Last of us

Moving from sci-fi movies to sci-fi games seems like a childish transition and deterioration of cultural sensitivity (in the same manner as switching from books to movies for hard core intellectualism) but there is so much going on in gaming industry nowadays that Hollywood must be crumbling in its fake and forced glamour, releasing new Marvel nonsense in desperate attempt to fight it off (and contain Netflix contagion on the way as well). Games moved beyond pure entertainment long ago, especially with such noble genres like RPG or Action-Adventure and turning blind eye on them is a serious mistake for any sci-fi enthusiast. World of coded algorithms has no boundaries, CGI capability is limitless, wildest dreams and ideas can come true, narrowed only by imagination (and less by budget and technology unlike movies). There is necessary trade off though – story in most games is usually an excuse for shooting, hacking or otherwise destroying “enemies” (with few exceptions where we actually have to build a city, farm or household) – no Fellini, Bergman or Almodovar in this world yet, but story line gets increasingly complex and important in the “New Generation Games” as users grow more demanding. For older consumers this cultural revolution goes unnoticed but some games already look more like interactive movies (Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Heavy Rain or Horizon: Zero Dawn) and when combined with VR (which is not there yet) we will get new dimension of immersive, audio-visual-sensory experience.

While sci-fi movie productions disappoint recently (apart from Blade Runner which is shining like Sirius on otherwise uniformly dark sky), weak and inaccurate Netflix adaptation of “Altered Carbon” (although “Black Mirror” still holding ground) games seem to be providing some great ideas. Technology evolves here faster than in exoplanet exploration, comparably only to a military arms race perhaps (even in times of “peace” it’s always the most generously funded human endeavor, don’t be fooled). With so many platforms to choose from: Xbox, PS, PC, Nintendo, even Phones (being apparently only slightly less popular than PC) there is more games released in one month than you can play your entire life. This monstrous industry generated $108.9 billion revenue in 2017 apparently (supplying 2.2 bln officially declared gamers). There are global conferences, video blogs, and online communities on a scale of nations. “Game addiction” is diagnosed as a medical condition – and it all happened in just one generation, something our parents didn’t even see coming let alone experienced. World is a totally different place now.

Some games make it right in terms of balance between entertainment (selling a product) and essence (creating meaningful communication medium), just like some of the blockbuster movies (Matrix, Inception, Interstellar or Blade Runner to name just a few more recent productions). There is ongoing debate whether games are violence catalysts or home-base therapy for modern anxieties. Are they limiting empathy and sensitivity in human beings creating mindless monsters or actually suppressing our inner daemons and dissolving aggression within digital framework? Easy to see that most games are rooted in violence and gore (especially FPSs) like it’s the only safe investment and attention trigger (movies evolve around death and violence as well) but it seems they are moving towards some rudiments of plot, like it’s not enough to run around and shoot random opponents anymore (Although Quake and Doom are still popular).

Not to blow the prophetic horn but “Tron” somewhat predicted proliferation of digital world and even conquest of reality. It’s not only about so popular AI but also human intelligence is evolving – suffice to observe how toddlers operate smartphones and other electronic devices without being taught and how our attention span and perception changes after long exposure to multiple media. We barely notice distinction between digital and analogue world already and VR is around the corner. Soon movies will blend with games and be customized where viewer becomes and actor himself and can interact, alter and decide where the story goes. First attempts are clearly visible in games like “Quantum Break” where player can alter story of a mini-series with real actors running alongside game, “The Wolf Among Us” – animated production giving huge credit to “Waking Life”or “The Order 1886” with alternative version of history. “The Last of us” – post apocalyptic franchise goes into zombie post-epidemic theme (like Omega Man” and its remake “I Am Legend” or “World War Z”) but storyline is impressively mature and engaging with some great acting and psychological meanders in a dark world.

Modern gaming culture seem like sci-fi to majority of population so no wonder it gives good inside into this genre. “Horizon, Zero Daw” is one of these games where story line is inherently embedded into the “experience” and line separating movie from game is blurred. Humans caused their own apocalypse by technological evolution towards AI similar to SkyNet in Terminator, only this time they created machines that are able to consume biomass – absorb energy from plants in order to reproduce. This completely destabilized Earth’s ecosystem and led to starvation and human extinction. In desperate attempt to stop central machine system (Hades) scientists created Gaia – AI that meant to revive Earth and repopulate it with genetically engineered human beings (project Zero Dawn) but it never worked out well hence we, as Alloy, have to save the Earth and destroy Hades. A bit naive, but it gets properly complicated the more you play and it looks stunning – landscapes filled with grazing machines, ruins of “ancient civilization” (meaning us), cities and characters look great, mix of tribal and modern technology (more distinctive than in any post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen be it “Mad Max”, “Water World” or “The Road”) is very convincing.

Humankind replaced by machines? Very popular and widely discussed subject but combined with alternative version of evolution in this case and traces of G.H.Wells where degraded civilization forgot its past.

Last of us born in analog and dying in digital era will probably see all types of cultural data merging into one, augmented stream of entertainment called “Surrogate” or “Ultima online”, where we can become whoever we want. Movies, games and VR experience in one. Demise of civilization may be more subtle and ironic than we think – we will step into our own extinction while playing post-apocalyptic simulations and abandoning reality for digital dream. We will go quietly, forgetting our bodies and exhausted planet left behind. How historically appropriate!

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