Surviving Humanity in Subnautica

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Image from twitter.com/subnautica

Like most survival video-games, Subnautica’s main premise is straightforward: you have crash-landed your spaceship on an alien planet. You have naught but your wits and the equipment on your landing pod to help you survive (think Robinson Crusoe in a futuristic alien world). Your main goal is to find food, fresh water, and shelter until you can find a way to get back home. Simple, right? Well, maybe not so much. I don’t mean that the gameplay is harder than it looks, but that the seemingly basic premise of the game is actually more complex than it seems. Right from the start, Subnautica presents you with two fundamental points about human survival: what you need to do vs. what you can do.

In the beginning of the game, this seems like a fairly easy choice. You need to find food and water to survive, so you craft a little hunting knife out of natural materials and go hunting. This action is clearly necessary, seeing as you would starve and die in the game if you didn’t hunt. However, as Subnautica progresses, the necessity of your actions becomes more and more questionable. Once you have your bare necessities covered, you can start acting arbitrarily, first crafting small things to make life easier (like the Seaglide which helps you swim faster), and then moving onto larger vehicles such as the Seamoth, and eventually gargantuan vehicles such as the Cyclops. What’s interesting about Subnautica is the subtlety with which it offers the player these options: it starts with little convenient tools that make surviving easier, and then moves onto larger, completely arbitrary structures. We as players are slowly conditioned to think in a way that goes from “A Seaglide will make swimming easier, surely I am justified in making that,” to “Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome having a giant submarine all to myself?”

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Image from unknownworlds.com

YouTuber jacksepticeye says in one of his Subnautica videos that humans don’t just kill the thing that’s in our way; we go the long way around and make it go extinct. It’s a joke, but it’s one that rings painfully true given our history of colonialism, imperialism, and eco-terrorism. The game thus gives you the choice to either become a person who takes from the environment with no regard for the consequences, or someone who lives comfortably while being conscious of their impact. Take jacksepticeye’s playthrough, for instance. At first, he just makes a small base for himself, even saying himself that he doesn’t want to change the environment too much. Later on, however, he essentially builds himself a small underwater city, complete with empty skyscrapers and an aquarium. He even makes a little amusement park on one of the islands in the game—and if that isn’t claiming a space as your own, nothing is.

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Image from youtube.com/jacksepticeye

The game developers themselves show an awareness of the player’s impact on the environment. When you first land in your starting area in the ocean, there are plenty of fish around that you can catch and eat. However, as the game progresses and you go fishing for food more and more often, the amount of fish available in that area dramatically decreases, and you end up having to go to new areas to find food. Now, this might just be the game increasing in difficulty to prompt the player to explore more, but in a game so detailed that the developers programmed your landing pod to gradually float away from its original position, it isn’t too far fetched to think they would also show the impact of your fishing on the marine ecosystem.

It’s also clear that humans are not at the top of the food chain in this ecosystem, nor are we meant to be. In fact, the only thing in the game that can cause any actual direct harm is a small hunting knife; almost every other handheld tool is either used for everyday convenience, or to affect the way something moves towards or away from you. Clearly, you are not meant to harm every creature you see. Subnautica is primarily a survival game, not a fighting one, and the developers stick to this principle.

By making it so difficult to harm anything larger than a medium sized fish, the game suggests that you are only supposed to kill that which you need to survive, leaving the larger creatures well enough alone—which of course doesn’t stop any of us from trying to kill a large Stalker or Reaper Leviathan. That’s kind of the point though; going after creatures bigger than you is an illogical yet conscious decision. It requires that you want to kill not for survival, but for sport. More importantly, it demands that you take personal responsibility for harming another organism purely out of enjoyment.

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Image from steam-user KroolTheField

This is why I think Subnautica has a much deeper meaning than what people might initially see: it shows how easy it can be, even for a decent, ordinary person, to let a conquest for personal gain or enjoyment cloud their judgment. Humanity has a tendency to claim any space we come across as our own, and we do so with little regard as to how we might affect the environment around us. As a result, humans are not the ones struggling to survive anymore; it’s everything else on the planet. We see examples of this everywhere we go: condos built where parks used to be, increasingly hot summers breaking a new record every year, invasive species choking out our indigenous ones. We see the detrimental impact our consumption has had on the environment, yet most of us still carry on with our usual lives. This passivity may be the most harmful thing of all. In doing nothing, we are forgetting one fundamental truth about human existence on this planet: our ability to thrive on Earth comes at the cost of the Earth itself.

So, yes: Subnautica is just a game. But it’s a game that says a lot about how easily humans can claim spaces as their own, and how our choices impact the world. It’s the choices we make as the player that show how aware we are of the environment. The game itself doesn’t force players to build a gigantic base to progress, nor do we need to go kill larger creatures to survive. It merely presents these options to us, and we, the players, decide what we build and how we use it. While many of us might be quick to claim that we would never willingly do anything to harm the environment, the fact is that we already have. Anyone can play this game, anyone can impact the environment, and anyone can move on without a second thought. The only question is, will you?

-Contributed by Carine Lee

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Jessica Jones and the Mechanics of “Post-Series Depression”

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Image from afterellen.com

Warning: The following content contains spoilers.

While I should have been studying for exams, I finally gave in to the hype and watched the first episode of Jessica Jones… and then the second episode, quickly followed by the third. Several days later, I found myself finishing the entire first season and dealing with that strange post-series depression; the kind of ache that arises only after you know you have finished a great show.

I know I’m late to the party since Jessica Jones aired on Netflix in November 2015, but this empty, void-like feeling after finishing this great show has got me thinking—why do we feel this way only when we have finished something that we really enjoy? After mulling over this for quite some time, I decided to do what I always do when I do not know the answer to something: write about it. I have decided that the answer to this question lies within Jessica Jones itself, or more specifically, its treatment of human psychology.

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Image from screenrant.com

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Jessica Jones is a Netflix series produced by Marvel that follows the titular character’s quest to stop a mind-controlling psychopath named Kilgrave. Kilgrave himself is fixated on Jessica, and will stop at nothing to possess her. The show is one of the few television programs that accurately depicts a psychologically-tormented protagonist with an equally psychologically-complex villain. Characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum suffer from mental illness. This is one of the reasons that Jessica Jones is so complex and compelling—it shows that people with mental illness are neither inherently bad nor good. Illness has no direct causal effect on a person’s morality, and thus we must examine the other, deeper reasons behind a character’s actions.

Everything about Jessica Jones is phenomenal, except for one glaring aspect that I find myself somewhat troubled with: Kilgrave’s death. There were so many interesting avenues to develop—Kilgrave was obsessed with gaining power and in one of his last scenes, his father warned him that the serum to expand his abilities might kill him. It was the perfect set-up for his death: in trying to develop his powers, his quest to become more powerful would end up killing him. Jessica’s ethical conundrum of having to kill someone would be avoided because Kilgrave’s own mad desire for control would do it for her.

So imagine my disappointment when Kilgrave falls for Jessica’s trap and gets himself killed in what felt like the most anti-climactic death in the entire series. I was so upset at this seeming cop-out of an ending. I ranted to all my friends about it, wrote this angry blog post about it… until I started thinking about why I was really so distraught by Kilgrave’s death.

I missed him.

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Image from screenrant.com

I missed Kilgrave, the psychopathic, mind-controlling, cold-blooded murderer who rapes women and makes people commit suicide with his voice alone—but let me explain. I did not miss the unspeakable acts that Kilgrave committed. Rather, I missed Tennant’s chilling yet incredibly entertaining performance of him. I missed seeing what Kilgrave was up to next, and guessing at how he was going to carry out his next grand plan. Most of all, I lamented the potential to explore the possibilities of Kilgrave’s powers as a villain.

It is here that we come back to that empty feeling, that “post-series depression” we all get when we finish a great show. I would like to examine the effects of post-series depression first through the series’ most captivating (albeit disturbing) character, Kilgrave. He is a textbook psychopath, cunning and manipulative with an aura of superficial charm, and a complete lack of guilt for the atrocious acts he has committed. He does not see people as individuals, but rather as tools for his entertainment; characters in a play of which he is the director. We see this in the way he treats and imagines Jessica—although he claims to love her, he has no problem in trying to kill both her and the people she loves. What Kilgrave loves about Jessica is his ability to control her, to possess her, and it is this control that Kilgrave misses about Jessica when she is gone.

On a less extreme level, we miss our shows in the same manner. We miss our everyday interactions with them, seeing the characters we love, and the degree of control in what we choose to watch and when. Once the show finishes, we do our best to find other shows similar to the one we have just finished, but it is never really quite the same. Kilgrave’s character demonstrates the darker implications of this emptiness, since he tries to replace Jessica with Hope Schlottman (with the hope of filling the void), but this ultimately fails. Kilgrave’s behaviour demonstrates that possessiveness towards the things we love is not by any means the kind of relationship we should strive for.

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Image from rollingstone.com

Jessica is the offered solution to this problem in the show. Although she suffers from depression and PTSD, she does not let these illnesses define her, nor is she isolated by them. On the contrary, Jessica has people she cares about and people who care about her. Despite her repeated attempts to “not give a shit,” she finds herself caring about people anyway, and in the end she chooses to accept these friendships rather than reject them.

It is worth noting that all of Jessica’s plans to defeat Kilgrave fail, and it is not until she starts including her friends in her plans that they start making progress. She includes her best friend, Trish, in her plan to take down Kilgrave. In addition, the very last scene shows Malcolm, one of Jessica’s allies, answering Jessica’s phone at her apartment, and viewers are left with the hopeful assumption that Jessica and Malcolm are to run Alias Investigations together.

Maybe the right way to love our shows is not to find another one to replace them with, nor to let post-series depression keep us from discovering new things, but to share our experiences with the people we care about. Having a good relationship with art means having a good relationship with people; we should want to share the things we love with others, not keep them exclusively to ourselves. It’s the reason we always want our friends to watch the same shows that we do, so that we can talk about the shows with them and have a shared experience. In a way, it is like we are keeping our experience of the show alive in our everyday conversations so that, technically, a show is never really over if we keep talking about it—and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

-Contributed by Carine Lee

The Rise of Zombie Culture: Undead Politics in In the Flesh

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Illustration by Stephanie Gao

With all the blood-spattered graphic t-shirts, movies, popular zombie TV shows (I’m looking at you, The Walking Dead), and the plethora of oncoming zombie apocalypse memes (get your chainsaws ready, folks), there’s no denying that we’ve developed a pretty big fascination with zombies within contemporary media culture. But really, is it any wonder? There’s quick-fire action, saving the world from impending zombie doom, and characters who always look amazing no matter how many undead bodies they’ve fought through. What’s not to like?

Putting all the gory fun aside, it’s no accident that zombies have made their return (no pun intended) into our mainstream culture in recent years. With the dramatic increase of unemployment following the global stock market crash in 2008, there came a substantial increase in the number of people who were suddenly seen as disposable and unneeded. People were losing their jobs, homes, and families, and who were the banks to blame if not immigrants and the poor? (Of course, they could blame themselves, but that involves accepting the responsibility and consequences of their actions, which they seem immorally opposed to.) The recent influx of zombie movies reflects this social phenomenon: the more people who turn into zombies, the more people there are who need to be disposed of.

The zombies in recent media are no longer slow and encumbered. Now, they’re fast, violent, and infinitely more threatening to “civilized” life, not unlike the rapidly growing number of people living below the poverty line. When did all these zombie movies come out? You guessed it—right after the stock market crash in 2008. In fact, the recent rise in zombie culture coincides almost exactly with the stock market crash in 2008. The satirical zombie film Zombieland came out in 2009, with Resident Evil: Afterlife following it a year later. Major zombie TV shows and blockbusters came out not long after, such as The Walking Dead in 2010, and World War Z in 2013. All these shows and films have one thing in common: kill the zombies, save the world.

One notable exception to this trend is the BBC show In the Flesh, in which the world has already survived a zombie apocalypse. The government is reintegrating medicated zombies, treated for what they call “Partially Deceased Syndrome” or “PDS”, back into society. The story centres on one particular PDS sufferer, Kieran Walker, and his struggles coming back to his zombie-hating hometown of Roarton as well as his flashbacks to the people he killed during his untreated state. In a refreshing twist, In the Flesh doesn’t cast the zombie as something to be protected from, but rather presents PDS sufferers as people worthy of protection, while the zealously religious people of the town are the ones cast as dangerous. In doing so, the show flips the traditional rhetoric of the zombie story—what if you didn’t need to kill the zombie anymore? What if the “civilized” people were the danger instead?

These questions speak to a larger societal context in which the world is divided into good, ordinary subjects and those who are a threat to them. In examining these issues further, the show unmasks certain forms of systemic violence that often go unnoticed in contemporary society. The way the people of Roarton treat zombies is a lot like the way racialized subjects are systematically discriminated against in today’s post-colonial society. This issue is especially relevant today with social media campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter or #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. The people of Roarton treat PDS sufferers as threats to society, monsters that need to be eradicated, so any violence done against them is justified—celebrated, even. There is even a small group of volunteer military forces called the HVF (Human Volunteer Force) who are celebrated as war heroes for having killed PDS sufferers in their untreated state. If this dehumanization of a marginalized group is starting to sound sadly familiar, it should. This is exactly the way we’ve disguised and justified violence against racialized bodies and people with mental illness. Luckily, In the Flesh actively refuses to participate in this troubling logic. By framing the zombie as someone who is worthy of protection, In the Flesh humanizes those who we’ve come to think of as monsters, and offers us alternative ways of thinking about and responding to this violence.

In the Flesh also concerns itself with realistic representations of mental illness, both real and fictional, which is a nice departure from shows that either perpetuate the stigma around mental illness or avoid the subject altogether. In the Flesh deals with a fictional mental illness, PDS, but also very real ones like Kieran’s depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Kieran is haunted by memories of the people he hurt in his untreated state and of events leading up to his death as a human. What’s interesting about this is that the show treats all of these illnesses, fictional or otherwise, as equally worthy of treatment and acknowledgement. It rejects the notion of people with mental illnesses as “crazy” or senselessly irrational, and instead presents them as real, suffering people in need of help. However, the show is also careful not to aggressively force happiness onto its characters—it makes a conscious effort to accurately depict the amount of time it takes for a person to overcome mental illness, which can be comforting to those who feel like they may never get better.

If you are looking for a thought-provoking, thematically interesting show to binge watch, In the Flesh is a pretty good place to start. Unfortunately, it’s only two seasons and nine episodes, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you’re interested in unconventional post-apocalyptic narratives. All episodes are available on BBC iPlayer for streaming online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b042ckss, and if you’ve watched the show and want a third season, you can support the show by posting #SaveInTheFlesh on your social media.

Happy watching!

-Contributed by Carine Lee

Still not convinced whether or not to watch In the Flesh? Perhaps one of our earlier reviews can help convince you!