The voice from the shadows told us – told everyone, all over the world – to watch Jerusalem in three hours. It was 5:05PM local time for me when it started.
We saw it through cameras on the ground, and then from helicopters. We saw Them for the first time. They had come through before, of course, but always under cover of night, always striking quickly and efficiently, tearing down walls, yanking people through shadows. They had never been given free rein before.
That night, He let slip the leashes. He opened the shadows, pointed toward Jerusalem, and said, “Go.”
And They came. They came out of the shadows underneath cars. They came from the shadows cast by the cooling buildings. They came from the shadows people cast walking home that night, or fleeing the city in terror. They boiled out of the shadows like fire ants on the warpath, and They destroyed everything They touched.
They caught the people first, of course. They didn’t carry them away. They tore them into pieces. I remember watching one of Their massive hands closing over a camera lens, and the feed stayed on long enough for us to hear the screaming stop, the desperate gasping breaths, and then snapping. No biting. No chewing. They don’t eat people. They don’t eat.
The cameras on the ground died off, and the feed went black. And I sat there in my apartment watching the feed. I had my desktop, my laptop, my spare laptop and my TV all running different newsfeeds, and they all went black. And the day around me was quiet. I heard crying from outside the window, but no traffic. There was no movement. There was nothing we could do but watch.
And then someone had the presence of the mind to switch to one of the helicopter cameras, and we realized just how bad it really was.
If the world around you is unsafe, if much of the population is gone and you are not allowed to self-identify in many of the same ways you used to, what do you do? Rather, what do you do as regards that situation? Do you just try and scrape together an existence? Maybe try and help others do the same? Or do you try and change things, to do the really dangerous work of trying to find a way to close the shadows, drive back the monsters, kill or neutralize Him, and rebuild the world?
Do you, in effect, light a candle or curse the darkness?
That, in brief, is the central conflict of the game. And I hasten to point out that the choice to curse the darkness isn’t “wrong.” Some people within the fictional setting view Him as a natural disaster, something that was not preventable and not really fixable. As such, fighting it is like standing proud against a hurricane – might make for a nice photo, but it’s essentially pointless. And then there are people who, as a matter of faith or principle, refuse to let another person define them, especially by force.
I’m fascinated by people. I love them, and it hurts me when they’re stupid or shortsighted or ugly to each other. I try and understand why people do what they do, good and bad. But what I’ve learned over the years is that understanding the motives for a person’s actions requires understanding that person in his/her own context. That is, it’s very easy for me to be judgmental about someone for behaving a certain way if I judge their actions the same way I judge my own, in the same situations. But I grew up comfortable and safe in the Midwest. I’m white and cis-gendered (though not Christian or straight, for what it’s worth). I have a perspective on the world that, frankly, does not lend itself to empathy or understanding unless I seek it out.
Part of the theme of curse the darkness, then, is why that kind of empathy is so important. When He decided to open the shadows and loose Them on the world, He didn’t do it because He is malicious. He did it, because, in aggregate, it was the most efficient way He could find to cleanse the world of what He believed was poisoning it – ideology. Profit-motivated destruction and oppression kills people the world over, so why not just remove “money” as a concept? Religion is paying lip service (at best) and committing murder and other atrocity (at worst) in the name of nothing, so why not pull down the churches and kill the priests and the imams and the rabbis? On balance, it makes sense (to Him). It makes sense because He lacks the empathy to see that other people’s decisions, even when they’re hurtful and stupid, aren’t His to make.
Despite what you’ll read in the fiction bits I post, it is possible, within the game setting, to change the world. But you have to be willing to fight and suffer. Characters die easily in curse the darkness, but remembering the fallen can help spur the survivors on. The hard part is knowing that, at any time, you can just give up. It’s not impossible to live the ruins, it’s not even particularly difficult.
You always have a choice. Light a candle or curse the darkness?