Warning: This article contains spoilers for Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture.
Anyone who reads this site regularly will know that my love of survival horror knows few bounds, and if there’s one thing the survival horror genre does well, its creating haunting experiences. It may be unusual, then, to read that the site’s horror aficionado has been so unsettled by an indie adventure game created by developer The Chinese Room. But I absolutely stand by it.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is one of those games that’s so mired in deeply human feelings of loss, fear and the fleeting nature of human life that it stayed with me long after I finished it. It’s a game that forces us to face our subconscious fears of our own inevitable demise in a way that no other medium could.
The game is set in a fictional deserted village named Yaughton in Shropshire, England, and tasks the player with finding out what happened to the missing villagers. The game begins with the player standing near a gate to an observatory, with a voiceover stating, “This is Dr. Katherine Collins. I don’t know if anyone will hear this. It’s all over. I’m the only one left.” The player is guided around the village by mysterious floating balls of light which swim through the air or morph into human shapes to depict various events that took place in the village, all of which depict the lead-up to the events which caused the mass disappearances.
Katherine (or Kate as she’s normally called) and her husband Stephen, who are both scientists at the observatory, encountered a ‘strange pattern’ which appeared to be an unknown form of life. The pattern even ‘infected’ and sometimes killed other lifeforms. Kate felt that the patterns were attempting to communicate with them, unaware of the harm they were doing to the lifeforms they were killing, while Stephen became convinced that the pattern was a threat to all life on earth that was capable of wiping out the human race if it wasn’t contained.
Naturally, his attempts at containment fail. The pattern spreads beyond the observatory and infects the people and animals of the village who, according to information left behind by the village GP, formed tumours in their brains which led to their deaths. Worried that the pattern will spread beyond the village, Stephen urges the government to quarantine the area, leading to the village being gassed to try and halt its progress.
What really makes the game so haunting is its exploration of how fleeting life can be and what – if anything – we leave behind once we’re gone.
Of course you’ll be some way into the game before you discover that. The mystery ramps up throughout, carefully drip-feeding hints as to what has happened. Many of the villagers discuss people or animals ‘disappearing’, and a conversation about a villager’s chalet being covered in a strange dust suggests that the people who disappeared may actually have been victims of spontaneous human combustion.
But what really makes the game so haunting is its exploration of how fleeting life can be and what – if anything – we leave behind once we’re gone.
Candles In The Wind
The orbs of light morph into glowing outlines of villagers when you reach certain locations, re-enacting significant conversations they had with each other on the run up their disappearances. Each character’s backstory is fleshed out enough to make them feel real, and the conversations, experiences and situations they encountered are all so close to home that each one feels like someone you know: a young man who made a mistake and now fears his future is ruined, a farmer who worries about paying the bills and the health of his animals, an old busybody who has her nose in everyone’s business and thinks her son’s wife isn’t good enough for him, a woman in an unhappy marriage who deals with the mixed feelings generated by the affair she’s having with another man, a man of faith convinced that the disappearances are God’s judgement.
These are just a few of the characters whose lives you get a window into and each one feels remarkably organic. Their situations and conversations feel so real, it’s hard not to experience a tug of melancholy when they all inevitably die at the end of their stories. And as those little humanoid-shaped lights glow their brightest, fade and slowly disappear, leaving darkness to slowly sink in around you, it’s hard not to reflect on how quickly our lives can end. Just like those lights, we each burn bright for a tiny portion of time and then suddenly, poof, we’re gone, leaving nothing behind but our empty houses and the memories those who knew us carry with them.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is a game that makes you think about what you’d leave behind if you were to die today. It makes you aware of how ordinary yet fleeting our existence is, and prods you to look at your own life and the marks it leaves on the world around us. It’s an experience that’s profoundly reflective, and which gently morphs the ticking of the clocks we all have hanging over our lives into resounding booms. We all know we’re going to die. We all know that when that happens the things in our lives that dominated us, the passions that kept us surging forward and the frustrations that greyed our hair before age could lay a hand on it, will disappear with us and appear almost insignificant to the rest of the world.
In an arguably best case scenario, those we care about will die first and leave us behind so that we can reflect on the snippets of their lives we were witness to, just as the unnamed main character observes glimpses of the lives lived out by the residents of that small English village. But few games – I would argue none – have ever made that quite so clear. This is what makes Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture one of the most haunting games I’ve ever played. And when I’m dead and this article is one of the few remaining traces that I ever existed, I will be happy for that opinion to outlive me.