The Nameless Apocalypse: A Frustrating Trope

Perhaps I'm jaded. Maybe I've seen too many movies, played too many games, read too many books. Perhaps I'm the minority on this particular issue even. But damn it, I'm kind of tired of these post-apocalyptic stories that like to ram vagueness down the consumer's throat about how the world has come to be what it is.

The first two games that spring to mind quickly are I Am Alive and Left 4 Dead. I'm willing to write the latter a pass on my frustrations because, let's face it, it wasn't a story driven game and it never intended to be. Left 4 Dead was a co-op shooter that focused on resource management and teamwork. The story was limited to brief, twenty second conversations in elevators or what have you and your character screaming about pills and ammo.

I Am Alive, however, is grinding on certain nerves, ones that I didn't even realize were so sensitive. "The Event" -- a phrase that is causing me a great deal of frustration just by reading it or hearing it. I just can't stand the faceless apocalypse, which might perhaps be excusable if the characters I've talked to thus far didn't refer to it literally as that: "The Event". "Hey, go look around for one of those government crates, y'know, the ones they dropped after... the event..."

It just bothers me in ways I'm finding it difficult to even describe. This seems like one of the biggest cop outs, design and script wise, that anyone could take, regardless of their artistic medium. It's true that I Am Alive is a $15 downloadable game that is rounding out Microsoft's "Alright, they're not quite good enough for summer release, but they still should get some advertising" House Party, but I'm finding it hard to forgive it just on account of that. It's clear that going in to this game, they are working to establish a tone and an atmosphere unique to this game. They want to make you feel alone and hated by the world, they want you to be just as in the dark about what happened and how it came to this as everybody else would be, but as a consumer, it just. bothers me.

And it's really just that obtuse nature of speech, the kind the accompanied those awful NBC commercials, where they talk in fairly non-descriptive fashion and go out of their ways to call this cataclysm "The Event." Just tell me something, anything. Tell me a bomb went off, tell me something happened somewhere that caused this, tell me that it was divine intervention. Just give me something, as a person. What the fuck is happening?

This isn't souring my opinion too much on the actual game thus far -- there's plenty in there frankly that's already working to take care of that. But it's certainly not helping. The story of the game right now seems to be fitting in incredibly well with the actual gameplay mechanics; a wonderful concept that, while cool on paper, plays out very mechanically and less than intuitively.

As far as gameplay goes, I've been fairly keen. The designers of this game clearly know how to make you stress your actions and choices, forcing you to make knee jerk decisions at times. Having gone through the first few chapters, one of the most irritating things to occur were scripted sequences in which tutorial messages would come up late and be detrimental to gameplay. The first time I encountered a group of enemies, I quickly drew my gun. This caused two to shoot at me while one charged me with a machete. After dying and wondering, what the hell just happened?, I loaded the last checkpoint and hit the same point and waited. The men approached me and uttered some dialogue, then a message popped up saying "Don't draw your weapon in this situation." Admittedly, early on in the game, this serves as a good lesson, but my issue with this stems from the fact that it sort of kneecapped me early on, demanding that I perform better for the rest of the game as my retrys were burned on tutorials sequences that my reflexes just happened to beat.

Despite anything negative I may say about it, I really am looking forward to completing I Am Alive. I've managed to get my expectations of what it was originally supposed to be under wraps, so I'm hoping that this can live up to the potential that it promises. Failing that, I hope that this game is used as a precursor to future game development. Taking the basic concepts of human interaction and survival and developing them farther in other games could go a long way, and I'd relish in the idea of a survival-horror game that cribbed from I Am Alive.

17 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by xxizzypop

Perhaps I'm jaded. Maybe I've seen too many movies, played too many games, read too many books. Perhaps I'm the minority on this particular issue even. But damn it, I'm kind of tired of these post-apocalyptic stories that like to ram vagueness down the consumer's throat about how the world has come to be what it is.

The first two games that spring to mind quickly are I Am Alive and Left 4 Dead. I'm willing to write the latter a pass on my frustrations because, let's face it, it wasn't a story driven game and it never intended to be. Left 4 Dead was a co-op shooter that focused on resource management and teamwork. The story was limited to brief, twenty second conversations in elevators or what have you and your character screaming about pills and ammo.

I Am Alive, however, is grinding on certain nerves, ones that I didn't even realize were so sensitive. "The Event" -- a phrase that is causing me a great deal of frustration just by reading it or hearing it. I just can't stand the faceless apocalypse, which might perhaps be excusable if the characters I've talked to thus far didn't refer to it literally as that: "The Event". "Hey, go look around for one of those government crates, y'know, the ones they dropped after... the event..."

It just bothers me in ways I'm finding it difficult to even describe. This seems like one of the biggest cop outs, design and script wise, that anyone could take, regardless of their artistic medium. It's true that I Am Alive is a $15 downloadable game that is rounding out Microsoft's "Alright, they're not quite good enough for summer release, but they still should get some advertising" House Party, but I'm finding it hard to forgive it just on account of that. It's clear that going in to this game, they are working to establish a tone and an atmosphere unique to this game. They want to make you feel alone and hated by the world, they want you to be just as in the dark about what happened and how it came to this as everybody else would be, but as a consumer, it just. bothers me.

And it's really just that obtuse nature of speech, the kind the accompanied those awful NBC commercials, where they talk in fairly non-descriptive fashion and go out of their ways to call this cataclysm "The Event." Just tell me something, anything. Tell me a bomb went off, tell me something happened somewhere that caused this, tell me that it was divine intervention. Just give me something, as a person. What the fuck is happening?

This isn't souring my opinion too much on the actual game thus far -- there's plenty in there frankly that's already working to take care of that. But it's certainly not helping. The story of the game right now seems to be fitting in incredibly well with the actual gameplay mechanics; a wonderful concept that, while cool on paper, plays out very mechanically and less than intuitively.

As far as gameplay goes, I've been fairly keen. The designers of this game clearly know how to make you stress your actions and choices, forcing you to make knee jerk decisions at times. Having gone through the first few chapters, one of the most irritating things to occur were scripted sequences in which tutorial messages would come up late and be detrimental to gameplay. The first time I encountered a group of enemies, I quickly drew my gun. This caused two to shoot at me while one charged me with a machete. After dying and wondering, what the hell just happened?, I loaded the last checkpoint and hit the same point and waited. The men approached me and uttered some dialogue, then a message popped up saying "Don't draw your weapon in this situation." Admittedly, early on in the game, this serves as a good lesson, but my issue with this stems from the fact that it sort of kneecapped me early on, demanding that I perform better for the rest of the game as my retrys were burned on tutorials sequences that my reflexes just happened to beat.

Despite anything negative I may say about it, I really am looking forward to completing I Am Alive. I've managed to get my expectations of what it was originally supposed to be under wraps, so I'm hoping that this can live up to the potential that it promises. Failing that, I hope that this game is used as a precursor to future game development. Taking the basic concepts of human interaction and survival and developing them farther in other games could go a long way, and I'd relish in the idea of a survival-horror game that cribbed from I Am Alive.

Posted by TentPole

Cormac McCarthy thinks you are missing the point.

Posted by falling_fast

The Road, which this game is obviously heavily influenced by, didn't ever give much detail on the nature of the apocalypse, either.

I think it's a valid choice. Knowing what happened isn't really important, when you think about it. What matters is that the world as the characters knew it is over. Also, it's interesting to imagine what might have led to what you're seeing.

Posted by Commisar123

I just don't think it matters. The real story is about what happens after all the dust settles so who cares what kicked it up in the first place.

Posted by xxizzypop

I know. It just bothers me. To exaggerate, but describe how I see it, I can only hear Japanese melodrama when someone talks so deliberately vaguely about... "The Event".

Posted by Canteu

A virus happened in L4D and then zombies happened. Not quite sure about the vagueness there.

Why does it matter? Will knowing how it happened change anything other than them having to come up with some utterly shit reason?

Edited by xxizzypop

Because I care, it bothers me and I don't like the way it's implemented in this game. It seems lazy more than clever in this particular instance. I'm not saying it's not a valid plot device or that it can't be used for powerful effect or narrative, I just don't think it is in this game.

Edited by falling_fast

also, The Road is about what happens when the rest of society is stripped away and nothing is left but that primal father/son relationship, and possibly about how nuclear/biological/other doomsday weapons render the average individual man powerless/emasculated. (The Father is no longer able to protect his son)

It's not about detailing what caused the apocalypse.

um, not that I think that this game is anywhere near on par with The Road. it's not Art, or whatever. But it is trying to appropriate some parts of The Road for its own ends, and I'm trying to explain why The Road is the way it is.

Posted by Toxeia

The whole apocalypse thing to me is like food coloring in packaged foods. Red 40 or 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonic acid, zombies or (what ever the hell is up with zombies).

Posted by SlightConfuse
@xxizzypop

I know. It just bothers me. To exaggerate, but describe how I see it, I can only hear Japanese melodrama when someone talks so deliberately vaguely about... "The Event".

Posted by MarkWahlberg

There's a weird trend in video games where they're more or less directly inspired by specific movies or books. When you're blatantly basing your game on a book that's a bigwig literary type's take on an established sub genre - a book that I find to be dull and pretentious, personally- you can't really expect them to instill it with a whole lot of creativity.

Posted by Turbo_Toaster

I like it myself. It adds an easy bit of mystery, and can be handled many different ways. It'd be a lot less fun and harder to immerse yourself in a world where you know all the answers to everything before you even start.

Posted by Turbo_Toaster

I Am Alive offended me on the basis of naming his wife and daughter Julie and Mary, respectively.

Posted by AssInAss

Ehh, don't really see the frustration when every single explanation has been played out to death. Virus, global warming, earthquake, nuclear war, chemical warfare, you name it, it's been done dozens of times before.

I'd see validity in your frustration if the story was about finding out the explanation but it's not. It's about you finding your family.

And when you find out what actually happened like Lost, it's all ruined. A little mystery never hurt anyone.

Posted by Christoffer

I think the writers underlines a huge point, in those stories, by not going into the details. It's not always about the end of the world, it's about humans surviving and dealing with extremely mental and physical challenges. It can be done good or bad. Maybe I Am Alive is a bad example since it seems to frustrate you. The Road did it beautifully.

And I think Willem Dafoes recent movie, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, is another example.

Posted by GetEveryone

@xxizzypop said:

I know. It just bothers me. To exaggerate, but describe how I see it, I can only hear Japanese melodrama when someone talks so deliberately vaguely about... "The Event".

I know exactly what it is that irks you, even if some of the others in here don't.

Yes, 'the nameless apocalypse' is a well-worn trope, but it can be effectively handled - actually referencing said apocalypse with constant regard only to 'the event' it becomes a case of lazy writing in the same sense that bleeping the Bride's name in Kill Bill was.

Write around what happened, if you want to shroud it in mystery, don't continually bring it up and stick a great big censor bar in front of it.

Posted by EODTech

"The Road" sucks balls. Really tired of hack writers ignoring proper plot structure and even grammar/punctuation rules and then getting called a visionary by a bunch of failed writers teaching American Lit at community colleges. Refusing to follow a coherent plot doesn't mean you've "moved beyond proletarian conventions," it means you're a pretentious prick.

I was looking forward to this game until I read this thread. Some of you say the game was based on "The Road." Well, no thanks. The shitty book already got a shitty movie--did it really need a shitty game? You guys can enjoy your sucky "there is no story" entertainment; me, I like to actually be entertained.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

I just invented my own "apocalyptic origin" for I Am Alive.  You got earthquakes, chasms, & giant dangerous dust storms.
No radiation or pits where cities used to be.  So it seems to me that either a giant meteor hit the Earth causing something
serious to happen to the core, resulting in serious earth quakes.  There are gigantic chasms, so it could be the problem
came from deep inside.  So it seems like it's a nature-driven apocalypse.
 
In some books I've read, these kinds of problems are also caused by time travel paradigms.  Somebody went back in
time & killed Adolf Hitler & the future of the planet became unstable.  But it probably didn't happen since no time 
machines are mentioned anywhere in the game.  Process of elimination concludes it's nature-driven.