In an Age of Extremism, Are Skinwalkers Metaphors for Terrorists?    

Are the narratives of 'The 5th Wave' and 'Between The City and The Needle' reacting to the current, extreme political climate? 


Ever since September 11, 2001, what constitutes the “other” or “alien” in U.S. society has become a concept of high tension and much debate. In November, Donald Trump further stirred that shit stew by saying that the country shouldn’t take in Syrian refugees because they just might be terrorists under the guise of innocents. “This could be one of the great Trojan horses,” he threateningly suggested on CNBC.

It seems that the sci-fi community is reacting to this by offering a metaphorical take on this Trojan Horse idea. Characters that appear to be human but are actually unknown menacing and otherworldly imposters are popping up in various cultural platforms. Two lightly veiled examples of this alien-terrorist analogy are the conversation simulation game Between The City and The Needle and the feature film, The 5th Wave, starring Chloë Grace Moretz. The Fifth Wave will be released in January 2016 and a playable demo of the PC game will be out next year prior to a crowdfunding campaign.

This leads us to ask: Is the age of extremism breeding an age of skinwalkers?

Syrian refugees are fleeing a gruesome civil war in their homeland and the U.S. has agreed to take 10,000 of the approximately one million that are looking for safe haven. President Barack Obama announced that he will host a major summit on the subject of refugees at the United Nation’s General Assembly next year.

Presidential candidate Trump’s comments against opening the country’s doors to refugees were a reaction to reports that, as CNN noted, six suspects in last month’s attacks on civilians in Paris had Syrian ties and one is believed to have entered France with refugees. “We cannot let them into this country, period,” were his words of advice.

There is this idea that subversive and violent beings — human or otherwise — are so embedded in our own society that we are almost helpless in the face of the “them” that look like “us.”

This is reflected in Nightmarea’s new PC game Between The City and The Needle. It makes you, the player, a new employee at Honest Minds, a government organization tasked with eradicating “an unknown species mimicking human form.” Posing as a psychologist, you interrogate these unknown enemies, decrypt documents, hack into files, analyze memories, and use an electronic messaging system to communicate with co-workers. That’s how you determine which of these creatures are real humans and which are just faking it. And you won’t know who was what until a (thankfully virtual) autopsy is performed.

It’s basically like a regular Wednesday at Guantanamo Bay.

Based on a young adult novel by the same name, The 5th Wave tells the story of a young girl’s struggle to save her brother from alien attacks taking place on Earth. Other “waves” include massive worldwide earthquakes and killer disease, but the fifth is a little more complicated. A voiceover in the trailer states ominously, “The others have the ability to inhabit human hosts.”

Part of the purpose of playing a game like Between The City and The Needle or watching a film like The 5th Wave is to help us feel more in control of the world and the people therein. And if these “skinwalkers” are everywhere, whether in Paris or San Bernardino, filling Westerners with fear, they also at least can be defeated or subdued virtually.