The lights are on
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The mountain rises high into the sky, crashing through the faded, bleak overcast that guard the heavens from prying eyes. For as long and as far as you can see, the plains and flat lands stretch out, barren. A bush of towers rise off the horizon, a city cracked and burned by time and fate. Dead. The landscape as naked and lifeless as the day she was formed so many millennia ago. You kick out your campfire, try to dust off all evidence of your existence as your species did 200 years ago, with your boot in place of the bomb, or the weather, or the disease, all depending on which loner with half his teeth and a leather biker jacket you talk to whilst wandering the wastelands before blowing his brain out with a handgun and taking his food. Or before you toss the man currency and a couple bullets. Or just keep walking, and leave the man wondering what you might have done, and you wondering what you might have done to him.
All that remains is all that's long past saving. Only thing left is surviving. Only thing left is us.
This isn't the end of the world. This is the epilogue. Post-apocalypse. Lord knows we've been here before. Some people are tired of seeing it. I never will be.
I'm sure that, deep down, there's a pretty damning piece focusing on the psychology of why we as a society "love", or are at least endlessly fascinated by, the end of the world. In fact, I'm pretty sure it exists. The great thing about modern video games, and indeed modern popular culture, is that there's so much packed in, so many varying opinions and pieces by so many different authors and creators, that critical analysis is an endlessly rewarding experience. You can, as the old saying goes, learn something new every day. Problem is, a lot of that analysis doesn't exactly reflect well on us. After all, endless fascinations with the death of millions and billions of people leading to things like the Fallout, Metro, and The Walking Dead series being some of the most popular forms of entertainment around the world would seem to indicate a rotten core underneath the glee of firing a nuclear catapult or gargoyle monster thing or removing the head and destroying the brain.
Geeze, typing that out makes it feel really odd.
And yet, the moment Fallout 4 is announced I will squeak with unbridled joy at getting to return to the final bloody chapter of human history and decapitate a Deathclaw with its own hand. Or when Telltale Studios' The Walking Dead Season 2 is released I will steel myself for a thrilling and emotionally devastating ride through the most popular of apocalypses, the undead ones. And, when I can finally get my hands on Naughty Dog's recent critical darling, The Last Of Us, I will savor over every last detail of what I hope is the worthiest 'travel through the end' tale since Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a novel I sincerely believe to be a masterpiece on the level of American giants like The Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby.
But not everyone will have that reaction. The overflow of apocalyptic media over the past decade, starting with the return of the undead heralded by Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later and recently exploded beyond capacity with Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead becoming the kind of cultural juggernaut unseen since Star Wars, has worn down many. Some have seen too many ends to our story, done out too many ways (but not the loose one with Clint Eastwood and the monkey) with no room left in their minds for creativity. "How many ways", to quote a friend in response to me asking why he wasn't looking forward to The Last Of Us, "can we see the world go to *** and still care?"
That's a fair argument. Art is by nature an infinite amount of content in a finite space of tools and inspiration. Everything created is similar to something else already created, and when dealing with the creation of a post-apocalyptic world, you're drawing from a pretty small bag. I mean, look at the above image, which is just novels alone. There are so many ways to destroy a city, crack the ground, filthy the sky, rust a firearm, to raise the dead and rot the living. Only so many ways to alternate history, only so many societies one can build from the ashes of the old, only so many good guys trying to scrap together and fight the good fight, only so many bad guys looking to survive by any and all means, only so many ways to show that they aren't very different, and only so many ways to show the brutality of the world through death and conflict over the smallest of reasons. And there are only so many ways to kick the dust and wipe the slate, to drop the curtain and raise it for the epilogue. Inspiration is finite. Creation, however infinite, will always seem similar, always constrained. And that can ruin it for some and I totally understand.
It will never ruin it for me.
I don't think I will ever tire of stories from after the end. Not because I get some sick enjoyment out of the world ending as the top layer of critical analysis would seem, not because I'm in it for the world, none of that. I will never tire of the post-apocalypse because, well, they are never stories about the apocalypse.
They are, in the end, stories about us.
When the world is wiped clean, either by our own gun to our own head or forces beyond our control, the ruins and ashes of our world may remain, but all that's left standing is us. The end of the world leaves humanity stripped bare, all of our control, all of our society, all of the things we built in layers to guard us are burned away, turned to the ash we walk through. The post-apocalypse brings humanity, naked and flawed and with all of its power, to the forefront. Everything we build, everything we try to reconstruct, that's not restoring, it is creation on a blank slate. The post apocalypse is a filter for the most basic human stories and truths and conflicts, almost impossible to tell any other way. This is the story of The Last Of Us, of Fallout, of Metro, of A Boy And His Dog, of anything in The Walking Dead. "War. War Never Changes" is not iconic just because of Ron Perlman's manly voice, it's iconic because it rings true in a way that only the tale of the epilogue of humanity can make it so. Rick Grimes' horrifying explanation of the meaning of the "walking dead" is not famous for being a title drop; it's the terrifying truth of being alive regardless of the apocalypse, made powerful through the two years you spent with the character.
I'll never tire of the end because it's not really the end. It's not really an epilogue. It's not even the climax. It's the next chapter, and I'll never be tired of hearing what happens to the last of us.