The end of the world’s a funny thing. Everybody’s got opinions on it, but nobody’s been there yet, making what happens all a bit guesswork. Some think Earth will be pulverized by an asteroid. Some think it’ll be robots that do us in, or that we’ll meet our end via catastrophic weather patterns caused by global warming. Others think civilization will waltz along all fine and dandy until our sun winks out, dooming us to an uncomfortably chilly death. Perhaps a black hole passing through our solar system will rip our molecules to little bits. Maybe humanity will persist until the dark, distant heat death of the universe.
As for me, I don’t know with any certainty what the end times will look like, but I doubt they’ll involve Nicholas Cage in a pilot uniform.
Still, the idea of a society abruptly shorn of its inhabitants is powerful. It is this image that serves the background of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a game about uncovering the mystery of a small English village whose population mysteriously vanished.
Along the way, the player witnesses the final moments of the villagers in scenes beautifully played out in orbs of golden light that dance and swirl through the air. The light patterns are vivid and lively, but abstract. The voice of the villagers embodied in the light gives shape to their story. These scenes often begin unexpectedly as the player investigates the village, giving one the sense of being not a detective but an eavesdropper, a busybody leaning over to hear a private conversation. These ghosts of glowing light bicker and shout at one another. They puff on cigarettes and curse in anger. They whisper their regrets to the lonely night, and they forgive one another as their end draws near. All that was hidden is revealed.
The game is apocalyptic in the truest sense of the word. While the word apocalypse conjures up images of angel armies and global catastrophes, the original Greek means unveiling, referring to a revealing of that which is hidden, when all of reality is made clear, when even our darkest deeds are brought to light. It’s fitting then, even poetic, that secrets kept by the villagers play out in luminescent displays before your eyes: the truth literally comes to light.
Two stories play out in EGTTR. First is the grand mystery of what happened to the residents of the small fictional village of Yaughton. It quickly becomes clear that their disappearance is no Left Behind-style Rapture; while there are some signs of sudden disappearance, like abandoned cars in the road and still-burning cigarettes in ashtrays, clues litter the village that something slow and terrifying dogged the residents over a periods of days, perhaps weeks. Bloody tissues fill wastebaskets in every building. There are red smears on walls and floors. Official pamphlets on influenza are ubiquitous, piled high even on a table in the back of the local church. Ghosts fret over quarantines and blockades. This element of the story plays out like the early moments of zombie fiction, as individuals and communities reckon with the appearance of a frightening, unstoppable force.
The other story is the drama of a small town grappling with resentment and bitterness as the phenomenon continues to cause chaos. There is Father Jeremy, a wearied vicar who wrestles with grief and doubt as he helplessly watches his flock succumb to the unknown threat; Wendy, an elderly gossip who knows the town’s secrets; Frank, a man aching with regret over his wife’s final moments; Lizzie, a woman trapped by an injury and a broken marriage; and Stephen and Kate, two scientists whose work is at the heart of the mysterious force. Infidelity, alcoholism, depression, and even murder haunt Yaughton and its people, and as the mysterious phenomenon spreads and the population huddles together, these buried pasts are unearthed for a final reckoning.
Everyone suffers in EGTTR. Each character has an old burden they carry: the loss of a loved one or the shattering of a relationship. Each, too, has their sin. As their end draws near, each character stares headlong into their past and comes to grips with their regrets and misdeeds. The dancing lights play a final scene for each of these six men and women, when they at last reconcile with the truths the “rapture” reveals. At peace at last, they fade away into the dark.
Too often when the Rapture, the end times, or an apocalyptic event are portrayed in popular culture (games are no exception), the camera is trained gleefully on the destruction of cities or demon armies. What is truly destroyed in an apocalypse—and this is what EGTTR succeeds in capturing—is falsehood. Who we are, the very soul of us, is brought to light. We are forced to see ourselves as the cruel and selfish creatures we really are and not the pious images we carry in our heads. Every time we cheated our friends and stolen from our neighbors, every time we turned our back on someone in need and abused someone for our own profit and pleasure—if there ever is a Rapture, all these things will come to light, and there will be no waving them away.