We survived the millennium. We survived 2012. Hell, we even made it through 2016 without imploding. In times like these it’s a good idea to hope for the best but prepare for the worst by considering just how we could meet our catastrophic doom according to video games. Ranked in terms of how devastating they’d be with a very scientific and pinpoint accurate ‘oh god please no’ meter, you can decide for yourself just how much each one of these scenarios make you want to cower in a corner.
Spoiler warning: I’ll be going into some plot details for a number of games below, so (for example) if you’re planning on playing Assassin’s Creed, perhaps stop reading now.
Technological apocalypse - Horizon: Zero Dawn
Oh god please no meter: 1 - It’s entirely possible to survive through a worldwide energy blackout, as long as you start brushing up on your survival skills sharpish.
So in the lush landscape of Horizon: Zero Dawn (opens in new tab) something happened to make all the electricity in our world fail, plunging our civilisation into darkness. The trailer gives us no glimpses of the consequent anarchy and battles for scarce survival resources, so I’m content to wildly generalise and assume that the transition to hunter-gatherer tribes wasn’t as painful as, say, being eaten alive by zombified family members. Plus all the wildlife overgrowing the cities and last remnants of civilisation is rather stunning. We can just brush past the issue of a lack of medical facilities and a shortened lifespan. Don’t worry about those robot creatures roaming the landscape either - I’m sure they’re easy to get used to.
Alien invasion - Half-Life
Oh god please no meter: 2 - The good news is you get to live. The bad news is that you’re now under the repressive yoke of the Combine. Perfect.
Movies depict humans putting up a valiant fight against alien interlopers, and although Independence Day might make us look heroic, Half-Life faces up to the reality. A technologically advanced, ruthless alien force invades Earth thanks to Black Mesa tinkering with the thin veil that keeps dimensions apart. Our war with them - where we throw every weapon we’ve got their way - lasts a whole seven hours. Then we surrender, have a reproductive suppression field cast over most of our population centres, and live our lives as servants to the alien Combine empire. Oh, and they’ve tampered with the water supply to drug citizens into forgetting their past lives, plus they condition all their soldiers to love the Combine. Not particularly pleasant.
Devastating nuclear war - Fallout
Oh god please no meter: 3 - Despite the annihilated wasteland, there’s a sliver of hope for post-apocalyptic civilisation. But millions died along the way. Cheery, I know.
Imagine the terror when that first bomb dropped and thousands of citizens rushed to try and find cover. Swarming at vault entrances trying to get in, crowding into subways and basements, then the cataclysmic annihilation of the bombs. If you manage to survive that, you either die painfully from radiation poisoning or lose your mind and turn feral. Or all your skin peels off and you become a ghoul. It’s not like those who make it into vaults get off scot-free either, as in Fallout 4 (opens in new tab) almost all of them were primed with psychology experiments on their unsuspecting inhabitants. But - and this is a big but - if you survive all that, there is hope. Us humans are a stubborn lot, so there are cities out in the wasteland and hope for us yet.
Solar flare - Assassin’s Creed
Oh god please no meter: 4 - Quick, painless, plus you’ll probably never see it coming.
Thanks to Desmond’s heroic efforts this didn’t actually come to fruition in Assassin’s Creed 3 (opens in new tab). However, if he hadn’t been so selfless humanity would have been pretty screwed (much like the Ones Who Came Before, who did fall foul of this fate). I don’t think anyone would have had enough sunblock to prevent, you know, getting burnt to cinders by a giant solar flare. Not a particularly nice way to go, but quick. At least there’s not too much suffering, and no lengthy gradually-building temperatures that end up making your blood boil. Don’t worry though because this hypothesis wasn’t put to the test, as it was prevented by Desmond sacrificing himself. Exchanging his life for a protective shield over the Earth, no one was made to sit in a superpowered sunbed. Phew.
Cordyceps fungus infection - The Last of Us
Oh god please no meter: 5 - Zombies. Fungus zombies who hear every move you make and are bloody fast. Spores floating in the air that infect you with one breath. Need I say more?
Zombies are bad enough. Rotting, horrified reminders that death is no longer the end anymore, they never sleep and are always ready to sink their teeth into your flesh. Ordinarily you can just avoid zombies and that’ll be the end of it. But in The Last of Us (opens in new tab) there’s the added threat of fungal spores floating around which will infect anyone passing by. The trauma that comes from shooting loved ones who have succumbed or seeing a familiar face prowling the streets is enough to make this scenario miserable. However, venturing outside the safe outposts is foolhardy but do-able, as long as you stay on your toes. These bastions of civilisation will shield you with their walls - just pray that no-one inside them starts looking a bit poorly.
Nanobot plague - Deus Ex
Oh god please no meter: 6 - There are worse ways to go than getting infected and dying of flu-like symptoms, but you still die (in extreme pain) at the end. So it’s not ideal, if you ask me.
In a future where most people are cybernetically augmented in one way or another, there are some whose bodies reject any nanobot that comes their way. Ordinarily these individuals would be left alone, but some of them are very powerful indeed: government officials, politicians, you name it. High status doesn’t grant invulnerability, though. They can be your puppets if you get leverage over them...by withholding the cure to a lethal virus. The dastardly Morgan Everett weaponises the nanobots floating around to target these poor folks, and the result is the Grey Death plague. Infected victims suffer flu-like symptoms, coughing and experiencing extreme pain as the nanobots in their body eat away at their insides. Then (unsurprisingly) they perish. The vaccine is produced in very small quantities so getting your hands on one is nigh-on impossible. Unless you’re willing to do an incredibly shady favour for a malevolent individual, possibly handing over the reins of government at the same time.
Demons overrun Earth - DOOM
Oh god please no meter: 8 - Giant bloodthirsty monsters who want to rip you apart in horrible ways. Plus, a guest appearance from Hell. Actual Hell.
So this hasn’t actually happened in the game yet. But it’s come a little too close for comfort. With the opening of a portal to hell, monsters pour into the world with one man standing in their way: Doomguy. The viciousness of these monsters throw any notion that humanity might survive out of the window if Doomguy snuffs it. In the 2016 Doom (opens in new tab), even after tons of enemies were gunned to bits and a general cataclysm hit Mars, did the powers-that-be on Earth take notice and dial back on the energy-siphoning? No. If they don’t learn their lesson from a literal portal to hell opening, humanity doesn’t stand a chance. These demons don’t even want to use your body for anything afterwards. They just want to hear you go squish. But if Doomguy manages to stop them, we’ll still be able to salvage something from the shards of civilisation.
Reapers - Mass Effect
Oh god please no meter: 9 - You might go down fighting, but you’re either going to be turned into a cyber-zombie or genetic sludge in permanent mental torment. Your choice.
Some mornings you might feel like a husk, drained of all energy (probably on a Monday). The Reapers from Mass Effect 3 (opens in new tab) make this a reality rather than a fleeting sensation. As synthetic-organic beings who snatch up humans to sap their energy, they stick you on spikes which change all your innards into cybernetic materials. Bam, now you’re a Husk, and are ready to attack any former comrades who try to rescue you. It’s not like it’s a-okay if you’re unsuitable to be a Husk either. Turned into a genetic paste (never thought I’d put those two words together), your gunk is used to create a new Reaper whilst keeping your mind intact. I wonder how many of those consciousnesses are screaming? However, you can join the squads fighting against the Reapers - just make sure you keep one bullet spare.
War. Just war. - Warhammer 40K: Space Marine
Oh god please no meter: 10 - In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war. Good luck trying to avoid it.
No peace. Just war. Endless, violent, and inescapable. Warhammer 40K is about as dark as you can get as there is almost no peaceful place to flee to. You can either serve on the front line and get killed, or try to escape and get killed. And what’s worse is that everyone lives for war. Even the pacifist Tau race use violence to spread their brand of ‘peace’ across the galaxy. It’s likely that you won’t even know what peace is if you live in Warhammer’s 41st century because the Chaos gods have kept war going for so long. If you did you’re probably on the brink of madness because with seven races of enemies to fight against it’s unlikely they’ll sign a peace treaty or unite against one common foe. With no end to the war in sight, Warhammer 40K: Space Marine is about as grim as it gets.
So, there you go. At least we haven’t come face-to-face with one of these scenarios. Yet. But you know what they say… Always be prepared.