For about as long as videogames have been around there have been arguments about the artistic validity of them. Art is, by definition, the expression of human imagination and skill into a medium, which means that you could always make an argument for games being art. Of course, the issue is that most videogames don’t reach beyond the realm of the summer blockbuster and that most gamers consider games that don’t feature the player staring down the sights of a gun to be a “game.” It makes the whole argument of games and art tenuous at best, leaving it instead to the realm of simple entertainment that at times shows glimmers of exploring the human condition beyond explosions and shooting galleries.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is one of the most compelling experiences that I think I’ve ever had in the interactive realm. I’m going to get that out of the way as quickly as I can. I’d go as far as to say that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has affected me in a deeply, profound way unlike any other videogame has ever been able to do. Everything about the game is finely crafted, well thought out and honed in to evoke an emotional response from the player. The game triggered anxiety in me while playing and the atmosphere and sense of dread were present almost entirely throughout the whole four to six hours that it lasted.
That’s amazing. This is a game where you can’t die, nothing attacks you, you aren’t tasked with saving the world or to grab a gun and shoot anything, yet it can still be “scary.” You control a character in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a nameless, faceless, voiceless observer of a small, sleepy British town in the 80’s where something happened. That something unravels before your eyes and ears through stray telephones, radios, tape recorders and through witnessing memories. A ball of pulsating light is your guide to the Rapture, it is both menacing and playful as it zips around the town, guiding you towards “memories” that you can trigger by tilting your Dualshock controller in a direction to “unlock” said sequence.
The series of events unfold through individual chapters or stories, where you learn about the people of the town. Each chapter focuses on one person’s journey and experience. Their experiences are human, touching and at times heartwrenching. What’s evident is that while these people are living through what one would call the apocalypse (sort of), they are still living their own lives, dealing with their own issues and their relationships become even more important while everyone around them is affected by the mysterious “flu.”
These people are interesting, they are frustrating and they are incredibly flawed. Even in the face of the end they can be stubborn, and in retrospect foolish. I found myself muttering under my breath to these people in disbelief of how ridiculous they were people. Without a twinge of irony I was sitting on my couch at 3am saying “Stephen, what have you done?” That’s how immersive Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is. If you are willing to sit back and immerse yourself in the game you will be endlessly rewarded.
Not everyone is going to have that same reaction, though. The tremendous voice acting, the heartfelt stories and deliberate funeral dirge of a pace accentuated by Jessica Curry’s stunning soundtrack set an unmistakable tone, but there will be players who are simply averse to such charms. Without a gun, sword or magic rod and a feeling of “control” some players are going to look at Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and see it as a mockery of what they love. I’m not going to tell you that if you feel that way that you are wrong, just a fair warning that this is not for you.
Developer The Chinese Room paved the way for these sorts of games with 2012’s Dear Esther, which remains to this day one of my favorite games of all time. Dear Esther was a transformative experience. I’ll be honest that I was very concerned that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture would have difficulty living up to the high watermark set by Dear Esther, especially with it being a much longer game this time around. Death Esther can take anywhere from 80 to 100 minutes to get through while Rapture is a solid four to six hours. The way that they broke down the chapters and wove an intricate, but heartfelt tale was just masterful, though. It never dragged or felt like it needed to be cut down.
Throughout Rapture you explore these people’s lives and along the way you learn about their connections to one another. Some of these people are related, some are friends, some are lovers or even strangers, but everyone is connected. Some of these people feel alienated, some feel connected, others want to leave while some struggle with the desire to stay. Each character brings something different and compelling to the table and essentially watching the end of these lives play out can be a touching, even draining experience. The player gets a brief glimpse into their lives, but these moments that are captured are nearly perfect, leading to these overwhelming feelings when they meet their fate.
At first it wouldn’t be crazy to see the memories that play out and think that they are kind of ridiculous. Of course, the early memories in the game don’t tell much, nor does anyone truly understand that is happening. Over time it becomes a much more fascinating method of storytelling and the power of the voice acting really comes through. The simple gestures that are made by the figures composed entirely of orbs of light convey so much emotion, hugely in part to the performances themselves, that when you see a character’s orbs of lights dissipate for that last time it’s nothing short of crushing.
This game is deep, insightful and makes no qualms about what it’s doing; it’s tugging on your heartstrings and making you piece together the puzzle. Of course, does the puzzle matter? I’ve seen people complain about a definitive ending, but the nature of this game itself is not about definitive endings and solid answers. Instead it is about you, the player and how you react. What was this event? What was the true end result? What is human existence and do our relationships truly matter? These are all questions that will hang in your head after finishing this game. What you take away from this game depends on your own experiences and emotions.
I can’t recommend this game enough.