Gamers’ obsession with our own impending destruction and why we love the end of the world

Damn, we really do have a morbid sense of curiosity, don't we?
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Sigmund Freud, within his many musings, postulated that we all might secretly want to die. He called it “the death drive” and described it as the drive toward death, self-destruction and the return to the inorganic.

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Well, if he was right, he got what he wanted–after all, he died in 1939– and also, gamers have been getting what they really wanted too, because we are obsessed with games about self-destruction, seemingly impossible odds, and the likelihood of human extinction.

Yes, I’m talking about our obsession with apocalyptic games.

Seriously, what is up with how much we love games that focus on the end of everything we’ve come to love and hold dear? You could say that I arrived late to this morbid party – I only just started playing Fallout: New Vegas – so forgive me for being the guest who points out that the fishbowl has been upended and that the toilet is clogged. But seriously, what is it about our own self-destruction that entices us so?

Well, for one, we like the feeling of inevitable annihilation…

As long as we can get out of it, of course. Yes, I realize the inherent irony of that statement, but hey, you were the one who liked apocalyptic games that weren’t, well, all that apocalyptic if you really think about it. Because if you play an apocalyptic game and survive, well, you’ve beaten the logic. The apocalypse is supposed to be the END. Of all human civilization. No exception. Get over yourself, super survivor. 

So I suppose when we thought we were playing apocalyptic games, we really were just playing NEAR-apocalyptic games. One of the biggest draws of apocalyptic games, including The Walking Dead, Gears of War, and upcoming thriller, The Last of Us, is actually a lie – a huge lie which tells you that you are facing the end of humankind as we know it, only to let you win and thwart the whole thing!

Well, except for The Walking Dead because…you know…*SPOILER If you really want to know but haven’t played the game, just look up the ending of the game on Wikipedia /SPOILER*

Wait, does that make The Walking Dead the truest apocalyptic game, like, ever?

But we also love them because of bragging rights.

After all, pretty much everyone has turned to their friend and said, “Yeah, well, I’d survive a zombie apocalypse. Duh.”

Hint: No you wouldn’t. Or at least, not the way you think you would. In fact, it’s very likely that you will be doing some extremely mundane, uninteresting activity, when the zombie apocalypse comes and you will be bitten before you can run back into your shed and grab your chainsaw and handy katana. Deal with it.

But hey, we use games to feed our imagination – not to mention our egos – so go ahead and believe that because you beat Left 4 Dead on Expert, you’re ready for real life.

Finally, it’s all about the mystery…

Because there is nothing more mysterious than the end of everything as we know it. How can we imagine everything being not the way it is? That’s an oxymoron, right? Not sure… English might be failing me. Such near-future-but-not-quite-there games allow us to imagine the world around us, only, in a way that is completely cursory to reality – and somehow still make it believable.

The point is that apocalyptic games sit rather nicely in that space between the fantastical and the very, very real, so well in fact that even in their most unbelievable moments, we are able to put ourselves into the mindset of “Okay, what would I do if this were to happen to me tomorrow?”

But instead of waiting for tomorrow, we rev up that console, fondle our controller, lick the melting cheese of our hot pockets off our fingers, and start thwarting the end of the world today.

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Nick Fouriezos
I'm a freelance journalist who loves sports, gaming and creative writing. I'm also a GameSkinny intern and right now I'm playing unhealthy amounts of NBA2k12, Halo 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Check out more of my work at