Monday, December 3, 2012

Doomsdaycember: All Planets Gotta End Sometime

The end of the world. It's a plot device seen in a lot of games recently. It's understandable; the stakes are as high as can be, the consequences devastating. Why not go straight to the top with your threat?

Corrupt CEO Doúche Dickfacé wants to close the community center!? Huh. What a jerk.
Evil dictator Rasicto Carikatoor wants to blow up the whole world? FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK

Never mind. Just Norway.

This opens plenty of narrative possibilities. Whether your characters are actively trying to prevent a doomsday event or simply trying to survive in the hellish aftermath, you got options.

For example, at any moment the end could come at the hands of....

As seen in: Space Invaders obviously, Halo, Crysis, Half-Life, Earth Defense Force, Mass Effect, Resistance, X-COM, that terrible Independence Day game for the PS1.

So humanity is just minding its own business when all of a sudden fucking aliens come in to take all our jobs and lives. The whole "alien invasion" panic really got started in the 40's and 50's, when Americans were terrified that at any second some Commies would come and interrupt their sock hops and drive-in movies. The fear of the sinister outsiders was ingrained in the mind of every citizen. What, then, would we do if those foreigners had lasers and shit? Die, is what. But you can bet your sweet ass we'd try our damnedest to push them green sonsabitches back to the Moon or whatever.

It is our most vaguely racist doomsday scenario, surely.

As seen in: Binary Domain, Mega Man, that bad Matrix game, Mass Effect again kind of, that sort of good Matrix game, any Terminator game.

The robot apocalypse is similar to the alien one, with the added benefit of it being all our fault. You can lightly touch on the subject of slavery while keeping the audience's attention with laser eyes and machine gun arms. But most importantly you can stress how important it is for humanity to quit that "playing God" shit. Also you can have the robots be all "what is love?" and so forth. The story writes itself.

When you've gotten to the point you're building robot octopi that fire torpedoes for some reason you have to stop and think, "Wait. Maybe I should have finished reading Frankenstein."

As seen in: Every game made in the last five years.

Much has been said about the blitzkrieg of undead related media in recent years, and much more will be said in the future I'm sure. The sales numbers don't lie: People love them some zombies. And developers love that you love them. Developing intelligent AI is hard. I don't know shit about developing games, but I'm confidant even I could script a character to do nothing but walk in the direction of another character. And it seems people really like the idea of being able to cut other people's limbs off without all that morality nonsense getting in the way. Zombies are a safe, universally scorned enemy. Like Nazis, except you don't have to pretend to give a shit if they have a family.

"It's not psychopathic if it's self defense! Weeeeeeeeeeee"

Above all, it's important to stress that at the end of the day zombies are us . There's no better excuse to whine about the human condition for hours.

As seen in: Fallout, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Metro 2033, Wasteland.

The younger generation may not know this, but there were too many times where the only thing standing between us and total nuclear devastation was one guy who took a few seconds before pressing a button to think "You know what, global holocaust actually sounds kind of lame."

All joking aside, The Cold War was pretty ridiculous.

But video games can show us how things would have been different if perhaps that person was an idiot instead. As it turns out, fighting radiation poisoning and clawing your way through garbage for bottle caps is just as fun as it sounds. And then you have the mutants to deal with!

As seen in: I Am Alive, Assassin's Creed, Rage, Darksiders (literally).

You know, sometimes the end just comes out of nowhere. You're doing the crossword puzzle one moment and BAM, some dickhead super volcano decides that's the perfect time to shoot its wad. Or perhaps you're playing a jolly game of cricket when WHACK, a dumbass asteroid picks that moment to stop flying around aimlessly and finally settle down with a nice, pretty planet.

There's nothing you can do but shrug and think how unlucky you are to be alive at that point in time. If there are survivors, you can all take comfort in the fact that there's nothing you could have done. Those nuclear wasteland chumps could have just not shot nukes around like Nerf darts. Those suckers working in the robot slave camps could have just stopped at the Roomba. But you were just trying to think of a seven letter word for 'poetic justice'.


  1. Yeah, end of the world scenarios are an easy, lazy way to get the player to care about the plot. You can easily emphasize with the game's main character, because everything everyone on the planet cares about is at risk, and it's up to you to save the day. That's empowering.

    It would be nice if developers gave us some reasons to actually give a shit about their characters though and the world they live in. But in the past hiring a professional writer for games seems to be hit or miss. Some games where they have done this the plot was forgettable. I think they need to work on finding established writers who are deeply familiar with video games, instead of enthralling writers with the novelty of writing for a video game.

    Off the top of my head I know that Branden Sanderson wrote Infinity Blade, that game for the iPhone, and it's been pretty successful. This is a good example of an author who's familiar with video games writing the story for a game. More companies should look into emulating this practice.

  2. When you said "What is love?" the very first thing I thought of was robots and androids dancing to "What is Love? Baby don't hurt me....don't hurt mo'!"

  3. It's the end of the world as we know it?

    I feel fine.

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