The appeal of the apocalypse

There are several classic settings that have been in gaming since its birth in the early seventies. Creepy castles and foreboding forests have been explored relentlessly by gamers worldwide for years, and let’s not forget everyone’s favourite place to shoot things in the face — space.

Recently, however, a new forum for gaming mischief has been becoming more and more prominent.

Post-apocalyptic visions of our future have become the fertile playground for gamers and developers alike. Titles like “Fallout”, “Dead Rising” (zombie apocalypse, I know!) and “Gears of War” all offer players the opportunity to explore worlds ravaged by the Armageddon. Admittedly, while many of these games approach this unique setting in different ways, all the ingredients of a post-apocalyptic experience are there.

This type of setting has become more prominent across all forms of entertainment in the last few years. Many films and books are now catering to the public’s curiosity, allowing the view of a world altered by cataclysmic events, be it zombies, a nuclear attack or natural disaster, where ordinary rules don’t apply.

Gears of War 2 won the Best Xbox 360 Game award at the Golden Joystick Awards in 2009. Photo: Microsoft

That’s their appeal — to be able to see what life would be like if, for example, suddenly we weren’t worrying about which fast food restaurant we were going to visit, but whether we would be able to eat at all. The notion of the post-apocalypse forces the player to contemplate the following question: “would you be able to cope in this situation?”

Gaming has taken this concept even further, and has added its own unique twists along the way. By creating environments that are both familiar and alien at the same time, developers are opening up worlds to gamers, full of dystopian societies, bloodthirsty mutants and, in the case of “Fallout: New Vegas”, sex robots named Fisto.

It could be argued that, by creating sparse environments littered with destroyed buildings, developers are being a little lazy with their design, and in some cases, that’s true (I’m looking at you, “Borderlands”). But, for the most part, they cram so much character into the environments, and the game plots that go along with it make it so that that gamers are never left unsatisfied.

With the recent release of the superb “Fallout: New Vegas” more gamers are being exposed to the potential of a destroyed world, and with “Gears of War 3” on its way next year, the trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Hopefully, with the great potential for storytelling and unique gameplay that comes with this type of game, more developers will try their hand at this very different setting.

“Bioshock” is a great example of this: not traditionally post-apocalyptic, but still part of the genre, and a fantastic game. If, for example, a studio such as Rockstar (the brains behind the iconic “Grand Theft Auto” series), were to create a game in this setting, the potential would be literally limitless, and nothing short of epic.

Not that there’s anything wrong with those castles, forests, military bases and alien worlds we gamers hold close to our hearts. We’ve been looting and shooting our way through them for years and will continue to do so for years to come. It’s just refreshing to see new environments and different approaches to storytelling shake up the traditional genre.

Eventually, post-apocalyptic worlds may become just as standard in the realm of gaming as the rest of the classic settings, but for now, they continue to enjoy their time in the sun as the new kids on the block.

So, if you frequently have a controller nestled in your hands and you haven’t picked up a slice of the post-apocalyptic gaming industry yet? Do yourself a favour and take one for a spin. The end of the world isn’t so bad after all.

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