I think what resonated with me most were reactions to the movie that brought up the Roddenberry question. In particular, the off-the-cuff interview with LeVar Burton, who really seems to indicate, as many Trek fans believe, that there is a particular Roddenberry vision…. one lost in some of the post-Roddenberry movie but particularly the Abrams reboots. I have to wonder if this is more about Roddenberry himself being a product, albeit a progressive and utopian, of his particular time.
Matthew I think this is fascinating - both the initial thoughts you share around how these (hugely budgeted and hugely high tech) block busters, along with their small-screen counterparts, can show us stories of needing to somehow stand as human in spite of (or even against) technology, and then the thoughts in Beth’s comment about how this can become an even more successful story-telling model in a time of such high consumption of technology (and/or gadgetry). I’m reminded of the executives who pay tens of thousands of dollars to be dropped into the wilderness with a bottle of water and a guide, for “leadership training”. That fluidity in gadget interface that you mention, along with the constant internet access ubiquitous in much of the country, does sometimes make it seem like getting unplugged is a task monumental and heroic … Not totally what you were writing about, but certainly what it made me think about. Lovely piece, thanks Matthew.
In response to the first part, at some level games are almost always about accumulation and allocation. The question here is how does this encounter pose that imperative.
There are two ways, I think, of interpreting the player’s reaction. Either it is a moment of empathy—Why couldn’t I help—or a pure expression of algorithmic logic—If I couldn’t help why offer the option? Both reactions are possible, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. It is possible to help the NPC; success is calculated from the player-character’s skill in Science and Explosions. Or, the player could choose not to help. One possible scenario, then, has the player—knowing her character isn’t that good with bombs—thinks algorithmically and makes the ‘moral’ to not assist the NPC.
If this is an ethical moment it is one in which the game asks players to consider the possibility that aid isn’t necessarily altruistic.
Interesting post. The apocalyptic imaginary is also closely linked to anxieties over unfettered free-market capitalism and its (perceived) un-sustainability. I’m not familiar with the game, but it seems like this apocalyptic scenario relies on people clinging to those very technologies which are (directly, indirectly, cumulatively) responsible for the breakdown of civil society. So it’s survival of the most outfitted. Clinging to “stuff” in order to survive. “Oh, she’s got a lot of stuff. I’ll take some armor, end up selling it probably.” I’m also curious about the “Pip Boy.” It seems like, even in the end times, it’s still about accumulation at any cost. And isn’t that a popular mentality? Survival of the fittest / social darwinist world-views, while not fashionable in scientific or scholarly communities of thought, are still operative in the popular imaginary… and in the rhetoric of some major social institutions.
As for the NPC… I don’t really hear any disappointment in the players voice. More like befuddlement at his random appearance… but that’s the point, right? surprise, variety, randomness, unpredictability = realism. Do you think the game is trying to present players with moral dilemmas? Maybe. But listen to what the player says after he shoots the random woman: “Yeahhh, bend over that car, bitch.” Does the game design actually include any situations where players might benefit from being more “human?” Like getting “stuff” for saving people with bombs strapped to their person?
Thanks for your comment, Beth. Your point makes me think about how Jack’s character is a technological product, a copy or iteration, which brings to mind Foucault’s idea of technologies of the self —of identity through consumption. We become defined in and through consumption, technological extensions, etc. which clearly we have some deep seated ambivalence about, and have for a long time, but it continues to escalate… maybe in proportion to the increasing seamlessness of our (fluid) interfaces with technologies. The idea that too much technology (i.e. a condition of over-civilization?) diminishes or undermines the category of “human”… even though that’s a flexible construct too, and is continuously adapted to suit change, progress, etc. Still, in the apocalyptic imaginary (and sci-fi genre in general), the category of nature/the natural becomes the symbolic means by which we register those anxieties about (over)technological-self-involvements…
It’s interesting how the survival narrative and getting-back-to-basics trope thrives during times when new technology—really, new gadgets—are inescapable. The need to escape not just a post 9/11, economically (dep)recessed US society, but a post-smartphone, post-social media, post-Internet one too. The contradiction of immersing oneself in a narrative in which technology has lead to ruin, and standing in line overnight to buy an iPhone. Cultural ambivalence once again!
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I’ve only seen the 2009 reboot movie, but didn’t initially connect it with terrorism vs cold war. It’s a very interesting connection. As Charlotte mentions, there are many other current movies following this trend. I wonder if it crosses media forms into books and comic books.
Or perhaps what I want to ask is: is there a generational gap of cold war writers vs post-cold war writers? I’m thinking particularly of McCarthy’s The Road, which very much goes with the older Cold War style post-apocalypse setting. (To the point, I’d say, where the apocalypse itself seems to have happened during the actual historical Cold War, and not in our own times.)
I wonder, as well, if this is a peculiarly American trend. Do you think apocalyptic media from other cultures show the same fears, or different ones?
On another note entirely, I’m glad to see that Charlotte beat me to “always already.” That’s where my mind went, as well, and I think it goes a long way to explaining why apocalypses shift with the times.
Edit: I initially intended to talk about anti-apocalyptic/dystopian literature, which is why my subject doesn’t make sense. Is anybody familiar with Neal Stephenson’s Project Hieroglyph? (http://hieroglyph.asu.edu/)
Thanks so much for kicking off the week with this very interesting update to the Imagination of Disaster. I think your last point is really key to the recent trend in apocalyptic media. The focus on the apocalyptic process perhaps normalizes both a culture of paranoia and the increasing banality of destruction, leading to a kind of apocalypse burn-out. The process of the apocalypse draws out the end of the world until it appears the normal ebb and flow of terrorism and modern warfare. In other words, the apocalypse is always already happening, and media focusing on the fully realized end of the world (like This Is The End and World’s End) can be comedic and cathartic whereas apocalyptic-process films (like Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness) draw out the dread and are seen as speaking more directly to our current cultural moment.