Thursday, September 1, 2011

Exploring the Death in The End

My latest PopMatters article is now live: Exploring Death in The End.

Call me morbid, but I am fascinated by death as a sociocultural phenomenon. An huge economy exists around death and dying, and our how we respond to our own mortality has changed over the years and reflect a great deal about our culture at large. As cultural artifacts, games provide valuable insight into some of the way we approach our imminent demise.

Interestingly, Preloaded and Channel 4 Education made The End to address what they saw as a generation of youth struggling with death in a largely secular and urban culture. As an engagement tool, games lend themselves well to a young adult audience already familiar with games and social media. I mostly overlooked The End's Facebook integration, but being able to compare answers to serious philosophical questions with your friends can be immensely powerful. As teens and young adults, we may isolate ourselves amongst our friends without ever really exploring the diversity of beliefs even within our friends circle. While playing The End, if you see your friend far away from your location in the Mystic track, you may be inclined to spark up a conversation about their choices. The game's questions are deeply personal and seldom easily answered, but game seems to create a safe place to approach the subject without demonizing the beliefs of others. As a kid, struggling with my own beliefs, I certainly would have enjoyed the type of validation and exploration of belief systems offered by The End.

I should also point out most clearly that The End is actually quite fun. Several trophies and challenges offer players reasons to test their platforming skills to the limit, and multiplayer "Death Cards" allows players to challenge each other and the AI to the hex-based puzzle game. Preloaded, the game's developers, have quite a bit of experience of working with Channel 4 on both promotional and educational games, and their experience shows. With enough compelling gameplay and some allegorical elements, they manage to wrap the subject matter around the mechanics and create an overall interesting and effective experience. The accomplished this same task with 1066 as well, their excellent game about Medieval warfare.

In modern culture, we largely avoid confronting death and dying, particularly with others. How we approach death is deeply personal, but not discussing our perception on the matter can be quite isolating. Indeed, The End is designed specifically to shatter the notion that our belief systems should remain private and unexplored. Play The End, and you may find yourself confronting death in a whole new way.

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