Coping in the 21st Century

Design in its most barebone sense could be reduced to the utilitarian function of tool creation, the making of machine and gear to fix current crises. In a contemporary context, this would refer to the increasingly dystopian issues arising in the world, that of global pandemic and saturated corruption. I have distinguished design’s approach to these issues between the technical tool and the speculative tool. The technical tool is able to provide direct solutions through the manufacturing of practical products; this is emblematic of the role of maker culture in the current pandemic, as it is able to impart immediate responses for and through the masses. The speculative tool is able to fictionalize the crisis and essentially ease floating anxieties through contemplation, and serves as way of coping for the individual well-being; this is emblematic of post-apocalyptic game design and its entailing culture. At their core, these tools are design’s contribution to survivalism and self-sufficiency, and aided by technological innovation, their accessibility are key to promoting an alternative to failing institutions, and critical independence of the people in thinking and action.

In the 1960s, cyberneticist Stewart Brand published a mail order catalog called “The Global Counterculture,” which analyzed and introduced different aspects of being self-sufficient in the context of emerging relationships between society and new modes of digital communication, commerce, and movement. It was in part a response to large scale consumerism, but more crucially, it established a foundation of operating independently of the monetary and materialistic aspects of both consumerism and capitalism, and the government that imposed them. The catalogue outlined publications and designs of tools and ideologies that holistically served different sectors of counterculture communities, advocating for the do-it-yourself culture. (The Museum of Modern Art Library) The current Maker Culture is a product of such concepts, exalted by the development of cyberculture, and consequently hacker culture, to birth an environment of open sourcing. In a Time article written on the Maker Faire, the author addresses the impact of Maker Culture as such – “…what can happen if the right tools, inspiration and opportunity are available to people, I see the Maker Movement and these types of Maker Faires as being important for fostering innovation.” (Bajarin) Essentially, the Maker Culture cultivates a framework that combats consumerism by turning such consumers and hobbyist alike into active makers and innovators.

The main tenets of Maker Culture rests on the technological advancements of the internet and personal computers and machinery, opening up an unprecedented accessibility for the common people. The Culture is characterized by its uses of digital fabrication and rapid prototyping, in the likes of laser cutting, 3D printing, and automation, just to name a few. (Bajarin) And in current times in which a sudden pandemic has challenged the confines of conventional industrial modes of production, Maker Culture has proven itself an efficient and necessary alternative, if not an improvement, to the global supply chain. As companies are heavily focused on profit, they have mainly functioned under the model of just-in-time manufacturing (JIT), which bolsters profit by producing only as needed and by minimizing inventory, which reduces costs. However, such models are fragile when demands increase exponentially, and companies are unable to meet abrupt high demands. (O’Leary) As a response, makers have gathered online in favor of open source hardware ethos, sharing designs of crucial medical equipment and resources outlined in online forums and documents, much like the movement’s predecessor in its creation of “The Global Counterculture”.

In a New York Times article, the founder of a prominent maker group is interviewed – Gui Cavalcanti, the founder of Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies, a crowdsourcing group responsible for finding solutions for the shortage of medical equipment, a phenomenon affecting the global medical community. The group consists of a pipeline of makers and medical professionals that “evaluate and compile a digital library of solutions for supplies, including exam gloves, face masks, negative pressure rooms and oxygen masks.” (Petri) The group is only one of many Maker responses to the pandemic, alongside other prominent digital catalogues, such as The Coronavirus Tech Handbook, highly categorized in its approach to helping minority groups and disadvantaged individuals who may be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. (Coronavirus Tech Handbook). This abundance of direct action has even been coined the term “medical hackathon,” referring to the Makers’ responses to the pandemic in independently manufacturing medical supplies. (Petri) The Maker Movement has demonstrated that its strengths in both skill and manpower as a technical tool are more than efficient in the contemporary context, and very pivotal to filling the gaps when supposedly adequate corporations fall painfully short.

Developing simultaneously with counterculture communities, the advent of video games and video game culture has delved into post-apocalyptic fiction in recent decades, as artistic responses to global crises that warn of an imminent demise of environment and society. Video games are “device art,” a sector of artistic practices that aim to “challenge conventional art notions by recaliberating the relationships between art and its related fields of design, such as technology, entertainment, and popular culture.” (Kusahara) Video games converge in different fields through its honing of technical, artistic, and narrative aspects. Device art are also characterized by the commonization of art forms – “[the pursuit of beauty or the desire for expression] were woven into the fabric of the culture in the form of a sense of beauty in daily life and the tools or methods to realize them instead of being considered a special or privileged act” – and the notion that content is inseparable from its medium and software – “an art form realized as a physical system, or a device, in which the device is the content itself.” (Kusahara) Video games epitomize these notions in being marketed to both masses and niches, and in being self-aware that they are an alternative version of reality based in immersion and imagination. The existence of being this special medium allows video games to build upon and to recreate society in varying and contrasting  perspectives, and to expose the hidden dangers and consequences of actual realities.

In post-apocalyptic video games, mitate is often employed, which is an act of appropriation originally used by artists and writers during times of censorship in feudal Japan to convey political messages and critiques. Mitate literally means seeing beyond the actuality, and creates a system of play, or “asobi” – “the gap between the real meaning and its representation creates extra fun” – as players enjoy the reconstruction of society in juxtaposing spaces and narratives. (Kusahara) This system of play is represented in post-apocalyptic game play, which feature the models of a futuristic society, one familiar to our current one, but far enough that it allows for contemplation. In “Playful Urban Spaces,” the authors detail the construction of space as a triad, stemming from Henri Lefebvre’s logic of space, that of – social practices/perceived space, representations of space/conceived space, and representational spaces/lived spaces. Social practices refer to daily and urban reality. Representations of space refers to the “understanding of the place that its designers’ had in mind when constructing it,” thus leading to interpretation and coding of these spaces. Representational spaces refer to described spaces, depicted through artistic practices. (Silva and Hjorth) These spaces are dependent on social practices, and in turn, are also a reflection of relationships existing in different historical contexts. Consequently, the social place is playful in that there is a constant cycle and re-understanding prompted by social movement and relationships between people. And game play is active in reconditioning and appropriating these spaces in order to reflect past, present, and imaginative spaces, this process is able to create the tangible “magic circle,” or “the existence of boundaries between play and ordinary life.” (Silva and Hjorth) The concurring closeness and distance in gameplay is the main ideology that brings about speculation upon current societal circumstances in the player.

In the article “Post-apocalyptic Games, Heroism, and the Great Recession,” the author discerns the different narratives existing in post-apocalyptic video games, namely that of “anti-dystopia” and “critical dystopia.” Anti-dystopia offers the narrative in which there is no hope in a post-apocalyptic society and that the hero has no chance of reconciling or solving the circumstances. Critical dystopia offers the narrative in which the dystopia may be overcome and/or replaced with utopia, and most post-apocalyptic video games work under this model. In critical dystopia, the responsibility adheres to the player, in their ability of reaching the “utopian enclave,” a dimension of gameplay that offer further approaches and character arcs to rebuild society. One such approach of utopian enclave is the “back to nature” discourse, which views nature and restoration of nature as the core method of building society up again. For example, The Last of Us mirrors DIY culture in gameplay by having players engage in models of tool making and resource collecting as the fundamental method of surviving and reconstructing community. And this narrative in particular enables video games to “reflect certain tensions and dilemmas of contemporary society, between promoting a ‘retro-modern’ ecologist and communitarian utopia or a nostalgic urge to return to and ‘take refuge’ in more traditional/conservative social models and lifestyles.” (Pérez-Latorre) These conditions are then directly juxtaposed by blatant critiques found in other elements of post-apocalyptic gameplay. For example, in Fallout 4, the player has to survive in a “risk society,” in which the aim of the player is to efficiently manage “risks associate with modernity,” instead of evading them altogether, as the character has to decide between preserving health or using radioactive food to survive. Other characteristics of a post-apocalyptic society also consist of moral dilemmas, ambivalent enemies, and stumbling upon larger collectives that more often end up being corrupted, urging the character to, once again, embark on an individual journey of self-sufficiency. These inherent setups, whether explicit or inexplicit, are the kernels of making post-apocalyptic video games a speculative and critical tool in reflecting and assessing contemporary contexts.

These technical and speculative tools I have delineated are unique to our current circumstances, as they are products of decades of counterculture ideologies and technological innovations, and this is what makes them especially crucial and adequate to critiquing our new-age crises. The Maker Culture is the epitome of a successful open-source model, and through their immediate and succinct responses to the impacts of the pandemic, ones exacerbated by the pernicious workings of capitalist corporations, it has proved its competency and value in solving large-scale issues. And within a sphere not entirely isolated, post-apocalyptic video games have amassed refreshing modes of individual contemplation by being the new interactive renderings of old age expositions against societal issues, crafted in entertaining as well as artistically and technologically honed ways.


Bajarin, Tim. “Maker Faire: Why the Maker Movement Is Important to America's Future.” Time, Time, 19 May 2014,

Coronavirus Tech Handbook. Newspeak House, 2020,

Kusahara, Machiko. “Decoding Device Art from Cultural Aspects: Playfulness, Love for Technology, and Mitate .” Device_Art Reader, 500th ed., KONTEJNER, 2009, pp. 19–39.

The Museum of Modern Art Library. “Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974.” Museum of Modern Art,

O'Leary, Lizzie. “The Modern Supply Chain Is Snapping.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 19 Mar. 2020,

Pérez-Latorre, Óliver. “Post-Apocalyptic Games, Heroism and the Great Recession.” Game Studies, vol. 19, no. 3, Dec. 2019.

Petri, Alexandra E. “D.I.Y. Coronavirus Solutions Are Gaining Steam.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2020,

Silva, Adriana De Souza E, and Larissa Hjorth. “Playful Urban Spaces.” Simulation & Gaming, vol. 40, no. 5, 2009, pp. 602–625., doi:10.1177/1046878109333723.

An examination of our modern coping skills within the scopes of design, maker-culture, video game, semiotics, etc.