October 18, 2010
It’s amazing the things you learn when the world ends.
Well, not the real world. Any writers out there can back me up on this: when you write something in a genre or topic you’re unfamiliar with, research can be one of the most rewarding parts of the process. History, science, sociology, or whatever else you jump into can open new avenues of knowledge.
This isn’t really a writing project, but I’m running a post-apocalyptic RPG for some friends and I wanted to do a little research into survivalist tactics, how to rebuild society, and what to expect when aliens reduce human civilization to pre-industrial levels.
For any fellow gamers out there, it’s partially based on the Plague World setting in the d20 Apocalypse handbook.
Anyway, I did some research to bring details into the narrative, give some color and originality to the world of 2172 CE, and otherwise make things more than just numbers on a sheet. Overall, I found out many interesting things I’d like to share.
Are You Going to Eat That?
The first problem our heroes encountered was the lack of food in their bunker. After being frozen for 140 years, their rations, well, didn’t fare so well. One of the first things they found was a farming community in what was once South Bend, Indiana. What would these people, these survivors, grow?
It’s easy enough to find out that Indiana grows potatoes and corn, but I needed more crops that this new civilization would grow, so I looked up what kinds of food would give the most sustenance and give the most benefit in this forsaken landscape.
It turns out the French beat me to it.
A pair of French companies have put together a list for the European Space Agency on what astronauts should grow for a colony on Mars. Seeing as how this future Earth is almost barren, this made the best sense to use. So what do our humans eat and grow?
Rice, onions, tomatoes, soy, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, wheat, and spirulina. Meat would be scarce since it takes more energy and resources, and hunting’s not really an option since the wilderness is dominated by mutants. I figured with trade with other surviving cities throughout the region and the country, they could easily have a diet composed of these items.
And just what is spirulina, you may ask?
Why, it’s miracle food!
Actually, it’s an algae that contains massive amounts of protein and vitamins. It’s pretty versatile, although reports vary as to how good it tastes. I figured some alien algae brought by the invaders would make for a good substitute, and the image of getting paid in blue bread made from ground algae made for an interesting roleplaying moment. In the real world, dietary plans like this are actually starting to make more sense. With meat perhaps becoming a luxury in a few years, soy and algae-based substitutes may be a necessity.
We’ve got Shakespeare, Beethoven, and George Romero
Okay, so you’ve decided to put some records, personnel, and equipment on deep freeze in case the aliens win. You’re going to want them to rebuild society should the worst happen, so you want them to have records to do so. Maybe you want to go all out and, if you have the resources of an entire government, back-up all the data on Earth to just start over.
How many pen drives would that take?
Turns out, a lot more than I thought.
This article lays it out, but here’re the basic conclusions.
If you want to back up the Library of Congress, movies, audio, images, and all, get ready to use at least 3,000 terabytes.
That’s right. Terabytes. As in one thousand gigabytes.
As in 1.5 million USB drives like the one I use.
That’s 4 million CDs.
Of course, the story starts in 2030, and we’re not going to be using modern computer technology. By then, we could very well be using holographic memory storage, which is what I used to describe the computers in the bunker our heroes use as their base.
Holographic storage is pretty cool. Imagine writing a book and, instead of writing lines of text on the page, you could actually write over the original text over and over again and read different pages just by altering the angle at which you hold the paper. Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but you get the idea. Holographic memory allows for high-density storage, up to tens of terabytes per square centimeter of memory area, and would be ideal for an end-of-the-world bunker.
It’s also good to store lots of other information like manuals, music, and film to preserve after the end of civilization. Hey, if we save Mozart, we’re saving Buffy the Vampire Slayer too.
Remember: Short, Controlled Bursts
This one isn’t a science lesson so much as an observation. This is a role-playing game, after all, and my players are very immersed in the story. It’s also hitting them that civilization’s been destroyed. The alien invaders didn’t quite win since they’ve been reduced to scavenging on Earth as well.
Our heroes have dozens of guns and thousand of rounds of ammunition, but something else is hitting them.
They’re alone. Very alone.
America is gone. Everyone they left behind has been dead for more than a hundred years. There is nothing in the world, they believe, that resembles a society beyond the few cities and towns scattered over a blighted continent. This is very much unlike every other RPG they’ve played or any other situation they’ve ever had to roleplay.
There is no support. No back-up. The weapons they have and the training they’ve accumulated are all they have.
They are alone.
For a few minutes this week, they really just stopped and asked, “What’s the point? What are we doing? What are our goals?!”
It was too big for them. Mind you, they’ve roleplayed fantasy heroes trying to save the multiverse from dark elves, demons, and whatnot, but this hit them hard. I like to think I’m pretty good at running RPGs, but the level of detail I gave them helped put their characters in the right state of mind. It’s bordering on horror in some areas.
And that’s why you research for everything from an RPG to a short story. The details, everything from blue bread to the kinds of guns these pre-Industrial humans are now using, make it real and make it that much more interesting. Nothing beats an internet connection or a trip to the library to bring your work to life.
And now for some slightly less apocalyptic things. Sort of.
- A group of high school girls is encouraging other girls to go without make-up and assert that they are beautiful. It’s getting a lot of support, and I am all for this kind of affirmation of natural beauty.
- Religion can be used to kill, but have you ever seen someone make a gun out of the Bible? It’s really neat!
- When the world ends, which city will help repopulate the world? If this study is any indication, the high sexual satisfaction in Indianapolis, Indiana may make it the future center of a rebuilt empire. Well, not really. The study just tried to find the most sexually satisfied city. Go, Indiana!
- The Angry Video Game Nerd is a bit of an internet sensation, but here, sans Angry Nerd character, he explores the Night of the Living Dead cemetery and finds some very interesting things. It’s a must for any Romero fan!
- Ever wanted to make money just sitting around? You can! No, really. I’m not selling pyramid schemes. If you’re willing to let drug companies test their products on you, you can actually make a killing. Of course, the downside is that you’re letting drug companies test their drugs on you… but hey, you get to sit around! Who wants to be a human lab rat? Think they give you one of those running wheels?
- J. K. Rowling is apparently a much more meticulous planner than me when it comes to fiction. Check out her chart for one of her stories. Now THAT’S pre-writing. I should show this to my class.
- Whoever is marrying this girl is in for the wedding night of his life!
- Speaking of the End of the World, Beck now claims environmentalists worship the ancient Babylonian god Baal. No, I didn’t make it up. He claims he read about it in the Bible.
- And finally, I got this from reader Jeremy Jones and had to share it. If you are against gay marriage, you’re really against gay love. Check it out. Warning: NSFW.