Space & Innovation

The Game is Up – Apocalypse Imagery in Video Games

End-of-the-world imagery is creeping into the movies we watch, the books we read and even the games we play.

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Judging by our popular entertainments these days, we're not very optimistic about the future. In recent years, our science fiction stories -- at the movies, on TV and in books -- are filled with apocalyptic visions in which technology fails us (or betrays us) and civilization collapses into ruin. The end of the world even preoccupies us in the games we play. Video games set in post-apocalyptic Earth are so popular they constitute a genre onto themselves. Here we take a look at post-apocalypse imagery offered up in popular video game titles from recent years.

The history of post-apocalyptic video games goes back to the days of text-based interface and basic graphics. In the critically acclaimed 1988 game "Wasteland" -- released in 1988 for PC, Apple II and the Commodore 64 -- players control a party of survivors trying to survive mutated enemies and radiation hazards after a nuclear war.

Largely inspired by the earlier "Wasteland" game, the popular "Fallout" franchise launched in 1997 as a turn-based role-playing game in which players emerge from an underground bunker after global thermonuclear war.

The 2007 survival horror game "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl" imagines an alternate reality where players try to survive in "The Zone" -- based on the real-world

Chernobyl Exclusion Zone


Among the many shambling hordes of zombie apocalypse games, "Left 4 Dead" is a cooperative multiplayer title in which players team up to fight off homicidal zombies mutated by a worldwide pandemic.

Based on the Russian science-fiction novel, "Metro 2033" takes place in the labyrinthine tunnels of Moscow's underground subway system, after nuclear war renders the surface world uninhabitable.

Not all post-apocalypse games are big-budget, doom-and-gloom freakouts. The oddball indie game "Tokyo Jungle" imagines an abandoned city in which humans are extinct and players assume the role of various animals -- including Pomeranians -- as they work their way up the new food chain.

In 2012, developer Telltale Games released a visually innovative tie-in game to the popular zombie apocalypse comic book (and TV series). Billed as an "interactive graphic adventure," the game features comic-book style art and a sophisticated storytelling style.

The imagery in post-apocalypse adventure game "The Last of Us" -- an enormous commercial and critical success -- goes in a slightly different direction. When a fungal epidemic kills off most of humanity, nature starts reclaiming Earth's urban spaces, resulting in a surprisingly green end-of-the-world scenario.

The long-awaited video game adaptation "Mad Max" finally arrived this month after years of development. The hyper-realistic imagery takes full advantage of high-powered graphics capabilities on today's PCs and console systems. Here, our hero Max looks out over a world devastated by technological collapse and resource wars.

Scheduled for release in November, the much-anticipated "Fallout 4" is the latest installment in the video game industry's most popular post-apocalypse franchise. The game's rich visual style incorporates a retro-future aesthetic based on 1950s Cold War history.