I began writing this post, a review of two (now three) games that dealt with the end of the world about a year ago. In what remains of the draft, I had the line; “it’s the end of the decade, we don’t have time for details.” Eerily prophetic because in the time since the world really is ending and it’s doing so as T. S. Elliot suggested, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
As a species, we have been contemplating the end times since the beginning times. Poems, films, video games, even whole religions are based around imagining what it will be like when there no coming back, when progress reverses and we enter terminal decline. Something I’ve been thinking about, during our very real unfolding apocalypse, is that I need to finish things I start because at some point, this is all going to come to an end. So here’s three short reviews of three short games and their take on the end of the world.
The End of the World
The End of the World is a personal project by Ubisoft alumni Sean Wenham. Without dialogue or exposition, a slovenly male wanders through a city in various stages of deconstruction, witnessing flashbacks to when it was vibrant. It becomes quickly apparent that the world isn’t really ending, just the personal life of the protagonist whose relationship fell apart. The End of the World explores the notion that we all have our own sense of ‘world’ and someone’s departure from that can break our sense of purpose or completeness.
You can explore and visit scenes in any order, and in one instance get black out drunk or not, but only real agency the player has is at the end. A different ending plays out depending on which way the player walks in the final scene, each representing an alternative way of dealing with grief and loss. Will you accept it, let it fade or move on, or fight even if it might mean your own destruction?
The End of the World is very short game, less than half an hour, but does the job of evoking emotion and reflection. It costs a couple of bucks and is available on Google Play and the iOS AppStore.
Where the Goats Are
A frail old women, Tikvah, tends to her goats and sells cheese on her farm. She receives mail from her family in the city detailing how their lives, and the world, are unravelling. The gameplay is straightforward as you try and build a routine to keep the farm going but it all seems so hard, the days too short and eking out another day of existence is the only reward.
Where the Goats Are underlines the struggles we’ve had to maintain a sense of order and routine as circumstances beyond our control have altered our lives this year. Without wanting too give anything away, it’s a sad little story that won’t give you much sense of hope, only that our current world isn’t quite at the stage Tikvah’s is.
Where the Goats is available on itch.io for a donation price. The game has been followed up, expanded and reimagined as The Stillness of the Wind, which is available on most modern platforms. I’ll play that sometime soon.
An injured boy, and his sister try to survive by exploring the ruins of a submerged city. Submerged, coming from Australian outfit Uppercut Games, depicts the aftermath of sea level rise due to runaway global heating and also a disfiguring plague ravaging the survivors. Global heating is an issue front of mind to many Australians as 90% of us live on the eroding coastline and half the country burns down every summer. Still we’re told, the coal must burn forever, so it is fitting that the city itself resembles Sydney, with the addition of ominous statues dedicated to our self absorbed leaders.
Although Uppercut Games deserve praise for choosing to make the game non-violent, the pace is ploddingly slow as the gameplay essentially boils down to gathering items spread across a large, difficult to navigate landscape. The narrative is done better. Told without dialogue, but with some contextual information, Submerged illustrates the importance of family and relationships when everything else is lost, as the elder sister tirelessly explores the ruins to help her brother. This work is complicated by another matter which helps to build a sense of foreboding but unfortunately the ending is a bit of a cop out, tying things up a little too neatly.
Of the games I’ve discussing in this post, Submerged is probably the weakest, or at least the worst value for money. Submerged is available on all current consoles, PC and iOS.