Why Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and You Should Too
On the Magic that is Video Games
As a gamer, game developer, and someone who is fascinated by how games and play capture the human imagination, I have played in my mind with the notion of video games as ‘the new magic’. Something magical happens when the best video games engage our senses. It is a worthwhile goal for any game developer to set out to create this magic. Consequently, whenever a game that lives up to the notion comes out, the better I feel about it.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is such a game. Purists would say it’s not even a game, but a ‘walking simulator’. Whatever: it is distributed and consumed in the context of video games, on the Sony Playstation 4. Yet, this dilemma speaks about the diversity of games as media. At the time of Rapture’s release, a hectic multiplayer game titled Rocket League, essentially soccer with cars, was hugely popular on the same game console.
This highlights how each individual game can be regarded as a medium of their own: each game constructs its own, particular means to communicate with players while giving them means to affect the proceedings and strive towards the goals the game designers have set. It speaks to games diversity also in the sense that, regardless whether their design goal is to create visceral, chaotic, and competitive fun — like Rocket League does, very successfully — or a profound, contemplative journey of exploration — like Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture — we identify enough similarities between the two to shelf them into the category of video games.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is not competitive or explicitly goal-driven as most games, e.g. Rocket League, yet it is interactive in ways that we have learned video games to be. It’s creators have high aspirations in telling a story, as many of their peers do, yet the people at The Chinese Room do this in a much more subtle way than most, without sacrificing the moment-to-moment interactivity that video game players like to embrace.
Even if I continue to love games in their many forms, I have to admit to moments of jadedness in the face of many contemporary games that are content to reproducing the proven formulae. As someone who has grown and lived with video games for nearly 40 years, this is inevitable I suppose. Working as a game developer I also know how hard it is to try to reach over existing boundaries, due to various reasons. Yet the more true this is, the more I appreciate those who carve out a space to do something special, like the people behind Rapture.
Thanks to them and their peers, video games are progressing as medium of expression and creativity, within the context of interactivity and play. The expressive aspect comes down to how the players emotionally experience games, and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture contributes to expanding this spectrum. While playing Rapture, I experienced both gut-wrenching empathy towards fictional characters, and crushingly moving beauty through sequences of light and dark; sunshine and rain. Both these aspects of my experience were evoked via the glorious virtual world unfolding before my eyes and ears. Rapture’s world is magical in that it feels almost supernatural, as magic does.
Sure, virtual reality is coming, but having been engrossed in such unforgettable mix of emotions by holding a traditional video game controller, I am content to waiting.
Meanwhile, in the large console game projects, motion capture technology keeps bringing us life-like movement, complemented with photorealistic graphics. The setting of Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is gloriously rendered in the latter — yet, one of the most consequential design choices its creators have made is the emphasis to voice acting and dialogue. Rather than rendering awkwardly ‘uncanny valley-ish’ simulations of human beings, Rapture inhabits ethereal projections of characters that work on a impressionistic rather than strictly referential basis, measured by fidelity. Such solution directs the player to focus on their inner feelings: what they are trying to express verbally rather than physically.
Besides the voice acting, music plays no small part in the ‘immersion’ to Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. The game’s soundtrack ranks as one of the most coherent video game scores to complement its overall vision, but also stands gloriously on its own as a piece of music.
There are individual works of art, as there are aesthetic objects, that are able to produce a sense of magic in their audience — ‘a quality of being beautiful and delightful in a way that seems remote from daily life’ — as a dictionary definition about magic states.
The most expressive of these objects also enable us to see the world in different light, from the vantage point of others, while learning something, perhaps timeless, about the human condition. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is, in my experience, a work about curiosity, discovery, and desire — brought to life with visual and aural magic. Go there, and at least for a moment, it will change you.