The Lure of the Apocalypse

Imagine: in an instant, all your credit card debt is wiped away.  School loans?  Gone.  The mortgage or rent payment is no longer an issue.  That job you schlep to with the boss that by rights shouldn’t be qualified to flip burgers is a thing of the past, its entire purpose dissolved and rendered meaningless.  No more homework, or working nights and weekends, or being burdened with the thousand trivial idiocies that consume every second of our lives, from political bullshit to scare-tactic news to nosy neighbors and irritating phone calls.  Welcome to the Apocalypse.

I think that this idea, of some global catastrophe cleaning of slates, is the appeal behind all of the doom and gloom stories and games and movies that become mega-successes.  Stephen King’s The Stand, The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, Lucifer’s Hammer, The Road Warrior – all tales of a World Gone Mad, where mankind is reduced to survival mode once again.  The popularity of the concept is enduring – I mean, look at that goofy acid-trip bizarro sidebar to the Bible called Revelation.  In all of these cases, the world as we know it is gone in an instant, humanity is on its last legs, and the survivors scramble to fight their way through and survive.  I’m starting to think that the only difference between humans and “animals” is that humans take enjoyment from imagining their own extinction, which is kind of fucked up when you think about it.

It’s an oddly liberating feeling, this lure of the End.  You mean I don’t have to worry about making sure my belt and shoes match each other before I go outside?  That if my neighbor, the one who bitches about my dogs barking for 7 seconds on a weekend afternoon, walks up to the house, I can just shoot him in the face with no repercussions?  And if he were an undead walking monstrosity I’d actually be doing The Right Thing?  Hell, sign me up.  I wonder if that’s the appeal – a primal look-back to our days when every day was a struggle to survive, to find enough food and shelter to actually live to see the sunrise.  The obstacles might have been difficult, but at least they were understandable.

I think the great leveling factor would come into play to also explain its appeal.  In our world, we aren’t all on the same level.  We don’t start that way, whether due to our geographic location, how the society we are in treats people of the opposite sex or of different skin colors or nationality, how wealthy our parents are – a multitude of things prevent us from all starting at the same place (which I think explains some of the appeal of MMOs – everybody in the game generally has to play by the same rules and starts from the same point).  During the Great Unravelling, though, we’re all equal, or at least what defines our equality is less arbitrary than where we went to college or where we were born.

Imagine a world, hostile and dangerous, where you need to struggle to survive, and seeing another living person – no matter who they were in life – can be the greatest sense of relief (mixed with appropriate wariness – damn Reavers around every corner).  Very different than the world I live in, where the cars on the road are things driven by brainless random impulses that are unknowable and deserve to be blown apart just so I can get to where I want to go.  My neighbors are people who I have absolutely nothing in common with other than random chance decided that we’d all buy houses there, and who irritate me every time they cut their grass at 7:30 at night in the friggin’ dark almost to the point where I’m ready to grab a bottle of Everclear, stuff a rag into it, light it, and send it through their screened-in porch.

Or maybe that’s just me.  Heh.

I think the last part of the appeal is a little grimmer.  A conversation with Lady Aravan last night made me think of it.  The world’s an ugly place, she told me.  In one day, she’d read about horrific dog abuse, a female reporter just trying to do her job and getting raped and beaten to the point where she might be disfigured for life, a father who sexually abused all three of his daughters into adulthood, a man who murdered his adopted daughter, then covered her twin brother in pesticide in an attempt to kill him as well as he drove somewhere to hide the bodies – on and on.  People abusing people and animals with no regard for – anything, really.  Humanity.  Kindness.  Compassion.  The world can be an ugly fucking place, and sometimes the idea of scouring it clean, wiping these pieces of shit from the world for good, moves beyond just an appealing idea and becomes something to hope for.

OK, I need an attitude cleanser after that paragraph, since I’m all tense and Spirit of Vengeancy now.

Anyway, the reason why I wrote all of this was because I asked myself a simple question: why do I like this stuff?  I’m not the only one, based on the money we spend to see it played out in front of us, so what in the world makes people like me want to write about it, and to read about it and watch it and imagine a world where all our cares are stripped down to the very essence of survival?  I mused about for a few days while driving or getting dressed or whenever my hands were moving and brain was disengaged.  This is what I came up with.

That’s my take on it, anyway.  What’s yours?

About Alan Edwards

An indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.

Posted on February 18, 2011, in Philosophizin' and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m with ya on this one. I first discovered the genre when I bought The Gamma World Box Set as a freshmen in high school, then there was a movie called “A Boy and his dog” (or something like that) starring Don Johnson I caught at the State Theatre one night.

    I have to sit back and think why I like the genre so much, but your reasoning hit a cord with me. The whole thought of….F it, wrong is wrong, no more legalistic interpretations, is appealing. A sort of “Cowboy Code” that applies to all survivors, “I will not wrong you and I will not be wronged” helping to keep things in line.

    But of all your thinking,” the wiping of the slate” is probably the underlying attraction. The whole thought of all the BS we have MADE important just going away and all that remains is what IS truly important, that appeals to me

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s probably why we like gaming as well. In Post-apocolypsia the everyday moral questions are much simpler and more direct. Are you going to survive by banding together with a group of people who fight to survive by helping each other, or do you become a reaver yourself? Pretty much the same choices that we have in the real world, but seeing the decision tree is a lot harder because the world in a lot grayer. In post-apocolypsia when we someone doing WRONG we can DO SOMETHING about it. In the real world we see the crap that Lady Aravan was commenting on and there’s dammed little we can do about it on an individual basis. In post apocolypsia or a game, we pick up a sword or a gun and kick some bad guy ass.

    On a related note: NPR recently ran a story about a psych researcher who determined that a certain amount of gaming is healthy for relieving the social tensions that we have to suppress every day.

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