A Fleeting Sense of Presence in 'Everybody's Gone to the Rapture'

Looking for authenticity and contrivances while slowly shuffling through the apocalypse.

This piece contains spoilers for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

At times, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture feels very grounded. Despite it being a story about a supernatural visitor that causes the population of a small English town to inexplicably vanish, the world and its inhabitants often feel authentic. However, due to the way that you interact with and learn about the world, this feeling of “being there” is inconsistent. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a story about humanity, but the tools that you use to understand the story are unfortunately alienating.

From an aesthetic perspective, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture does an outstanding job of building a believable world, largely thanks to its focus on the ordinary. You explore a small English town, complete with everything that should be part of a small English town: little, brick pubs, quaint single-family homes with narrow hallways and long steam radiators, and gentle rolling hills. There’s enough clutter in people’s kitchens and backyards to make them feel comfortably used rather than arbitrarily staged. Look carefully and you can see the patterns of everyday life as well as the actions that people took while awaiting the titular rapture.

First person exploration games from Gone Home to BioShock have done this sort of environmental storytelling before, but Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture deserves recognition for its emphasis on the natural environment. It’s one of the few games that has made me stop and just observe the wind glide through the trees. Clouds momentarily darken the sky before drifting onwards and moving on. Somewhere in the distance a telephone starts ringing, and I can tell not only that it’s on my right, but that it’s northeast and muffled behind a door.

All of this makes the mystery of the deadly orbs of light more unsettling. It’s chilling when you see how the entity travels through the power lines around the village. Something that is a familiar staple of everyday living is now a conduit for a completely unknown, potentially deadly force. Suddenly the ordinary setting with all its banal accoutrements feels even more personal and more vulnerable. You feel like you know what the apocalypse might feel like because the environment feels so convincingly normal.

Then you start moving and things fall apart. There’s no way to say this without sounding petty, so it’s easiest to be plain. The movement speed in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is painfully slow and the entire game suffers for it. It seems like a small thing, but this aspect leads to a cascade of problems that destroy the sense of presence that the game’s aesthetics go to such lengths to produce.

It’s fine to make a deliberately paced game, but Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture makes even the simple act of entering and exiting a house a tedious chore. It’s really hard to overstate how slow the movement is. One could argue this is meant to enforce a reflective, observant approach to the game. In some respects this is true, but it also inspires resentment.

Missing a key story piece and facing the prospect of a long journey backtracking (and potentially getting lost) is demoralizing. After a certain point, seeing a mysterious item in the environment no longer raises the question of “What is that?” but rather “Is that potential clue worth the time it will take to walk over there?” The fact that sometimes a mystery is just a trick of the light (rather than the quasi-defined light being itself) means that the slow speed actually hastened my pace to finish the game.

The biggest problem with the snail’s pace is that it pulls you out of the moment. It’s immediately clear that you’re moving slower than the average person walks and far slower then the average person jogs or walks. The speed dehumanizes you and turns you into a person-height steady cam that slow pans across beautiful, but relatively empty environments.

Because of your speed, you have plenty of time to reflect on the many contrivances needed for an interactive sci-fi story/religious parable. Why can’t I hop over waist-high fences? It sure is convenient that some of these doors are locked while others aren’t. How is this place littered with identical radios that all play a pre-recorded message on demand? Why can I only see the ghostly apparitions of some people and why aren’t these people more angry about their impending deaths?

Suddenly everything feels overly produced. You’re not person in a village. You’re a human-sized viewfinder navigating around a meticulously constructed set on which you mustn’t run. The stories that you witness are cherry picked to foment a vaguely utopian theme of togetherness and acceptance that is conveniently wrapped up in the end by a person that we’re seemingly expected to admire in spite of her sociopathic obsession with the unknown deadly force.

After Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’s initial sensory rush, you quite literally slow down. The game’s world is beautiful and evocative, but the way in which you’re forced to crawl through it reveals all its seams and flaws. What starts off feeling like an intimately human environment becomes a stifling set piece. Instead of relishing your presence in environment, you resent it and ultimately detach yourself from it.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.