Living Underground

Before I begin this blog I want to say that I will be commenting on a few video games, but this is not a post about video games, and my readers that usually skip my posts on video games will still find this interesting.
Living in a metro tunnel might not be easy, but it makes for an interesting story.

The video game Metro 2033 was on sale this week on Steam, and, having heard a few things about it, I was interested in playing it so I decided to buy it, and I’ve been playing it for the past few days. ”Metro 2033” was adapted from the novel of the same name written by Russian Author, Dmitry Glukhovsky. It is a science fiction story, set in Russia, that takes place twenty years after a nuclear apocalypse. The surface was poisoned by nuclear fire so the survivors moved into the metro tunnels beneath Moscow.

Playing this game has been a reminder to me of how much I enjoy narratives where people are forced to live underground for some reason or another. I was first introduced to this concept from the Ninja Turtles, who, most people will know, lived in the sewers of New York City. It came naturally to me, from this experience, to enjoy the idea of living in an underground tunnel.

I remember as a child, I fantasized that one day it would snow so much, that we, as a neighborhood, would have to dig tunnels to each other’s houses. I specifically planned that the first tunnel I’d dig would be to get across the street to my friend Aaron’s house. The second tunnel I planned was to get to my school. Why? I have no idea. Actually, I may have planned that tunnel first, because in my mind I would have been at school when the snow hit, and I would have had to dig my way home from there, after that I’d dig a tunnel to Aaron’s house.

I was very happy when I heard the song “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” by Arcade Fire, which seems to be about the same idea. When I heard that song, I knew for certain that I wasn’t the only person fantasizing about such things. For that matter, if you recall the second Star Wars movie, the rebels were living in snow caves, and maybe I originally got the idea from that. Of course, now looking back on it, it doesn’t really make much sense, because if you were digging a tunnel, where would you put the snow? In your house? Maybe, but then you’d have no home to return to.

Maybe the snow fantasy wouldn’t work out so well, but as I child I didn’t only fantasize about living beneath the snow. I liked to pretend that my house was an underwater base, akin to the setting of Michael Crichton’s Sphere. This idea, however, of living underground or in some other enclosed chamber appears frequently in storytelling, and I’ve always been drawn to these types of stories.

So, what is it that makes such dire means of survival so interesting? Imagine living in a metro station. Perhaps it is comforting to know that your whole life is in that tunnel. You wouldn’t have to worry about finding work or obtaining an education. Work would be aplenty, and education would be a matter of personal preference. That is to say, hopefully someone bothered to bring some books down into the tunnels. Life would be taken one day at a time. You’d only have the small population of the tunnel to worry about. Entertainment might be limited, but you’d have to depend on other people more, and life might be more rewarding in that regard. Life would be hard, but at the same time it would be simple. Well, at least until the mutants from the surface come and attack your metro station, and that’s what makes this such a good narrative arc.
The problem with living in a tunnel, is that there is probably danger to be found in the outside world.

True, I wouldn’t want to live underground in real life. The world is too big to want to do that, but in storytelling there is always going to be great opportunity to create an interesting narrative. In Metro 2033 there are monsters living on the surface, in Sphere the ocean contains many mysteries, and int Ninja Turtles there is the Foot Clan. The beauty is that, in stories like these, there is always danger. There is always some kind of threat, and there is an outside world to be explored. Living in a tunnel is like being blind, and leaving the tunnel is like seeing for the first time. (Of course that doesn’t mean you like what you see.) There is hope to be found in stories likes these. In many ways it is an allegory of the most primordial desire that we have, as humans, to live.