Horizon: Zero Dawn is a Reminder of How Fragile Our Way of Life Can Be

Horizon: Zero Dawn is undeniably beautiful. Its overgrown cityscapes are a cascade of breath-taking green, jade and orange flora, but that’s to say nothing of the other areas you’ll trek through in your journey. From jungles to desert canyons, the game seems to be made up of one spectacular vista after another. Still, this is a morbid brand of gorgeousness nonetheless. The fact remains that we’re walking through the corpse of a society. The world we know is gone.

The world we know is gone in Horizon: Zero Dawn, but how? Concept art by Allan LLoyd

As such, Horizon is a wonderful but depressing bit of escapism. Much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or fellow PlayStation exclusive The Last of Us, it stands as a stark reminder of how precarious our current status quo could be. Although we’re unlikely to be overrun with quirky robot wildlife anytime soon, Horizon reminds us of a truth we usually prefer to forget. We’re not invulnerable.

While said robots clearly had something to do with how everything fell apart in this game, we don’t need a tech-driven armageddon of our own to lay us low. Worryingly, our problems are less remarkable yet equally (if not more) devastating. To start with, climate change is one very real threat to our society. We can argue as much as we like about its cause, but escaping the consequences is impossible: as stated by NASA on their website, carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve ever been in 650,000 years. Moreover, our sea levels are rising as Arctic ice continues to shrink in size. Besides the Arctic ecosystem being thrown out of kilter and polar bears having a damn hard time of it thanks to global warming, this might end with disease running rampant and your home underwater. Earth Observatory points out that as ‘tropical temperature zones expand, the reach of some infectious diseases, such as malaria, will change. More intense rains and hurricanes and rising sea levels will lead to more severe flooding and potential loss of property and life’. If something doesn’t change then the globe may look rather different in a hundred years or so, and not for the better.

Secondly, disease is a genuine and utterly terrifying threat that could wipe us out all too quickly. The likes of 1918’s Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people, while the medieval Black Death wiped out roughly 60% of Europe’s population. That’s outright insane: you basically had a half-and-half chance of survival. Those aren’t great odds, and despite having vastly improved medical treatment nowadays we’d be forced to contest with new challenges due to international travel being so easy. In the early days of an epidemic, a carrier who may not yet be showing symptoms would simply hop on a plane and take their illness to a different continent altogether. Your problem has suddenly widened in scope.

We can’t ignore technology a la Horizon or Terminator either, of course. Artificial intelligence is getting smarter by the day and it’s certainly feasible that this could become a problem if machines somehow outsmarted us or messed about with the internet. We rely so heavily on the web that losing it would cripple our society. This is also why events such as solar flares (which are ejections of plasma from the sun that have the ability to knock out our tech when strong enough) are potentially a worry.

None of this is in danger of happening anytime soon, naturally, but Horizon serves as a stark reminder not to take things for granted. Our civilization’s survival is far from guaranteed, and neither is our way of life.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.


No Man’s Sky Gets One Thing Very Right – Space is a Miserable Place to Be

‘Disappointment’ is a strong word to throw around, but for some it fits No Man’s Sky like a glove. Allowing you to explore thousands of worlds in a randomly-generated universe, you can’t type this game’s name into Google without bumping into claims that it didn’t keep its promises. Worse still, many argue that there isn’t enough to do in its randomly generated universe. While I can’t comment on whether that’s true or not (£50 seemed a bit steep to pick it up on launch day) this doesn’t sound dissimilar to genuine space exploration; lonely, dull and crushingly repetitive.

A cosmic sunset - if only it looked this exciting in real life. Concept art by Hello Games
A cosmic eclipse – if only space travel was this exciting in real life. Concept art by Hello Games

In an unfortunate reality-check for any would-be Captain Kirk, most planets seem a bit boring. Collections of lifeless rock spin through space in tandem with gas giants and frozen wastes, bypassing the visual feasts we’re usually treated to in science-fiction. The number of Earth-like planets out there is barely above a handful. Even those are lightyears apart, and we can’t be sure they’re similar to our world in the first place. If we were to jet out into the cosmos right now, it’s doubtful we’d find much beyond balls of dust and fumes with an endless void between them. This is fascinating in its own right, but I understand it’s not quite an adventure in the Millennium Falcon. It brings to mind a quote from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: ‘Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space’.

It’s not unrealistic for the game to be so preoccupied with resources, either. Space exploration is almost prohibitively expensive, and any company that wants to jump on the bandwagon will need an incentive beyond exploring the final frontier. I can’t imagine mapping the heavens would be enough of a motivation for organisations pumping billions into this field. An untapped well of minerals, metals and precious gases would therefore fit the bill nicely. As such, lumping players with the task of collecting natural resources doesn’t feel unbelievable – even if it is unenviable. It’s less U.S.S Enterprise and more Nostromo, the space tugboat from Aliens.

At least No Man’s Sky doesn’t make us worry about something equally plausible; foreign bacteria. If we ever found an alien world, we’d probably find alien illness as well. The human body would never have encountered this kind of pathogen before, so it’d have no absolutely defence against such a threat. The results wouldn’t be pretty. What might be a common cold for the locals could easily kill us.

In retrospect, stroppy space monsters and boredom are preferable. Because No Man’s Sky got something very, very right without meaning to; space is a miserable place to be.

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