Nuclear Apocalypse and Climate War - Four Video Games to Think About the Future

2021. december 04.

Video gaming is an exciting medium not only because technological advances have a far greater impact on it than on any other form of art and communication, and it is constantly undergoing renewal. It is also exciting because it is undoubtedly the most interactive form of messaging: players sitting in front of a screen (or even holding it in their hands) can discover worlds that reflect real-world problems, be they social, economic, ethical, or even environmental. The latter, nature conservation, is a message found in countless video games. From this multitude, we now present four key titles that are, moreover, made for adults, that is to say, they are aimed at entertaining an audience made up of people that can act and are responsible for their decisions. And they can do the most for our environment.

 

Fallout

The Fallout series began on the PC in the 1990s as a post-apocalyptic role-playing game, and several iterations have since been produced, on countless platforms and can now be found on everything from consoles to mobile phones. Although contemporary role-playing games often take themselves bloodily seriously, Fallout stands out with its more satirical, dark humour, which later games all inherited from the first instalment.

The story takes place in an alternative future with a history roughly the same as ours until the end of World War II, but the Cold War paranoia of the 1950s is followed by a nuclear age that collapses in 2077. No one knows exactly who initiated the first strike and why, but the rockets roaring here and there soon bring the end of human civilization. Thanks to the planet, of course, the pre-disaster ecosystem was occupied by a new set of mutated flora and fauna born of radiation, and the few survivors plunged into the radioactive American desert known as the Wasteland, in a tribal structure, sometimes at war, sometimes coming together.

Fallout’s bitter fiction is a general critique of human behaviour. Players can complete it with a series of choices, learning about life and death, the moral shadow of the right path, and relating to the issues on which the survival of the planet depends. The Earth, of course, continues to turn, only we humans now carry radiation meters everywhere and wear respirators to keep our numbers from falling further. So in the Fallout series, the damage is already done and it is globally irreversible.

Fallout

Since these games are not primarily about protecting the environment, but rather deal with human mortality, and the post-apocalyptic hell they present isn't really realistic (armed super-mutants aren't, to put it mildly, anything like radioactive creatures), it's hard to say it contributes to a greener future.

At the same time, they are shocking enough for the specifically adult players they are targeting to notice: just a few small steps and everything is already toppling. In reality, even nuclear weapons are not even needed for an ecological disaster, as mass extinctions and changes in the natural habitat have been mentioned several times here in the magazine.

 

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Stalker is an action game series launched in 2007 that is similar to Fallout in as far as we also roam the world following a nuclear disaster. At the same time, the Ukrainian-developed series shoots one degree closer to the emotional world of the European people: according to a story that basically skirts the edge of science fiction, dangerous post-Chernobyl nuclear experiments created the game’s setting, the Zone of Alienation, with its infamous four reactors in the middle.

After a strange second explosion, a series of supernatural events turn the Zone into an ecological nightmare. Although the army has surrounded and blockaded the danger area, the interior of the Zone is full of mysterious artefacts that fortune hunters who call themselves stalkers want to obtain. The player takes on the persona of one such stalker, searching for the mysterious truth amid chaos, radiation, mutants and dangerous natural phenomena that are otherwise alien to Earth.

As a game, Stalker focuses more on action and loneliness. We wander through real-world locations, traversing the town of Pripyat and the Red Forest as we fight monsters and other stalkers or soldiers. Every shot and injury counts here. If our character gets hurt, they bleed slowly and not even the best equipment is protective enough to allow you to walk into the ticking of the Geiger counter.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

The humour typical of Fallout is not present at all here, we don’t feel like the writers are prodding us step by step. We only see what it’s like when one plays God and does not respect the laws of nature. The story of the series is built around a rather complex mythology, of which the real Chernobyl accident is only one small part. Still, it is shocking to see the empty, desolate buildings, the huge, rusted Ferris wheel, or the statues that want to commemorate the glory of the socialist past yet in fact, commemorate their foolish destruction. And what would be the stalkers greatest treasure?

Of course, it’s a monolith in the middle of the power plant, which, according to legend, fulfils all wishes. God created humans with inherent greediness. Interestingly, the story and the title of the game are a special adaptation of the Russian Strugacky brothers' novel Roadside Picnic, the main theme of which is not what happens to our world, but what one can even do, once nature has been turned upside down. (spoiler: nothing good).

 

Survive the Century

The games so far have been series on the one hand and paid software on the other - not so much Survive the Century, which doesn't even require a computer or game console: just a browser, even a phone. It is a work reminiscent of a genre popular in the late seventies and early eighties, a text adventure game, which, apart from a few imaginative illustrations, communicates with the player exclusively in text form.

And while we can no longer prevent disaster in Fallout or Stalker, Survive the Century gives us the key to the solution: as the world’s most influential media mogul, our mission is to survive the 21st century by directing public opinion in that direction. It doesn’t seem difficult, after all, we only have to last for seventy-nine years. What could go wrong?

Let’s start at the point where the climate catastrophe is darkening our door, and we need to resolve the global crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic in the very first decision. The problem is: richer countries have plenty of vaccines and the number of those vaccinated is also rising nicely, but until the people of the developing world are vaccinated, the virus is constantly mutating, and more and more aggressive waves will follow from time to time.

What are we to do? Do we oblige rich countries to give vaccines to those in need? Perhaps the richest people in the world, the multibillion-dollar billionaires, are in the guild? Maybe the whole vaccination is rubbish, and only the 5G and Bill Gates come out of it? Whichever way we decide, the fate of the world will change, and people’s attitudes and health will determine the future.

The decisions become more and more serious, and the solutions more and more desperate accordingly. If we tread the wrong path early on, there may be surreal cases such as trying to reduce the population with nuclear weapons. But of course, there is one step that’s even worse: we can reach the extinction of the human race in eight short decades.

Survive the Century

But these are only the worst-case scenarios and can only be achieved with selfish and short-sighted decisions (which, of course, we never make just because we are curious as to how an ecological nuclear war could break out, though).

With proper forward-thinking, we can also dream of a green medieval and technocratic future, the latter being commanded by a climate army. It’s especially great that over the decades, we get a real taste of the cover of a magazine, sometimes complete with fully-written articles; if there were a Pulitzer Prize for fictitious articles, a restaurant critique of only a lightly radiant two-headed fish dish would certainly deserve it.

Unlike Fallout and Stalker, Survive the Century is not primarily about fun but happens to have something to say as well, but was originally designed to reflect on decisions about climate change in the near future. There are bad and worse between them, but even the best of intentions leads to compromises - suggesting that we must make sacrifices for the future.

By the way, researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Maryland were involved in the development of the game, so even if we sometimes smile at the cynicism that is already rising to Fallout heights, things mentioned in the game are unfortunately serious.

 

Final Fantasy VII

After all these Western and European games, let’s head to the Far East, specifically Japan: the seventh issue of the Final Fantasy series was released in 1997 to showcase the gaming experience and storytelling of the owners of the first Sony Playstation game console, which has set a defining trend to date in the industry - no wonder that a full remake of the programme was made in 2020, so that those who are now a bit worn out by technology can learn about the world-saving mission of terrorists fighting for a good cause.

Because that’s exactly the point in this role-playing game: we’re in the world of Gaia, in the city of Midgar, where a group of ecoterrorists are trying to curb the expansion of a mega-corporation tapping into the life force of the planet. A conglomerate called Shinra is responsible for all the energy, and since this company keeps the lights on in the parliaments as well, it’s understandable that the whole world is at its feet. It's just killing the entire planet.

Final Fantasy VII

The ecological message of Final Fantasy VII differs from the games above in that it encourages proactive action while also raising several ethical issues. Do you really sanctify your device for a noble purpose? When are we taking it too far? And who has done so much damage so far, can they change? Do you have to give them a chance? The episodes of the Final Fantasy series are not linked by a coherent story, so anyone can feel free to get a taste of the seventh part, they will understand it from beginning to end. What’s more, it will be even more current than it was in 1997 - which is not a little worrying.

Of course, these four video games are not the only ones that also deal with environmental issues. From Sim City in 1989 through Civilization II in 1996 to Sonic’s adventures, many programs touched on the subject.

 

Cover: Getty Images