I vividly remember the Protect & Survive booklet, which appeared in the early 1980s, along with a series of instructional videos. There’s something profoundly British about them: that stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on mentality, which makes them all the more tragic. It’s a tone we really wanted to capture in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
Aside from the (looking back at it) madness of producing a booklet that suggested you could survive a nuclear war by stacking a few doors against the wall at a forty-five degree angle and stocking a couple of weeks’ worth of food, there’s a weirdly resigned air about the booklet. It’s like the scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden explains the psychology of air safety leaflets to Jack – it’s about making calm, creating an illusion of OK-ness that’s just tragic in its absurdity.
But there’s also something genuinely wonderful about it, and it’s no surprise the booklet had its origins in a WWII information pamphlet about air raids. The notion of the ‘Blitz spirit’, the myth of the vastly outnumbered, beleaguered English facing down impossible odds with a mix of belligerence and serenity is a powerful thing in our national psyche. The defining moment of Blitz spirit is captured at the end of the 1977 movie A Bridge Too Far, when the German commander, having the tiny English force more or less helpless, calls a truce to discuss terms for surrender. “We haven’t the proper facilities to take you all prisoner, sorry” is the reply from the umbrella carrying Major Carlyle, “was there anything else?”
What matters, in the face of calamity, are the little things. This is a game about ordinary people who stare down the apocalypse like Major Carlyle, mildly irritated by the fact that the end of the world means there won’t be time to get the washing in, or pop to the shop for some bacon, or meet Harry down the pub. Alongside the cosy catastrophe fiction we took inspiration from, there’s a vein of absurdist humour present, that writers like Douglas Adams and Raymond Briggs mined so successfully. But if it’s a little ridiculous, it’s also got a genuine spirit and heart to it – and that’s crucial to Rapture. Even if stacking doors against the wall and moving grandma into an inner refuge, complete with carriage clock and pet dog is darkly comic, there’s a nobility to it as well that forms the emotional core of the game. The inhabitants of Yaughton meet their end in many ways, but it’s those that lift their heads and stare down the apocalypse with courage and a quiet dignity that really stay with you.
Dylan Thomas famously wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night… rage, rage against the dying of the light” . For the English, for the valley of Yaughton, the rage is often replaced with a very practical, very calm putting of things in order. There’s another poem that I’ve always loved, written by Henry Reed, about a young man receiving rifle training before being sent to war, to kill and probably be killed, daydreaming about the beauty of the world outside the barracks window: “the almond-blossom / Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards, / For to-day we have naming of parts.”
This Protect & Survive video, made by Sony’s Creative Group, brilliantly captures the tone and feel of those strange, life-affirming pamphlets and videos. Like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, they are about putting things right, making sure everything is in its right place, preparing for a dignified exit. This is a game about the naming of parts.