Apocalyptic Ethics

A.S. Thompson

I recently finished playing the video game “The Last of Us.”

I’m sure many out there are saying “dude, I finished it almost three years ago.” Well, for reasons of a busy life and travel, I fell behind in my gaming. But I’m just stoked that had the time to finish it, so if anyone else out there in zombie-lovers-land hasn’t journeyed with Joel and Ellie, I highly recommend it. Amazing game play, graphics and most importantly to me, story. So for those who want to play one of the greatest (if not the greatest) end of the world game of all time, definitely check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

On that point, I’m not here to write a synopsis or give away any spoilers. What I want to do is bring up two critical points. One here and the other to come in part deux, so for now, I hope you enjoy this one, and stay tuned for the next.

Okay, get back on track, Thompson.

So, after finishing the epic storyline I was left wondering…

I like to think my survival skills are pretty good. I’m not going to say expert level, nor do I have a hidden bunker deep in the mountains where I will ride out the apocalypse. That being said, when shit does go down, I think I will be adequately prepared. But for me, that isn’t the question the game inspired. The question (and problem) lies in my family and friends.

Enter Apocalypse Ethics Part One.

At what point do our loved ones become our demise?

Obviously I want every one of my family and friends to survive. I’d love to join the ranks of Bruce Willis, Stallone, Tom Cruise, and other action hero elites and save them in epic fashion. And after, they would join me in my survival quest and search for our perfect safe haven. However, let’s be real, not everyone is survival-inclined…so what happens to them?

If your besties aren’t as on-point as you are, do you leave them behind? Do we put ourselves in harm’s way to get them much needed medical supplies for an injury? What do we do if they start slowing us down? Or what if they make terrible choices that compromise your safety? These are just a few of hundreds of scenarios that The Last of Us left me thinking about. Take away the intensity, anxiety, (and for some like me, thrill) of survival horror, and as the characters Joel and Ellie experienced, what lengths do you go to protect the ones you love?

And to be honest, I’m not quite sure what I would do. The 99.9% of me thinks I would play the hero and make sure I save as many people as I can while still being saved myself, but let’s be honest with ourselves, that’s fantasy, “hero saves the day” bullshit, not real life.

So let’s introduce a scenario.

Imagine you are carrying your friend who has a broken leg and for fun, a pack of zombs are on your tail. You emerge from the forest into a small community. You think that if you can make it to one of the shops you can hide. Do you have enough time? What if the zombs sniff you out? Now you’re stuck playing the waiting game against the greatest waiters of all time. You won’t win.

Let’s adjust the scenario…you make it to the same town and attempt to out-navigate the brainless bastards. You round a corner, whoops, it’s the wrong corner, you were too busy helping your complaining friend that you missed the sign and you find yourself staring down a brick wall of a no-exit alley. Now the zombs got you trapped.

Let’s sweeten the deal even more…in this shitty situation, there’s a ladder to a fire escape at the end. There isn’t enough time for you to carry your friend there, so what do you do? Do you bail and save yourself? Or do you play the hero and use whatever weapons you can and go down fighting?

Decisions, decisions.

Also take a moment to consider your family and friends who aren’t as in-tuned to survival as you. You know how much water and food you need. You know to keep quiet and not draw any attention to any wandering walkers in the forest.

But what if your friend starts a loud argument and draws the attention of a group of zombs. Or sneaks out and through careless actions, unintentionally leads the undead back to you? Now your camp is compromised and you and yours are forced to hit the road again. How many times will your family and friends – the complainer sister, the idiot brother, the overly-confident parent, and the bravado-jock best friend – be allowed to undermine your safety? Do you keep them around or send ‘em off?

I suppose these are the moments in life that define us; the ones that put the true nature of our soul on display. That could be a bit over dramatic, but is it? Table that for a moment.

In all the zombie-planning out there, I think the psychological-element takes a back seat. The adrenaline thrill of escaping a city, dodging infected and action-hero-type moves are so rad to contemplate. Even the anxious “what do we do next” type questions are so much fun to play out. But what about the truly tough, soul crushing moments that rarely get thought about?

This brings me to a sub-point…

Let’s go back to our example and say you chose to abandon that loved one in the alley. You watch from the top of the fire escape as their body is bitten, ripped and torn to shreds; as their voice cries out in desperation, echoing in your mind and haunting your nightmares.

The scene is brutal and one you will never forget…BUT you are alive. Who’s to say that your decision is altruistically bad? What if by living, you end up escaping the town and later on into your apocalyptic travels, you end up saving someone or multiple people? Something you wouldn’t have been able to do if you were dead, or the newest member of Team-Zombie. So, would your down-the-line heroics make up for the past? Would that allow you to shed the regret? Or would you be stuck, never fully able to get beyond hating yourself for leaving your best friend? Does saving a stranger even compare with the love you abandoned?

I believe these points and mini scenarios are really important, because if you’re like me, I tend to think in terms of survival equipment/weapons, how to best escape from anywhere, and generally just being prepared. But what really happens when you are tested to the greatest extent that is sticking by the ones you love? When the impossible choice presents itself in the form of self preservation or loyalty.

And what about the results and aftermath of such choices? Would you be able to move on? Would grief drive you insane or worse?

Obviously we would never know until the moment comes, but I leave you with this…

As you’re busy packing your bug out bag, when you’re cleaning and polishing that beautiful weapon of choice, when you’re plotting out back-ups to your back up escape routes out of the city, take a second and think about your loved ones. Is escaping without them or living in a world without them something you would want? And if they join you in your survival trek, at what point do they stop being a friend and become a hindrance? Or would they be your friend to the end? And if so, would you have the unwavering courage to protect them until the bitter end?

Thanks for reading, world.

Good luck and stay scared.

-Thompson

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