We’ve had this before: video games can be many things, but one thing they are particularly good at is escapism. A video game can be extremely effective at taking you out of your current situation, when you need something of a getaway.
So, after replaying Journey and finding it an exceedingly solitary experience of quite limited escapist value during these pandemic times, what do I do? I go and replay Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2015), in which the player walks a Shropshire village that is deserted – but everywhere there are traces of the people who are gone after a mysterious epidemic has struck. Oh, and the world has ended.
D’oh!, as the kids say.
Obviously I wasn’t entirely unprepared for this, as I’d played Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture before, and to some extent the effect was definitely blunted by me knowing what was expecting me in terms of the overarching plot. Also, COVID-19 isn’t a soft sci-fi scenario right out of a John Wyndhamesque cosy catastrophe, which the game’s end of the world most definitely is, and I haven’t been wandering the Shropshire countryside these last 12+ months.
Still, let’s not be overly literal here. My experience of replaying Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is one where the pandemic year resonates in every empty chair, in every pub, shed and abandoned home in Yaughton. What better way to socially distance yourself than by being the last, most likely disembodied person to wander the earth?
Though, to be fair, there is a lot about the game that still feels like escapism. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is set in 1984, so no Zoom calls. No demonstrations in Yaughton’s town square by people denying that their neighbours are vanishing and dead birds are falling from the sky, or insinuating that Bill Gates/George Soros/the Elders of Zion are behind it all. What makes the game’s catastrophe extra-cosy is that the impending doom largely brings out the best in people. Throughout Yaughton you encounter echoes of people comforting one another, providing warmth and love in their final moments – not exclusively, certainly, but all in all, if the world is about to end, Yaughton seems a more pleasant place to be than, well, pretty much anywhere. It is definitely a more picturesque place, reminiscent of those “After x months of lockdown, nature is slowly returning to Venice” memes. After all, where else than in virtual 1984 Yaughton are you this likely to come across those good old C64 breadboxes in their natural habitats?
There are plenty of reasons to prefer Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture‘s apocalypse to the pandemic that’s still ruling our everyday lives: there are no ignorant, craven or cynical politicians or Murdoch-owned press making everything worse, there is no shortage of vaccines (because there is no vaccine to begin with) and every moment seems soaked in golden-hour lighting. But even with all of this, there may be better games to choose if you’re hoping to get away from it all. Such as Mundaun, the strange, grim Swiss folk horror game I started playing immediately afterwards, in which you find yourself in an isolated, mostly deserted alpine valley… and the few… people?… you encounter are a potential threat to your life if they get close… so you better keep your distance-
What was that word again? Ah yes.