We’ve beat the creative pulp out of post-apocalyptic games. Maybe it all began with Fallout in 1997—or, according to some, Wasteland, in 1988—but the genre's ballooned out of control. It encompasses Borderlands 2, The Walking Dead, and the big shiny star of gaming, The Last of Us. And this leaves out the brigades of post-apocalyptic movies, television shows, and books. "Post-apocalyptic" can place The Day After Tomorrow, WallE, and several Cormac MacCarthy tomes all in the same box. Life in the post-apocalypse has even garnered its own Buzzfeed list (which is also true of most things in life at this point.) We just can’t seem to stop fantasizing about humanity’s collapse! Feeble, cursed humans.
These stories share a common thread about life after us: how we got there. Humans, accompanied by their blind belief in progress, discover or manufacture ultra-powerful tools which wreak havoc on society. In turn, humanity becomes isolated, bitter, and distrustful. As the threads that bind society quickly unravel, violence ensues. Your goal is to survive the mess.
Ice Water Games’ newest project, Eidolon, seems to fit the rubric. Humanity has destroyed itself through its greed and its technology; you explore a wilderness that’s been abandoned for nearly two centuries. But according to its creator, Kevin Maxon, Eidolon is so post-apocalyptic that it can’t even be considered post-apocalyptic. It’s “post-human.”
Consider that turn of phrase for a second. Post-human means that man is the apocalypse. And besides, Maxon says it's time for new language. “I stopped using the word post-apocalyptic because it gave the wrong message,” he said. “There are literally no humans to interact with in Eidolon.” It’s possible that humans are somewhere, but the only humans to be discovered have been dead for two hundred years. The game is all about discovering the events of the past through fragments, artifacts—much like Gone Home.
“People have been gone for a very long time from where you are in Eidolon. Everything is rusted over and taken over by the forest,” he said. Recollected artifacts reveal that humanity’s drive for powerful tools pushed it into isolation. People stopped traveling and stopped working together. Most of the human elements of Eidolon, he mentioned, “tend to be on the more sombre, melancholy side.”
But the counterpoint to human ruin is the purity of nature. In a world where civilization has proven to be no more than transitory, nature stands in as a symbol of permanence. “Eidolon’s humans ruin themselves through technology, fanaticism, and misinformation. Nature holds strong throughout, regardless of human struggle.”
Eidolon’s nameless avatar must explore the wild armed with only a bow and fishing rod. This has led many to classify it as a survivalist game—but it’s a category Maxon’s working to avoid. “It’s a marketing snafu!” he said. “Survival might be the backdrop of what you’re doing, but Eidolon isn’t meant to be a stressful experience. It’s about capturing a sense of exploration that’s both calm and soothing.”
Stephen Hawking once said that “it is not clear that human intelligence has any long-term survival value.” Eidolon would seem to agree. Its in-game history suggests that progress and destruction can freely co-mingle. Perhaps we enjoy the post-apocalyptic genre so much because it’s a reminder of society’s impermanence.
But it begs the question: what really is permanent? In our interview in the Great Outdoors issue with author Alan Weisman about his predictions for humanity in The World Without Us, he sees a planet that trudges along: “Our bad stuff would either be broken down or buried deep enough, and a new world would spring forth where this one used to be.”
Maybe yes, maybe no. But the virtual forests of Eidolon are some kind of answer, barren and empty as they are.