Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture's British village of Yaughton should evoke relief, a retreat, escapism. “It’s good to get out of the city for a while”, you exhale, as you trek along the moors and find a deep calm in voluntary isolation; not a soul in sight. It’s spiritually reparative, a literal breath of fresh air.
When I was eight, we moved from West Manchester to a tiny village in Lancashire, where I lived until I was eighteen. No more than thirty houses made up the population. A babbling brook with three bridges bisected the inhabitants, the village itself beset on all sides by fields, farms and moors. When I left home, right up until my parents eventually moved a couple of years ago, I'd return every Christmas and, on boxing day, I would go for a walk on the moors by myself.
There's something magical about tramping up a series of hills, the odd curious ram keeping you on your toes, to reach a place devoid of other people. The more you walk, the fewer signs of humanity there are, from the cottages, to the old, disused caravan in the field leading up to the moors, to nothing but swishing reeds, dull green plains and the trickle of rivers. There’s nothing like the priceless peace of turning around full circle and finding yourself completely alone.
I'd sit by a tree and think about everything that had happened; the quietest moment of the year. Sometimes, I wouldn't reflect at all, I'd just appreciate the value of true, pure silence. I'd marvel at how still it was. The landscape around there has changed very little since civilisation as we know it began, and it almost feels like it's just me, I'm the only one left.
There would come a point when the feeling gradually shifted from peaceful to uncomfortable, and I would cautiously pick my way back down the hills. Evidence of the existence of others would enter my view with increasing frequency, until I passed a farmer juddering along in his tractor, and we'd give each other the nigh-on imperceptible "farmer's nod": a two degree dip and raise of the forehead.
When being completely alone isn’t a choice, when you can't just nip down the hill and find someone to talk to, that silence is suffocating. Yaughton's empty pubs, cottages and caravans shows another side of rural Britain; a picturesque prison where isolation is the overpowering sensation.
This is reflected in the human stories you discover; trails of light form into vaguely humanoid patterns, and echoes of previous events and encounters play out in front of you. All you can do is listen, though, and the more voices you hear, and the more you get to know these people and who they were, the more alone you feel. Just like you, they were trapped in this village, too. Everything they know is here, and to venture out beyond Yaughton's reach is unthinkable to many.
I've seen these stories - these people, even - play out in my own life. A close-knit community divided by an 'outsider', someone with money and personal interests. The landscape changes, socially, physically, spiritually, and people become separated by more than just a brook. A community so small and close seldom survives division of its inhabitants. Fetes and house parties become less and less frequent. Short walks to the post box, once peppered with encounters, gradually diminish and become lonely strolls through a ghost town. People come to the countryside for the slow pace, for the peace and quiet and to be closer to nature, but even the smallest village is nothing without its people.
I've seen many screenshots of the game of people admiring the views and getting shots of the sun beaming through gaps in the trees, the rolling hills kissed by the golden sun. I didn't get that out of the game. I was too busy being gripped by the horror of isolation. I'd jump out of my skin when I'd encounter a memory suddenly playing out, and journeying upstairs inside an abandoned cottage to discover the next snippet of story became an exercise in dread.
I remember our first night in the cottage. It was so completely, impossibly silent I couldn't sleep. Moving from a house outside a busy road to absolute silence was unnerving. I looked out of my bedroom window and was met with total darkness. A single, dull street lamp struggled to cast its rays across the length of the nearby bridge. At the end of ...Rapture's first act, the cosmos is laid bare before you, an impossible blanket of stars. The night swallows you; it's the game's memento mori - just rememberyou are a sliver of light, a single flash between two unfathomable chasms of darkness.
We may feel small when we are presented with the observable universe; we may feel our time is short when compared to all of history; we may think our human interactions are of little import when the end of the world is an inevitability, but it's all we have. And it is important, it is worthwhile. From the village pastor to the world leader; from two young lovers deciding to run away together to someone making a historical scientific breakthrough, we all leave our mark in one way or another, however small and however temporary, until it's all gone.
For more - a huge photo story on the game - go