Beyond the Reach of Archaeology

“In English, the word “apocalypse”—ety. Greek, n. apo (un-) + kaluptein (-veil)—has three non-exclusive meanings. The first and most common is simply the end of the world, whether by divine punishment or whatever transpires in movies directed by Roland Emmerich. The second is any form of calamity, representational or real, man-made or no, that resembles the end of the world, like the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Chernobyl, or the movies directed by Roland Emmerich themselves. The third is what the Greeks intended apocalypse to mean: the revelation of knowledge through profound disruption, which is why the final book of the New Testament is called “Revelations” (composed, it is thought, to reassure Christians during their widespread persecution by the Roman emperor, Domitian). In other words, the apocalypse either is the end, looks like the end, or helps us understand the end.

Black_circle

“Like books, movies, and the visual arts, video games are well acquainted with the apocalypse. Scores of them have been set in the final days of mankind; countless more ask the player to prevent them. Yet, as mere setting, the apocalypse can never be true to its name—when Mass Effect 3 ends and the galaxy has been saved/altered/destroyed, you can always boot up the series’s first act and play it all again. The finale is not the end. In the curious lexicon of games criticism, we often speak of “world-building,” yet rarely do we stop to think about its opposite. Anything made can be destroyed, yet destruction in games is rarely the destruction of games. What masterpiece of eschatological design could possibly convey the all-encompassing, crushing finality of a true apocalypse?

“Since the 1990s, when the rise of reliable home Internet access made persistent game worlds both commercially and technically viable, the game industry has developed over 300 massively multiplayer online games, some gargantuan (The Old Republic, etc.) and others slight, like the thoughtful browser-based government simulator NationStates. The majority of MMOs, of course, don’t experience the runaway success of World of Warcraft or EVE Online and eventually adopt a free-to-play model once it becomes clear that subscriptions alone can’t sustain ongoing costs. But a smaller number—44, if Wikipedia is to be believed—have shut down, and with their closure, their persistent worlds simply phase out of existence, beyond the reach of any archaeology….”

Text: Will Partin, When a Video-Game World Ends, The Atlantic

Image: Kazimir Malevich, Black Circle, 1915.

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