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Why Are Video Games Obsessed With The Post-Apocalypse?

Between the recent releases of Far Cry New Dawn and The Division 2, I took a step back and took stock of how many post-apocalyptic games I’ve played and the future releases on the calendar that I plan on digging into, and it got me thinking: Why are there so many games that deal with the end times? Not that I think it’s a bad thing necessarily, but it is intriguing.


So I sat down with Heather Alexandra to ask some questions. Why are there so many post-apocalyptic games out there? What do they do for us as players? What do they reveal about our ideal fantasies?

Watch the video above, or read a short excerpt here:

Heather: Why aren’t there as many games about just making graffiti art, for instance, as opposed to tagging territory? It’s because games push themselves towards very competitive modes of play because that’s engaging and compelling. So that empty space for post-apocalyptic stuff—yeah, there’s the rebuilding aspect, but that also means—


Paul: How do you rebuild?

Heather: Right, fighting off weird raiders or whatever, because Far Cry New Dawn does it too.

Paul: Far Cry New Dawn is an interesting case because we got to see, in Far Cry 5, the leadup to the apocalypse. And then Far Cry New Dawn is also interesting because you’re revisiting places you’re already familiar with and you’re seeing how people are coping and rebuilding. It gets uncomfortable at times because it’s like, “Oh, the raiders are attacking the wall! They’re attacking our peaceful settlement.”

Heather: The cynical thing about going from one game to another that’s just kind of wrecked [is] “Boy, we can just save on assets,” which is what I think a lot of people think of when they think of Far Cry New Dawn. The thing about a post-apocalypse is that it’s not just a blank canvas for design, it’s like, how can you imagine a post-apocalypse? Fallout does it very traditionally, it’s a wasteland. But Far Cry New Dawn is like, “No, we’re going to take inspiration from movies like Annihilation, where we have this freedom to make strange spaces as opposed to just another city.” Although The Division does that, but it’s like a city with a twist!


Paul: We just had Metro Exodus, we have Rage 2 on the horizon, we have Days Gone coming soon, Last of Us Part II. Looking back on this moment 10 years from now, it is, sort of, a reflection of what’s going on.

Heather: It’s a social anxiety.

Video Producer, Kotaku. Fluent in Spanglish. Tetris Master. Streamer. Host of The Optional Podcast.

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Great video! 100% agree on the social anxiety stuff. The post-apocalypse thing has been so commercialized I feel like its lost all its teeth as social commentary. I can’t not connect it to movies of the same themes and all the old movies about the potential or real end of the world (Night of the Living Dead, The Day the Earth Stood Still, etc.) all treat the apocalypse as a thing that happens after the actual movie and they focus on the beginning of the end (or theoretical or implied end) and how people react. They’re all packed with political and social commentary about consumerism, capitalism, war, etc.

I guess that commercialization over time is just reflective of the deeper and deeper sinkhole of soulless capitalism we live in where everything is a product and nothing has any real meaning and opening a checking account with a bank is a revolution. A lot of the games are good, but I find myself way more inspired by reading books that offer alternate futures. Most of the games just seem to celebrate the excitement of getting to murder tons of “bad” people in a world totally disconnected from any of the actions that actually led up to that world. It boggles my mind that so many of these games take place after a nuclear or environmental apocalypse and yet there is no definitive message that nuclear weapons are bad and climate change is destroying the planet. You can choose to take that message from it, but it’s not really definitely there and I think tons of people just ignore any thematic importance and kill shit.