Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture Review
“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” – Banksy
I died in a dream the other night. I awoke after falling to my death, in which my body collided with pavement and my every sense of being seemed to gradually dissolve as I faded into blackness. Whilst plummeting, I felt content with my Life ending, unable to continue to ignore or deny my very mortality as I suddenly came face to face with Death itself. Yet as I felt myself sliding into the blackness of eternity, an incentive to survive suddenly gripped me and I forced my eyelids open. In a desperate ploy to escape Fate, I awoke alive and well in my bed, gasping and nearly crying out at the terror which so clenched my spirit.
For as aware I am of Death’s certainty, that dream has since greatly affected my casual acceptance towards the fact. However fulfilling a Life I have led thus far, I now cling to the notion that my experience on Earth will never be fully satisfied. There will always be more I wish to accomplish. And that scares me a great deal. Envisioning firsthand, but for a moment a predestined eternity of blackness and immobility has awakened within me a newfound appreciation for the concept of existence itself. I feel compelled to venture forward with my grand schemes and motivations, to carry through with my aspirations. I wish to find closure and acceptance before I come to an end; and most of all, I wish to develop.
. . .
It’s a bright sunshiny day. I step outside, greeted by a light wind which animates the foliage. The light bathes the town in an immaculate ray of warmth, the golden tinge a wonderful strain on the eyes. The road is mysteriously empty, the houses quiet and isolated: an early sign of iniquity peeking through the folds. Familiarity reigns supreme in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture; the innocuous neighborhood setting effectively maintains fashionable serenity, all while correspondingly suggesting an underlying ominous narrative.
It’s a science fiction setup involving the end of the world, under the guise of what is unfairly labelled a “walking simulator.” This term unjustly implies tedium, abstraction for the sake of abstraction, narcissistic authorship; in other words, a compelling lack of ‘game’ in this game. It is a broad and ignoble term that should be eradicated from public perception. It does not accurately define the experience of a game such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, one which is more accurately defined as “picturesque.” For if every frame of a film can indeed be described as a painting, then what The Chinese Room have sought out to accomplish across their body of work is that very concept translated into the medium of video games.
I traverse the English locale, basking in the nostalgic environments, breathing in the illuminating scenery and innocuous details of a once-thriving community of people now long gone. The details paint a portrait of a town not necessarily on the brink of destruction, but living out their final days in blissful ignorance. The world is littered with destinations departed, relationships unsolidified, individuals undeveloped; as though each and everyone on Earth stood up and walked out the door, with no indication besides a plethora of bloodied rags implying widespread disease. Moments become attached to their environments; the clock eternally strikes 6:07 in this post-apocalyptic world, but time ceases to exist at all. Our responsive and mysterious protagonist shifts through the periods of a seemingly-endless day by simple movement, each section of the town representing a different term of the Earth’s cycle round the sun.
Inhabitants haunt their homes universally as fading memories, occupying a particular location as mere shadows of their lively past selves. A beacon of light guides the player to and from notable experiences between these citizens, piecing together a cohesive timeline of events through subtle, branching narration. Through this voluntary basis of storytelling, the game is hearkening to the idea that a habitat and its occupants are inseparable beyond the lengths of mortality. A person has an eternal effect on their home, and thus these individuals live on through their legacies.
And if by forging a legacy through existence alone solidifies one’s presence within the contexts of any community forever, then Rapture is eager to celebrate the concept of seeking enlightenment as a means of justifying such presence. To find meaning in the world, to have faith that we are alive and bonded together through circumstances and events for a reason, this is the drive that pushes the player forward in perusing these individuals’ complicated struggles, presumably days before their collective imminent doom. Like a spirit listlessly wandering through the halls of a museum, one captures a glimpse of the emotional conflicts which so buried this particular town in gossip, corruption, but also awakening and compassion, just as they would appear in any nation.
While simply scouring the countrysides and homes of these numerous inhabitants, playing tourist to the various lives of a morally-decaying community may in fact become tedious and unavailing in some other work, the player’s presence is also directly justified. Piecing the observed memories together to form a rough sketch of these spirits’ exchanges becomes a sort of riddle in itself. The act of solving these ‘puzzles’ effectively mirrors the act of obtaining closure through acceptance. Now this idea unfortunately does discredit the complexities with achieving enlightenment; for fashioning therapy through the motions of strictly traditional level design doesn’t necessarily bring value to the complications which can so obscure one’s view toward a psychic resolve. But to so beautifully engage a person’s investment in these people and their trivialities, all while effectively building a proportional relationship between these unrestrained components — ie. the fictional and the true — is a testament to the game’s lasting emotional impact: a decidedly complex investigation of human beings and their unavoidable impressions on each other.
By story’s end, numerous souls have dissolved before our very eyes, their memories fading away just as their bodies once mysteriously did. But their spirits live on in these various locations, each telling a separate story through lasting essence alone. In this final waking hour, these individuals have come to realise their influence. The dawning of their perceived reality draws to a close, and their sickening mortality which so defines their human existence has bonded them together under the illusion of separateness.
We perceive “having faith” as an oral binding contract which promises stability and health. We take it for granted all through our lives. Omens and signs suggesting eventual doom and regret appear throughout our everyday circumstances, yet we continuously ignore them, whether deliberately or not. Only when we reach the inevitable end are we frequently inclined to realise how contradictory we have lived, and we often earnestly beg forgiveness from some higher power.
The game is a rumination on faith, how humans inherently take for granted the spiritual essences which fuel our safekeeping, our individual solidarity, our serenity on Earth. Beauty is all around us, the world continues to breathe without us paying attention to it; the world is eternal, we are not. The same cannot be said of the other way around; so we are let alone to constantly remind ourselves of this very fact. The world always reacts to our actions, and the consequences may be dire. How and when we ourselves react to these consequences is what ultimately defines our personal definitions, and in turn what allows us our liberation.
Emphasizing these concepts through a video game functionality properly expands upon the essence of environmental reaction: we as players are having a direct interaction and influence over these spirits manifested within the London city of Yaughton, and may choose how to progress through its neighborhoods, forests, cliffsides, and beachfronts. Could its arguments have been as explicitly claimed through another art medium such as film or literature? Perhaps, but the idea of piecing together an assortment of memories as one chooses, possibly ignoring them entirely, is far more intriguing as a means of representing audience involvement. The Chinese Room have also beautifully constructed the world of Yaughton, each second a sort of lesson in controlled design, leaving various enigmas — both narrative and structural — throughout its multiple chapters.
The ultimate conclusion is fairly obvious; the title hands it to you from the get-go. However this appropriately brings the player to a realisation of mortality, never letting the idea of death stray too far from the active player’s thought process. And for however elongated some of the details seem stretched out — there are indeed multiple instances explaining how the disease is spread — what ultimately lasts is the underlying motive, and how the game so effectively illustrates its point without ever feeling disingenuous. The level of focus is striking and constantly achieves involvement, despite a relatively simple foundation.
If Rapture feels akin to listlessly wandering around, it’s because it is so intent on capturing the true importance of doing so. Walking around Yaughton is not without highlights, even if more often than not these highlights simply include a river flowing through a gorge, the rain coming down on an abandoned waterpark and campsite, a windmill constantly rotating atop the hill of a local farm, numerous signs posted as a warning of a breakout of flu. These moments simply, perfectly illustrate existence when there appears to be no one even around. Each step one takes, each new house or supposedly innocuous landmark one comes across produces an entirely new story to unravel, with or without a golden spirit to etch out a scene explaining it. Thus, the everlasting impact of a single living thing is properly demonstrated.
Grand orchestral movements swell across the London breeze, following the player as they (or maybe do not) follow the light subtly guiding them. Birds chirp, creeks flow, trees sway, spirits speak. Sound is just as important to sight and interaction in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Tapes throughout illuminate upon the sci-fi characteristics, while also extracting the desperation of a woman losing a grip on her personality and being within the contexts of a foreign world. The game magnificently relates each aspect of its design to the core motivations compelling it, forging a triumphant work. It actually manages to pull off its ambitious intentions, compassionately detailing the end of the world without ever even lighting a fuse.
. . .
Though that dream still reminds me of the dreadful fact of mortality, I continue to promise myself that without an inevitable end, accomplishments would never be made. Nor would there be a purpose to them. The idea of leaving behind a legacy is meant to incline the individual to forge one such. Not every story can necessarily argue more than one claim without that story itself growing unfocused and cluttered. One needs only look at a game such as Rapture for that to become obvious. A game so systematically intent on urging interaction, Rapture begs humanity to strive for something, even if it means simply wandering around the neighborhood or seeking to reconcile for a close one’s misfortune. Even if it means simply being there to help pull the pieces of a puzzle together, no matter the outcome, no matter if some pieces end up missing from the final picture.