounded around Miranda, Arther, and Kristen- are much more coincidental than real life. Connections like the station eleven comic book Miranda creates, sends to Arther, and ends up in the hands of Kristen and Tyler. The comic book ends up saving the life of Kristen and playing a pivotal role for the Prophet’s last few moments alive.

Emily Mandel clearly creates these connections to stress their importance, but also discards them without much hesitation. Clark’s relationship with his boyfriend, his friend the flight attendant, and his friend who discusses his last telephone conversation show this. They show his humanity with missing his boyfriend, his need to form relationships with his neighbors, but also show how these relationships are fleeting. Emily Mandel kills off the flight attendant with a short line and no hesitation. She shows Clark honoring their friendship by wearing her scarf every day after her death, but it just becomes another part of his character afterwards. It seems like Emily is showing that our personalities, experiences, likes and dislikes, our philosophies, beliefs, fears, and everything else that makes us human stands on the foundation of our relationships with others.

Tyler/The Prophet and his Mother, Elizabeth, seem to show the alternative side to this. I wish there had been more of a religious backstory to Elizabeth, because as it is, I feel that their religious fanaticism comes out of nowhere. There are no moments in earlier chapters where she shows a religious side, and it feels like an undeveloped plot line. However, the events between Kristen and Tyler twenty years after the epidemic are all shaped by their relationships with Arthur, Elizabeth, Miranda, and Clark.

In the end, I agree that this book is a sort-of love letter to social relationships formed outside of technology. She definitely criticizes our reliance on technology, (Clark basically shoved three millennials on their phones!) but also describes a believable world where human relationships shine. It also seems like praise for humanity’s achievements though, with Clark building a museum to document our technology. There’s hope at the end of the novel that humanity will be reborn and pick up the mantel of technology and continue to improve. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the sheer optimism in the face of annihilation. We don’t necessarily wish to go back to the old world, like many of the survivors, but are excited about the future of humanity that survived.

Death *of* the Digital Age

The first 12 chapters of Station Eleven left me thinking quite hard about what I would miss most about the Digital Age we are in now. I know that as a child who grew up surrounded with technology and easy access to the internet, I would have an immediate gut reaction of saying my phone or wifi or something to that effect. After this original reaction though, Station Eleven brought up all of the things that are 100 times more important than just one silly phone in the event of a catastrophe. Things like our cell phones are just a part of a past that is now contained in the wasteland of what I imagine to be city-wide landfills. I think things like not having access to medicine or having a permanent home might take the place of the most missed things of the pre-apocalyptic digital era in this book if I were to have lived in this type of scene with Kristen.

What really is intriguing in the chapters of 20 years post fall, is that there are so many still alive that don’t remember all this digital era nonsense. What would it be like to have almost no recollection of it and not be dependent on it like our society is today? If we aren’t dependent on technology and have somehow managed to figure out how to live without medics and pharmaceuticals, then I believe that things like food, safety, and water would be at the top of everyone’s priority list. However, Kristen and so many others don’t even live in houses! I understand the traveling theater and then giving life and beauty and joy to a landscape devoid of any type of happiness or other more digital type of entertainment, but what happened to all the houses? America is filled with suburbs and I don’t think those would’ve disappeared in this world, yet people are living in abandoned gas stations and Wendy’s and such. Why??? I want to know what happened to all the homes and houses!

Abandoned Wendy’s found here

After The End

Luke already talked about this a little in his post, but I was wondering what is it about post-apocalyptic narratives that makes them so popular. It’s an odd trend, when you take a step back and really look at it. Why do we enjoy reading and watching stories that describe a world where society has collapsed, millions (possibly billions) of people are dead, and the way of life we know has forever disappeared? It’s rather macabre, in a way, the imagining of a “post-human” world. Station Eleven does a great job of creating just such a world, giving us just enough details to flesh it out, but not too much as to leave our imagination out of the process. In a strange way, the novel relies on our previous encounters with post-apocalyptic narratives. When we read about the “Georgia Flu:, we don’t need a bunch of chapters detailing how society collapsed. We know how those stories go. We’ve read them, we’ve seen them, they’re almost everywhere these days. So, what’s the reason for the popularity of this type of story? What draws us to them?

tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AfterTheEnd, accessed 4/24/17

One possibility is what I mentioned before, the vaguely thrilling sense of macabre. There’s something in us that wants to read stories of destruction, of death and ruin, of something so terrible it has the potential to wipe out the most successful species in Earth’s history. It’s like a penny dreadful or the murder scene in a mystery novel, just on a global scale. We’re drawn to death, however much we hate to admit it.  Any sort of apocalypse would be a tragedy, by any and every measure, something tragic, awful, and ruinous. And yet…wouldn’t you almost want to watch it happen? Not to you of course, maybe to some other planet as you sit on the moon and watch, but the feeling is there. It’s odd, this fascination with what happens after the end. We sit in our air-conditioned houses, staring at smart phones, watching tv, playing video games, boarding flights to far-off countries, secure in the knowledge that there has never been a better time to be alive than right now. But then our minds begin to wander, and we almost start to wish it would all come crashing down around us.

Arguments Against Globalization

While reading Station Eleven, I could not help but think of two movies: Contagion and Outbreak. Both of these films have a premise similar to that of Station Eleven: an outbreak of mysterious disease decimates the world’s population. However, the diseases in Outbreak and Contagion—Motaba and MEV-1, respectively—do not lead to the failure of technology in the same way that the Georgia Flu of Station Eleven does.

Contagion, Outbreak, and Station Eleven are all examples of a common fear held by today’s society: a pandemic. Whether it be man-made or naturally occurring, today’s society is in a constant fear of biological villains or weapons. This is a theme that I have noticed in many other stories as well. But why are we so afraid of this theme?

Reflecting on this question, I thought that the greatest fear found in Contagion, Outbreak, Station Eleven, and other stories containing pandemics stems from the globalization of our world. Our world is so connected; we can travel great distances in almost no time at all. The ease with which we can spread around the world is something that we take for granted, as made evident by the Traveling Symphony’s traveling difficulties in Station Eleven.

If we are made to fear the connectivity of the world, we are therefore made to fear the world’s globalization. Are these stories thus arguments against the globalization of the world? To prevent the spreading of disease, should we not be able to travel as easily as we can? Does our globalization need to end?

Rebellion

“Because survival is insufficient”. It is the last line of chapter 11 in Station Eleven and a transforming sentence in my mind about the Travelling Symphony and their purpose in this post-apocalyptic world.

After reading that, our protagonists in this section of the book are not just passing through the days nor are they living passive lives in this new and difficult world. I see them now as people working to improve the lives of the people around them after the epidemic took everything they had away.

The Traveling Symphony doesn’t have much to work with to stand up for people, as even what we consider today as the most basic forms of technology, such as electricity and cars, are no longer available to the survivors. However, technology, as we have seen in other readings, does not have to be mechanical. The Symphony uses the tools they still have: their voices, bodies, costumes, instruments, and acting skills, to create productions of hope, joy, and power for the people watching. Their ability to from these productions is its own technology.

A performance of Midsummer’s Night Dream, also performed in Station Eleven. Photo courtesy of the New York City Ballet

“What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty” (57). With almost nothing left, the Symphony creates beauty, and with that, they can still positively impact others in this post-apocalyptic society. The Symphony shows that as long as people still have the ability to move their bodies and use their voices, no matter how terrible the apocalypse, disease, or tragedy, people will still come together to make something beautiful. Even the Georgia Flu couldn’t take this away from them, and this way they are rebelling against the death and despair to be part of a production bigger than themselves.