Letters from the Rapture

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  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a Playstation 4 videogame in which the player walks through a small, seemingly abandoned English town, activating “flashback” vignettes as she explores. Through these, the player learns the townspeople have disappeared due to a mysterious force that manifests as shining lines of energy and balls of light. The story, which is centered on a scientist named Kate, suggests that each main character finds peace right before they disappear. The nature of this peace is the fundamental mystery presented by Rapture, and its explanation inspired opposite reactions from Jed Pressgrove and Reid McCarter.

    The following conversation presents two different interpretations of Rapture’s conclusion, discusses developer The Chinese Room’s perspective on human experience and explores theories on why game reviewers have generally avoided the spiritual connotations of the game’s story.

    While the conversation can be read on its own, we recommend taking the time to read Pressgrove’s “Everybody’s Gone to the Secular Dehumanization Chamber” first as it offers additional context and prompted this discussion.

    * * *

    Hey Jed,

    Since you made your argument at Game Bias, I suppose I should start our discussion off with a kind of rebuttal. It isn’t that I’m looking to stick up for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture as a game you should like. Instead, I think your piece introduces some really interesting ideas that, whether looked at as a reflection of Rapture itself or contemporary games criticism, warrant discussion.

    Probably the easiest place to begin is to introduce my own perspective. I really liked Rapture. Now, I’m not particularly interested in matters of form here. All I can say is that your complaints regarding the environment and abstract human figures are completely valid. They just didn’t bother me. UW62-smallWhat I do think is worth digging into, though, are the broader aspects of the game. Like, why Rapture’s treatment of spirituality and Christianity rang hollow for you, whereas for me it provoked a pretty profound emotional reaction.

    Art and entertainment obviously effect different people in different ways, so I don’t write any of this in an effort to change your mind. If the game didn’t resound with you, it didn’t. But, I do think it’s worth trying to understand why our opinions differed.

    When you write in your Game Bias piece that “Kate ridiculously implies a human relationship is experientially the same as salvation,” I see something completely different. It’s worth saying that I grew up Christian, but don’t believe in God. I’m fascinated by religion, though, and have continued to study different faiths. Even though I’m not religious, that doesn’t mean that I don’t find religion worth thinking about. Something so important to so many people’s everyday lives — and something that represents foundational philosophical concepts in global history — shouldn’t be dismissed wholesale just because a given person doesn’t believe in embracing a religious school of thought as a personal guideline or ethos.

    That said, I think part of moving away from Christianity — and religion in general — can involve as much continued “soul-searching” as being devout. For me (though I’m not interested in focusing too much on myself, other than to give context) the whole process doesn’t preclude a certain sort of “spirituality”. (The quotes are because that’s a difficult term to use here.) I still get the same sense of the numinous from the natural world and, most importantly, I get it, too, from human relationships. So, saying that Kate’s implication that “a human relationship is experientially the same as salvation,” doesn’t strike me as at all ridiculous. In fact, I find in that an echo of what matters most to me in life. As sappy as it sounds, love and human kindness are the cornerstones of what I think is worth caring about.

    Does that make sense? It isn’t that I don’t see where you’re coming from, only that I think Rapture is an incredibly powerful exploration of a worldview that, while not theistic, is no less “spiritually” important. That’s where I find the “humanity and truth” you found lacking. And I think the game’s evocation of religion (as with parish priest Jeremy or the title of the game itself) is central to how it establishes the stakes of its story. Just as with the generically “science-y” scrawling at the end, it seems like the idea is to show humanity as torn between the logics of religious dogma and science. The game seems interested in conjuring “the light” as a more fundamentally important element of who we are—and it’s noteworthy that its existence defies the characters’ supernatural or scientific understanding. It connects us, blurring time and space in the process. In that part of the story, I read an illustration of the basic “good” I mentioned earlier — the universal connections established by human kindness, love and community.

    — Reid


    Like you, I grew up in a Christian setting. I am still a Christian and attend church, though not as regularly as I did growing up. I would call myself a non-traditional Christian in that I’m an extremely skeptical person despite my faith. I say this to emphasize that my thoughts on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture aren’t about converting people. I simply expect critics to consider what the game unequivocally talks about.

    I agree with you in regard to soul searching. That idea doesn’t necessarily require any specific faith because of the different ways people define “soul.” My perspective goes in a different direction after this agreement, though. It’s not that I don’t buy into what you say about love and human kindness (neither of those things sound sappy to me). And it’s not that Kate — and by extension, The Chinese Room — is wrong in suggesting human relationships can go beyond the physical, the obvious. It’s that salvation, the assurance that one has been redeemed, is not a human-to-human proposition for many people.

    One could tell one’s significant other “I would be lost without you,” and there would be romantic and even spiritual truth there. But to talk to a human is to talk to a similar creature. That’s why I think Jeremy’s scene is very different from the others, and my stance here is based on what people like Jeremy experience in such a moment. When people get “saved,” we’re talking about a particular type of spiritual relationship. Here I’m not arguing this relationship is superior to spiritually based human relationships. I just think it’s undeniable that getting on one’s knees and calling for mercy from a divine being is a very particular thing. That Kate misses this speaks to a lack of understanding on the part of The Chinese Room.

    You raise a very good counterargument in regard to the message of the game. I do think there was some intention in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture to “show humanity as torn between the logics of religious dogma and science.” Yet I don’t think the game does a very good job of illustrating why humans are attracted to religion and/or science. To say something about the latter, neither Stephen nor Kate display any of the positive, human qualities of a scientist. Stephen is strictly unethical thanks to his clichéd Cold War paranoia (it’s no coincidence the game is set in 1984; why can’t game developers leave the 1980s alone if they’re not going to expand our understanding of it?), and Kate doesn’t seem to care about human loss. As much as I criticized the game for failing in its evocation of spirituality, it does equal disservice to science. That’s why I call Kate’s formulae scribblings impersonal — I question whether The Chinese Room takes humanity seriously at all.

    — Jed

    Hey Jed,

    I’d be curious to hear a bit more about why you think Kate “missing” a divine salvation “speaks to a lack of understanding on the part of The Chinese Room” before moving too far afield. There’s a danger here that we’d end up circling around theology, but I’m mostly wondering about what you mean in relation to the game itself. If her salvation
    comes from the mundane understanding of love and human connection (illustrated — and maybe even obscured — somewhat by the game’s supernatural light), how is that different from a religious appeal?

    You’ve been reading an excerpt from Unwinnable Monthly Issue 62.

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