In partnership with Ubisoft—and for the launch of role-playing game The Division, based on a Tom Clancy novel—Paris agency BETC created "Collapse." This choose-your-own-adventure style online experience, darkly dubbed an "end of society simulator," plays on our secret desire to learn the answer to the question, "Will I survive the crisis that extinguishes 99 percent of humanity?"
Pop culture is filled with apocalyptic foreboding, from The Walking Dead to The Leftovers. (Building on the former, the CDC once released a zombie preparedness guide online. We have our evacuation plan locked and loaded. Do you?) But it isn't all dystopic imaginings. A survey of scientists from 2006, cited by science writer Sonia Shah, estimated that a global pandemic "that would sicken a billion people, kill 165 million people and cost the global economy about $3 trillion" will hit us in the next two generations.
"Collapse" plunges you directly into the action. It kicks off with a creepy message: "You have been infected with an unknown breed of smallpox. You are patient zero. Because of you, a worldwide pandemic is about to start. Based on real data, discover how long it takes for our world to collapse."
Yes—because of you, all those people are going to die. Your next series of choices determines how much time we have before the lights go out on humanity.
Location data is used to pin where you are, and iterate from there. In-game options are limited; the point is to engage as long as possible before hyping the actual game, so you can't just crawl into a bunker and wait.
To wit: You have to go to a hospital. Survivalists will wince at the obvious rookie mistake—but hey, suck it up and pick one that isn't too far or too crowded. It's nonetheless stunning to watch the game pan across a city you know as the rates of infected—and the deaths—tick upward. In less than two weeks, riots will break out.
(Remember: This is your fault.)
It took about 25 days to shut the planet down from where I live in Paris. We logged 5.7 million deaths per hour on average.
Once you've succeeded in killing everyone, share your stats on Facebook or Twitter, then check out the trailer for The Division (below), in which a squad of last resort—kind of like The Avengers, but militarized—is deployed to prevent what you inevitably couldn't.
In addition to scaring the shit out of us and being delightfully lag-free, "Collapse" wins at immersiveness and feeds on bruised pride. We want The Division, just to prove to somebody—anybody—that we'd obviously be the hero at world's end.
That's what's compelling: Everybody wants to be the hero, but cultural collapse is by nature zero-sum. It also reminds us of how dependent we are on one another, and how fragile that network is. Hospitals, communications, power, transport and banking are all affected in the small amount of time it takes to drive us toward whiplash-rapid doom.
Give it a go. No two versions will be quite alike. If you happen to live somewhere remote, you're likely to hold out longer than somebody in a globally centralized hub. Just know that what you're fighting for is a few days' equity, or even hours. All roads lead to the same end.