So, why the 50s?
Today’s game is Destroy All Humans!, a PS2-era release featuring a wayward alien that decides to visit the United States and maybe steal a few humans’ brain stems while he’s in the area. The basic concept of the title is “Grand Theft Alien”, and it plays almost exactly like the other GTA-alikes of the era. Run around, cause some mischief, watch your wanted meter go up, and maybe hop in a flying saucer to wreck up the place from a high altitude. The cities are separated into distinct stages, but mission markers are still all over the place, and you’ve certainly got fifty or so collectibles to dig up in every area for additional brain goo points. It’s an entertaining package from start to finish, and, of the many GTA clones of the age, DAH! is one of the few that stands on its own two stubby, alien feet.
And, despite the fact that all of this could take place at practically any point in history (that had rocket launchers), Destroy All Humans! is set in 1959, with a heavy emphasis on the 50’s aesthetic. So… why?
The best and first answer is obvious: Destroy All Humans! is lampooning the “alien invasion” films that were so prevalent during the late 50’s and early 60’s. The rise of cinema and technology led naturally to giant radioactive ants and horrors from beyond the stars. Sure, the “special effects” were achieved by imposing zoomed-in stock footage of insects over stock footage of panicking teenagers, and, yes, your average flying saucer was literally a saucer on a string, but, hey, everybody had a good time. Or maybe it was just Ed Wood. Regardless, it is no accident that Plan 9 From Outer Space was released the same year as Destroy All Humans!’s setting.
But that raises the next apparent question: Why were alien movies popular during the 50s? And that earns another simple answer: nuclear annihilation. We have a rather idyllic view of 1950s America, but it was maybe not the best time to have high blood pressure. The period immediately following World War 2 was peaceful and happy and incidentally home to The Cold War. Need a quick history lesson? USA and USSR (Russia) relations were at an all-time low, and there was a general fear that our neighbors across the ocean were going to blow our country to kingdom come any ol’ day. So, yes, there were demure housewives and men with ridiculous hats smoking pipes, but there were also air raid sirens, and children learning to hide under desks in the event of a bomb that could level an entire city (.… desks were more resilient then). It was in this air of general pleasantness/paranoia that an alien invasion seemed likely and/or entertaining. After all, did it matter if “death from above” was scary Ruskies or scary aliens? Same vaporization, so same difference.
So all of that makes sense. A country’s monsters reflect its fears, and, like how orange clowns are currently our number one dread, aliens from beyond the stars menaced the good people of the 50s. That all makes sense specifically for Destroy All Humans!, but what about other 50s based games? What about 50s games that didn’t feature aliens, like Mafia 2, Harvester, or the perennial Violence Fight? None of these games are exactly Mario Bros, but there seem to be more 50s-based titles than any other decade that happened to sneak into a digital title. And, no, “World War 2” is not a decade. We’re talking about conflicts on the home soil!
And then it occurred to me: the 50s is our horror story.
The 50s were frightening thanks to the ever looming threat of total destruction, but, aside from that, it was a pretty good time for everybody. A chicken in every pot, a pipe in every mouth, and little Billy was outside playing cowboys and Indians while Howdy Doody kept the airwaves safe. Men were working toward a better future in our steel mills, coal mines, and hat factories, and women were home making a butter-based casserole that would instantly kill the cardiovascular system of a modern human. Nobody locked their doors, the police officers were friendly, and criminals were all sentenced to goofy striped shirts. Everything was perfect for everybody!
… Except if your skin was anything but a lovely shade of pale white. Anybody else? There are going to be problems. Remember chain gangs? Yeah, you’re probably going to wind up there. Say hi to the warden for me!
In all seriousness, at this point, I want to believe that we are all well aware that “the good old days” were racist as hell. But the 50s didn’t have the messy social upheaval of the late 60s or 70s, and it didn’t have the dream denied sadgasms of the 80s and 90s, so it is still looked to as a time in our not too distant past when we had television, TV dinners, and happy times for everybody. We want to believe in that pleasant past, but we’re also vaguely aware of the problems. We all know that the image of the happy little nuclear family is just as imaginary as Camelot, and, when you get right down to it, we know that the 50s were great for one specific group of people, and an absolute horror show for everybody else.
And we’re afraid that nothing has changed.
Unlike during the 50s, it is not impossible for a person of color to hold a position of power nowadays. If we really try, we can still remember President Obama, and, while she might not be the best choice in the world, the fact that President Oprah is even being considered is a fine sign of how far we’ve come. The idea of a black woman president was once the exclusive domain of sci-fi, and now it’s something that can be freely discussed on the evening news. And that’s great! But what isn’t great is that we are all painfully aware that we live in a world where racism is out and proud. And it’s not just morons burning crosses on lawns, its freaking 66% of white voters in Alabama voting for Roy “Accused Pedophile, Avowed Racist” Moore. The fact that he got a voting block larger than zero is absurd, but, nope, he can count on 66% of whites in his state to say, “Nah, that’s okay with me.” Every day, it becomes more and more obvious that President Trump is less an elected official, and more a living testament to just how pissed off a significant chunk of our nation was at the mere thought of another “minority” president.
And you think about any of that for longer than five seconds, and it’s hard not to imagine that the “greatest” of our society only exist thanks to the horribleness right below the surface. Old money earned on the backs of slaves propels the current generation to richer and wealthier pastures. Technology is cheap and affordable and only got that way thanks to foreign markets with atrocious labor laws. Even our beloved videogames are designed and created by teams of educated, intelligent people that are often forced to work inhumane hours just so we can play the silly game with the alien man without delays. It is impossible to not know how much suffering keeps our western society running (and anyone lacking that basic empathy has no excuse. They are monsters), and we all know that, deep down, we’re no more evolved than the silly housewives and salarymen of the 50s. Our fashion might be better, and we might have slightly superior taste in music, but we’re still humans, and we’re still perfectly willing to overlook suffering if it means we’re the tiniest bit more comfortable.
And that’s what’s scary about the 50s. That’s why we keep looking back to that bygone era not with pride, but with an uneasy fear. We like to imagine we’ve changed, we like to imagine that 70 years ago was “way back when”, but, when we acknowledge the ugly reality of the situation, we know that we haven’t come far enough. We’ve gotten better, but we’re still not great, and reminding us of a time when racism was rampart and nuclear war was always an option, we know we’re looking at an epoch not too far removed from our own.
The 1950s? They aren’t all that alien after all.
FGC #374 Destroy All Humans!
- System: Playstation 2, and now available on the Playstation 4. I look forward to the Playstation 6 rerelease.
- Number of players: Only one Furon clone at a time for this adventure.
- Incidentally: The fact that this post went up on Martin Luther King Day is a complete coincidence. The fact that this post went up shortly after Trump once again revealed himself as a racist is inevitable.
- Everybody Panic: Sometimes the NPC reactions to aliens are…
- Favorite Weapon: At least one advantage DAH! has over its GTA brethren is a glut of combat options. In addition to your usual assortment of guns, you’ve got telepathy and mind control, which allows for a more interesting “last stand” when your wanted meter is maxed out. Regardless, I’ll take the charge-based anal probe any day, as it apparently causes people to literally crap out their brainstems. I can’t say no to that.
- Voice Actor Corner: Richard Steven Horvitz voices Pox, the brainy alien that aids Crypto on his quest. Appropriately enough, Horvitz is using his Invader Zim voice, and, even just a few years after that series was cancelled, it was wonderful to hear everyone’s favorite alien again. Now it’s downright nostalgic.
- Did you know? Tucked into some archival DAH! menus, Plan 9 From Outer Space is available for your viewing pleasure. It’s entirely possible the whole movie is on the disc, but man can only watch Plan 9 for about three minutes before going insane, so I’m unable to verify its presence.
- Would I play again: Probably not. GTA-Alien times are fun, but if I want completely madcap GTA action, I just nab Saints Row. Unfortunately, most GTA-esque games are too long for their own good, and that’s another notch in the strike column, too.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 12 The Zodiac Age! That’s right! We’re reviewing Final Fantasy 12 again, and this time, we might talk about the actual game! Please look forward to it!
I am taking this personally.