Early on in the zombie film 28 Days Later, Cillian Murphy wanders out of hospital after waking from a month-long coma and crosses a deserted Westminster Bridge. The roads and pavements are empty and strewn with litter, all the while the gothic Palace of Westminster looms over the bewildered Murphy, now a sightseeing tourist in post-apocalyptic London. Understandably, there has always been a lot of interest in how this iconic scene was filmed. How was such a busy landmark in the capital entirely emptied of people? The answer was fairly simple: they filmed it at 5am on a Sunday in the middle of summer.
Today, there would be no need for such ingenuity. In the heat of a global pandemic, central areas of London are almost entirely abandoned (except on Thursdays when crowds congregate, zombie-like, to clap for carers on the very same bridge). Photographers from around the world have already been documenting cities under lockdown – a deserted Times Square, a lonely Eiffel Tower, a vacant Piccadilly Circus, its Coca-Cola billboard eerily replaced with the deadpan face of a monarch. It could be an image captured from the upcoming Watchdogs: Legion, or the location of a horrifying shoot-out in the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
How quickly reality can be made to look like fiction. We’re used to seeing images of ruination and abandonment. There’s a long artistic tradition fascinated with crumbling visions. From European obsessions with classical antiquity to Romanticism’s love for gothic castles and abbeys. In games this enthusiasm plays out within the realms of the medieval fantasy epic – The Elder Scrolls, Dark Souls or The Witcher series’ many deteriorating structures often echo the work of 18th and 19th century painters like JMW Turner, Caspar David Friedrich or John Constable.