Although I've been under the weather while simultaneously dealing with relatives for a couple days, I have been keeping up on my reading, at least. A couple recent posts about post-apocalyptic gaming, plus recently re-watching Day the World Ended and seeing the rather terrible Gas! for the first time, have got me thinking about how difficult the post-apocalyptic genre is, at least in gaming.
In film and other media, it's a pretty well-understood genre. Something's gone wrong, civilization has ended, but not the world, and everyone is out for themselves, including those who remember civilization. In the midst of the chaos, someone decides maybe civilization was better, and fights to bring back a little of it. It's all about despair vs. hope, which doesn't mean it's always hopeful; sometimes, the protagonist fails, or succeeds on the behalf of others but doesn't get to share in that success.
It's for this reason that I earlier disagreed with the sentiment that the standard D&D settings are post-apocalyptic. There are forgotten fallen civilizations in Greyhawk and Blackmoor, mainly because they exist in most fantasy novels. But there's also a current civilization, and usually no widespread despair. Default D&D is often pre-apocalyptic, only occasionally post-apocalyptic.
At least, in the settings. Player characters, especially for those new to the game, sometimes seem like characters in a post-apocalyptic world, like Ray Milland in Panic in Year Zero! or Mad Max or Snake Plissken. I'm not just talking about dungeon-delving, here. Some players balk at having their characters bow before the king, or pay a minor fee to enter a walled city, or even drink in a tavern without picking a fight. Some don't even want to work together with other players.
The irony of this is that dedicated "post-apocalyptic"-style characters don't work well in actual post-apocalyptic settings, either. Until these players edge away a little from complete every-man-for-himself behavior, they can't really help to reclaim civilization.
And on top of that, settings like Gamma World don't really seem post-apocalyptic to me. It's more like an excuse to explain away typical D&D-style biodiversity with the more "scientific" explanation of mutations.
What I'd like to see is a post-apocalyptic setting that's closer to the apocalypse, with a few old guys who actually remember "the before time". Something between Dark Angel and Thunderdome, with experience earned for followers and allies acquired through play instead of for combat.