Episode 553 - The King of Executive Function Returns

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://shows.acast.com/vicegamingsnewpodcast/episodes/episode-553-the-king-of-executive-function-returns

This is an abominably bad take from Ren regarding Terra Nil. The earth and the environment will not and do not just fix themselves. Yes, some forms of animal and plant life thrive quickly and easily in abandoned environments, but proper restoration of environments does requires intensive human intervention. If we just leave a space alone it may become home to deer and rabbits, but it will not (on a human timescale) go back to anything resembling its natural state. With active effort, natural environments can be restored in a few years or even just a few months.

And, somehow, the idea that we, collectively, have a responsibility (much less the capacity) to fix the problems we’ve caused is a bad thing? That is an almost reactionary take, to be honest. Optimism is the essence of leftism, not its antithesis.

I also don’t get how saying “now we’ve fixed it and we’re leaving it completely” is about human dominion over nature when it’s explicitly, textually the opposite.


Considering how many huge purchases he’s made in the past year, I’m getting concerned about Rob’s finance situation.

Speaking of fucked computers, my PC has had intermittent boot problems for years now, but it works every time, as long as I try to boot it twice. I cannot wait for that thing to just not boot one day so I can throw it off a bridge, but until it doesn’t, I’m not buying a new PC.


Restoration ecology is fascinating and surprisingly effective on fairly short timescales. A single professor and some student volunteers at my tiny college turned the area around an abandoned coal mine into a thriving tallgrass prairie using mostly hand tools and fire.


I know my ADHD frequently manifests in ill-advised purchases and mounting debt, and have similar concerns. I sure hope there is a degree of “we’re laughing about this for content but actually it’s fine!” and less “should people be staging an intervention?”

New rig sounds sick though.


There’s a great piece in this month’s Unwinnable where Kathryn Hemmann talks about this. It’s about how elden ring centers this exact thing with Caelid. The piece locked behind their monthly fee, but I’ll post the opening paragraph.

“Many post-apocalyptic open-world games, such as Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn, present the player with a thriving green landscape to explore. Elden Ring, despite the dark tone of its story, initially seems to offer similarly beautiful vistas – until the player arrives in Caelid. The environmental storytelling of Caelid, where a hellish catastrophe is still ongoing, delivers an effective message regarding the destruction of the natural world. Caelid resists the postapocalyptic fantasy that the detrimental effects of human activity on the environment are temporary and reversible, thereby underscoring Elden Ring’s brutal critique of the abuse of power.”

Great piece! Go grab it here: Unwinnable Monthly - March 2023 - #161 | Unwinnable


I haven’t read the article, because of the paywall, but based on that opener, I’m still not sure it’s a better take than Ren’s. Like, yes, human intervention is never going to be completely reversible. There are permanent impacts to the Gulf Coast ecosystem thanks to Deepwater Horizon, but the same can also be true about the island of Manhattan ever since humans plopped New York City on it. That’s certainly not to say we shouldn’t check our hubris and assume that because we can remediate an ecosystem, that we are absolved of the initial damage. But remediation itself is an important and noble endeavor that is absolutely necessary to heal an ecosystem, because without that further human intervention, damage can linger and continue to affect the flora and fauna in the area.

Like, Alberta has massive oil tailings ponds which poison vast swathes of the prairie ecosystem. They’ve sat for decades and nothing has improved. The only way to move forward is direct human intervention, not simply trusting nature to clean up our mess.


The take is more like that since games are obsessed with apocalypses and have to depict so many version of them that it is notable that so many go for the “nature is healing” vibe. That the grasses and forests will come back and claim it all.
But, as you say, that’s not the whole story. There is change that we perpetrate that cannot be “healed” on it’s own. And the article sets up a bunch of that context and more and talks about how the environmental storytelling around Caelid push against those assumptive “nature will be fine if we leave it alone” apocalypse tropes.

Not disagreeing with anything you said. Just trying to clarify the article a bit more.


That doesn’t really seem to understand what Horizon is about, since the primary theme of the world itself is the ongoing and extremely complex process of habitat reconstruction. The robot animals are literally there to fix the environment. It’s the exact opposite of “nature is healing” because the entire point is that humans must dedicate massive resources to fixing what they’ve destroyed. It seems like they may not have played the games at all. They’re pretty thoughtful when it comes to environmentalism. I generally don’t agree with their take that these problems are reversible. They get reversed all the time. One day, society will fix what we’ve done. It’s just a matter of how hard we make it first.

Anyways, I do agree with you that environmental restoration must be an active process. I’ve been playing Terra Nil quite a lot and it’s a really beautiful experience.

To address another specific criticism of Ren’s: that the technology in the game is magic. I would say: not at all. It’s mostly earth relocation, renewable energy, recycling, and pollution removal. It’s basically all the same technology we use today for this process, but it’s just faster and more efficient. Nothing happening is even close to magical except that the game is not simulationist. I’d say it’s actually making a very intentional point that the technology to fix the environment exists today and could be effectively and efficiently deployed if we bothered to. I’d be curious what specifically she thinks is “magical” - maybe the toxin removers?


Jackissocool basically already said this, but since I had it sitting the drafts:

Yeah, using the Horizon series as a touchstone for uncritical depictions of nature in the post-apocalypse feels a bit misguided. The natural world of Horizon is not thriving, and in need of guiding hand in order to stabilize. The story is explicitly about how humans were responsible for the destruction of the biosphere and are equally responsible for repairing it. However in both the destruction and the rehabilitation they inevitably leave lasting traces and alterations to the landscape and all living things. This isn’t deep lore, buried-in-audio-logs stuff either, its the A plot of the game.

Not knocking the article otherwise (and haven’t read it in full yet), its an interesting narrative to surface it just sounds like Horizon would make for a better companion to Caelid rather than an example of its opposite.


I hate to be the “well actually…” guy, but I feel like the idea that many post apocalyptic worlds feature lush reclaimed nature doesn’t feel right. Horizon and Zelda kind of feel like exceptions as opposed to the rule. TLoU, Gears of War, basically every zombie game, Fallout, Metro, STALKER, Nier, etc, a big part of most of these is walking through the remaining ruins of human civilization and what it did to the environment. It doesn’t feel like a “nature heals itself” message here even in games that have some more open stretches of green.