What If… Society Fell Apart Like In Horizon: Zero Dawn?

What happens when the worst comes to pass and some apocalypse or other comes knocking?


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.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Shows Why Becoming a Cyborg Isn’t Such a Good Idea

I can’t decide if it’s brilliant or unnerving that technology advances so quickly. In the past thirty years alone we’ve transitioned from computers which fill entire rooms to mobile phones the size of a chocolate bar. Some very smart cookies think computers will actually surpass our own intelligence by 2029. For context, the human race has only been playing around with a little thing we call ‘civilization’ for 3% of its lifetime.

The future's bleak in Deus Ex, but at least we've got bad-ass wrist blades now - concept art by Eidos Montreal.
The future’s bleak in Deus Ex, but at least we’ve got bad-ass wrist blades to go with it – concept art by Eidos Montreal

This brings up a question that’s pure click-bait; if we’re advancing at such a breakneck pace, what next? Because I’m trying hard not to make a worn-out reference about Skynet here, we’ll swiftly move on to Dues Ex: Mankind Divided. Set a decade from now, Eidos Montreal’s stealth/action hybrid looks at what happens when augmentations are misused. After terrorists push the world into a state of bionic apartheid, the suitably gruff Adam Jensen is left to make things right. He’s a cooler version of Robocop, basically; a cringe-inducing attack left him ripped to pieces, so his employers put Humpty Dumpty back together again with a few ‘improvements’. These include carbon-fibre arms, in-built sunglasses and super-strength to match.

You might write off this vision of the future as unrealistic. I’m not sure it’s all that implausible, though. While gaining the ability to fly or laser shields might be a stretch, cybernetic and technological upgrades aren’t beyond the realm of possibility. How long will it take for the world’s boffins to create truly bionic arms? As in Deus Ex, that’s a slippery slope. While most of us aren’t likely to be involved with anything drastic (I’m picturing the equivalent of Google Glass’ heads-up display), they’re still a development ripe for abuse. In Mankind Divided’s live-action trailer, we see innocent civilians being ‘hacked’ by forces unknown. It’s a possibility no-one could afford to ignore if we supplemented our grey matter too. Think about the cyber-attacks we face already. Now imagine how wrong things could go if our brains were connected to the web. Taking physical control may be the stuff of science fiction, but stealing information or subconscious conditioning is scarily credible. Third parties might influence how we think, act or vote. That’s an awful lot of power on the table waiting to be mistreated.

It’s a more complicated debate than you’d expect. Fail-safes would surely have to implemented as a result. Are augmented humans eligible to vote if there’s the possibility of their choice being hijacked? What about running for office? Could you guarantee a candidate’s independence if they sported this sort of augmentation? And even were you able to, would the average Joe believe it? You can see why cyborgs are the victims of such prejudice in the Deus Ex universe.

The same trailer also raised a point I hadn’t thought of before. Drugs to ensure your mods aren’t rejected are probably going to become a vital – and lucrative – resource. Whoever’s got control of them therefore controls the market… and you. It’s a dystopian nightmare where corporations have far too much influence.

Perhaps this is a can of worms we’re better leaving unopened.

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