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The End of the World is a Game

Four noteworthy tales of total gaming destruction done with such gravitas and finesse they make Nostradamus look like Miss Cleo.

by Colin Snyder
Dec 21 2012, 6:00pm

Well, it seems like that Winter-Solstice-Mayan-Calendar-Fiscal-Cliff-Superstorm was a total bust. Even still, rest assured that society will likely continue apace with claims that "this is it," that we are in the end times, that our way of life cannot possibly continue and that science, the devil, and outer space are up to no good. Videogames have also had their fill of Megiddo, too often at the hands of the usual suspects like aliens, zombies, and nuclear war. Beyond these apocalyptic tropes, here are four noteworthy tales of total gaming destruction done with such gravitas and finesse they make Nostradamus look like Miss Cleo.

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA, MAJORA’S MASK (2000)

(via)

Majora's Mask is an incredibly dark entry in the Zelda franchise. Link, the boy Hero of Time, sets out on a quest to find his friend Navi, your annoying fairy guide that made Ocarina of Time a little too noisy. Nevertheless, Link sets out through the Lost Woods when he is thrown off his horse and robbed by a strange imp and two fairies.

Link literally chases the imp down the rabbit hole to find himself in the land of Termina, an alternate dimension of Hyrule. He is transformed into a shrub and left for dead by the imp, who is a marinette for the evil mask he is wearing. Link learns that he only has three days to get that mask back from the imp. As Link enters the main city in Termina, he looks up to see that the Moon is barreling down on Earth. Impact is just 72 hours away.

What brought all of this on? How could something as simple as a mask pull the Moon into the Earth so quickly? The underlying horror of Majora's Mask apocalypse mirrors that of the Old Testament's tales of fire and brimstone. The capital city of Termina references Sodom and Gomorrah, with Majora's Mask itself acting as a sort of golden calf. This is a doomed land because they are people who have lost their faith.

This world's four regions, all with their own "Temples," overflow with monsters and puzzles in a world where faith has been wiped away by its inhabitants. One of these, the Stone Tower, lies in a desert region where centuries ago a great war wiped out the entire local population. All that remains is a skeleton kingdom of ghostly warlords. But as you approach the Stone Tower, an incredible structure abandoned by workers, little clues about the fate of this monument are scattered in the symbology in the region. As "Hylian" Dan Merrill points out in one of his essays on the lore of Hyrule, this is a tower of Babel.

The Stone Tower (via)

The most telling sign that Termina is a land where faith has been lost, both in relationships and in the gods, can be seen--or rather, not seen--in the relatively sparse emblazonment of the Triforce, Hyrule's most important religious symbol and the focal point of most games in the series. The Triforce is a representation of the creator goddesses who forged these lands at the beginning of time, and as such it is the most sacred symbol (and artifact) in Zelda lore. As you explore the Stone Tower, however, you will see this symbol in a horrific place. All over the Stone Tower lies large cubic blocks, used as platforms and as pieces to solving puzzles, carved into grotesque figures, sticking out tounges that reach seemingly to the ground. The Tower is littered with this figure.

The Triforce (via)

And yet as you progress through the Tower, puzzles begin to unfold where you must turn the tower upside down, effectively discovering the ceiling as the floor. With the sky now at your feet, the blocks have also been flipped upside down, and it is revealed that the Triforce is being licked near the asshole of the carved figure. It is a blasphemous idol against the goddesses.

Merrill makes the case that rather than changing everyone's languages, the goddesses flipped the land of Termina upside down so that their arrogant Tower to Heaven became a Tower to Hell. And in so doing they themselves discovered Majora's Mask as the very essence of evil. The land of Termina, as the name suggests, had its fate determined long ago, and the Mask is only a representation of the faithlessness that had scarred this land for so long.

EARTHBOUND (1995)

Earthbound is a weird game. It is a Japanese RPG that begins in Eagleland, a parody of America. Earthbound paints a Japanese perspective of American pop culture. You play as a young boy named Ness, who is awakened by a large explosion in his quiet small town of Onett. When Ness goes to investigate, he is told by a time-travelling bee that, aside from being a time traveling bee, Ness is the psychic hero who is destined to save the world, and that the world will soon be conquered by Giygas, an alien warlord of infinite evil.

Giygas (via)

Ness sets out on a quest that takes him from his midwestern town to the southwest, then to a giant metropolis similar to New York City, and finally across the ocean to Europe and Asia. Along the way he befriends other child heroes who will join him on his journey. Together, they share an adventure that is as comical as it is charming--Ness must to call home frequently to save his game or to talk with his mother, or he'll become homesick, an aliment that the game's hospital can't cure. It is heartening to remind the player of the huge undertaking of being a hero when thrust upon such a young boy.

Giygas is trying to fight a prophecy that Ness would be the one to defeat him, so he is manipulating time and space to turn animals and people against Ness ten years in the past. Overcome by his own sheer power, Giygas has lost his mind and is incapable of rationalized thought. He is able to manipulate any source of evil in the citizens, animals, and objects of Earth, including Ness's shitty next door neighbor, Porky. Giygas's power compels Porky to build the Devil's Machine, which returns some sort of order to Giygas's shattered mind. But it is destroyed by the four heroes.

By destroying the machine, the Chosen Four have freed Giygas into his chaotic, pure-evil form. He no longer has any conscious thought as to why he wanted to conquer Earth or defeat Ness in the first place. He has become a swirling mass of malevolent energy, a shrieking Id of unfathomable proportions.

Often cited as one of the most memorable boss battles of all time, the fight with Giygas is virtually un-winnable– only after the player prays, breaking the fourth wall of the Super Nintendo, can Giygas be defeated. As Giygas becomes weaker, the nature of his attacks and speech become incomprehensible. His swirling face begins to tile on the screen, forming the swirling outline of a fetus. Theories abound that Giygas in this primal state has regressed into an unborn infant, with the Devil's Machine that Ness pulled him from looking remarkably like some sort of robotic mother's vagina.

Giygas fetus? You decide (via)

How do you fight against a unborn child? How can the cries of a baby wanting its mother be the representation of pure evil? Is this a creature undeserving of love or mercy? In order to even expose Giygas to battle, Ness must play the lullaby that was sung to Giygas as a child. The Japanese title of Earthbound is "Mother 2," based on the John Lennon song and a horrifying childhood experience of series creator Shigesato Itoi when he accidentally walked in on a pornographic scene in a movie theatre as a child. As a child he was confused by the depictions of sex and violence. I think what Itoi was referring to in the character of Giygas is the frailty of good and evil itself; it's flexibility in perspective. It is theorized that Giygas in calling out to Ness in friendship, before the battle is uncertain as to if Ness is an enemy or not.

Regardless of themes, the world in Earthbound almost comes to an end by the tantrum of an unborn child, which is ultimately destroyed by a child itself. The epic of Giygas is the story of childhood and the loss of it.

ETERNAL DARKNESS, SANITY’S REQUIEM (2002)

Herein is a legend interwoven through time, moving and weaving through 2,000 years of history to unravel the plots of bizarre cults to awaken an unholy, ancient god.

Tome of the Eternal Darkness (via)

You begin the game as Alexandra Rovias, a college student who is called to her grandfather’s mansion after he is brutally murdered. While the local police offer little help in solving the case, Alex sets out to unravel the mystery herself. In so doing, she discovers her grandfather’s arcane studies in the Tome of Eternal Darkness, an inter-dimensional book through which she experiences the lives of twelve chosen people charged with fulfilling ancient prophecies.

As you read the tomb at the Roivas mansion in Rhode Island, you experience the lives of other chosen heroes at four unholy sites on Earth, revisited in several different eras. You will experience the lives of a Roman centurion at the turn of the century; a court dancer in 12th century Cambodia; even a Canadian firefighter putting out oil fires in Kuwait during the Gulf War. Each is charged with bringing about an ancient god to fight another in a Rock-Paper-Scissors heirarchy pantheon of Cthulu-esque space creatures.

Sanity effects (via)

There’s all kinds of apocalyptic crap--planetary alignments, ancient prophecies–strewn about Eternal Darkness. But what’s really special about this game is the sanity meter. As you experience what's behind the veil of reality, as Alex Grey inspired corpses and monsters step out of the very fabric of space and time, the overwhelming weight that every shred of human culture has been superceded and corroded by these beyond evil ancient gods, the entire world starts to collapse as you play in such a subtle and terrifying way. Visions of the future, bleeding walls, doors pounding as you approach them, your save file being deleted as you save– the player is constantly being tricked by the game itself, and you begin questioning if anything in this game is real.

Through the use of runic spells that you put together, invoking the power of these hideous Cthuluian creatures– you manipulate their magick heirarchy to foil the plans of reviving the ancient god by reviving a stronger one-- you effectively bring about the world's destruction singlehandedly. Luckily, the end of the world is saved thanks to the quick-thinking ghost of your dead grandfather. If you play through three times (wiping out each of the ancient gods of flesh, sanity, and magick), it is revealed that all three gameplay sessions correspond to parallel realities, and that in destroying the three gods you've only created an infinite reign for the fourth--the corpse god, the god of death--leaving humanity's eternal darkness under his reign.

KATAMARI DAMACY (2004)

This is a game hardly anyone thinks of as apocalyptic. It is uncharacteristically colorful, silly, and fun. Katamari Damacy and its sequel We <3 Katamari follow the King of All Cosmos and his son, the Prince. The King of All Cosmos is an incredibly giant playing-card styled regal king of the universe, who thrives on the love and enthusiasm of the people who love him. He stands taller than any building on earth, while his son is a miniscule centimeter tall.

The King of All Cosmos (via)

One day the King gets drunk and flies around the universe, effectively destroying all but one star--ours--in the sky. He then sends the tiny Prince down to Earth with the Katamari, a magic ball that adheres to anything it touches. The Prince must roll the ball around Earth, collecting items from which the King can make new stars out of the items attached to the ball.

As you start out, the Prince will roll up dice, toothpicks, orange slices, dominos, and more, but as the ball gets bigger and bigger, it is only a matter of time before you roll up people, animals, buildings, even entire chunks of tetonic plate. You can roll the Katamari so large that you can see the curvature of the earth, and in the sequel, the Earth can suddenly snap onto the Katamari, as it becomes a celestial snowball and picks up all the stars you had created.

From the joyous tone of the game, and the dialog of the characters, everyone wants to be rolled up into a Katamari. The music is a celebration of being rolled, of being killed for some holy purpose. Just listen to this track:

"I want to wad you up into my life"

It must be considered an honor to be picked up by the King of All Cosmos, but even if the earth's citizens go smiling into the Katamari, it is only a matter of time before the King will hurl it into the nightsky and transform it into a star, making the Carl Sagan addage of being made of starstuff all the more terrifying. Katamari Damacy most closely translates to "Clump of Souls." Terrifying.

****

Stories of doom and destruction and world saviors are as old as time itself. Particularly in Western cultures, we are given a righteousness by our own mythologies, that we are the chosen species or people who will surely experience the world's end in our time, that our lives are particularly more meaningful or epic than our predecessors or our children. The lesson of apocalypses isn't in stockpiling canned goods and ammunition, but to remind ourselves that what we have can be instantly taken away from us.

The power of these videogames to convey these destruction myths is great indeed, something that game developers and writers cherish. Apocalyptic myths in games are always about overcoming a great evil, about reaffirming our place on Earth, about believing in our way of life and the inherent goodness that it is meant to be, a refreshing take on the fear mongering that can be associated with tales of the end of the world.

Top illustration by Colin Snyder. Follow him @scallopdelion

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