Wandering the Wasteland, Final Thoughts

One of the perks of doing a project about a video game is that I get to play the game. In the case of Fallout 1, 2 and 3 this involved a great bit of nostalgia mixed with mounting horror. Video games present an enormous challenge to unpack for a cultural historian. Fallout alone could be the anchor for a dissertation, and in a way, I continually felt that I was doing a disservice to the game by not packing more in.

As mentioned in On Gaming, Games, unlike movies have no forth wall. There is no point where the set ends to find the camera crew standing by, or a convenient catering table full of goodies. The experience of a game is limited only by the programming budget of the gaming company and the gamer’s willingness to explore.

Looking back on my paper, I was necessarily sparse in talking about the details. I limited myself to several of the main areas of the game, and even then I was brief. I didn’t talk about the presence of robots, built as a pastiche of 50s sci-fi movies. Like the post-apocalyptia in Fallout, the Robots are a homage to the 50s and yet, indelibly modern in their depiction. I didn’t mention that Fallout 3 featured an oasis full of green, mainly because it was not part of the main plot and is extremely hard for players to find.

Granted, Fallout is a special case because it is a sandbox game that allows players to wander freely. Rail-shooters which keep the player’s perspective fixed (still found in many arcades) are much more akin to cinematic experiences, and far less packed with information.

Yet even those are full of interesting topics for a cultural historian. Treatments of gender for instance. Why do some games allow for male or female protagonists? How does the gameplay differ, if at all between them? Questions of race are also interesting. Fallout uses ghouls as stand-ins for race, but when you’re dealing with former humans, beings that are physiologically and genetically different from human beings, is it really the same conversation?

It will be interesting to see how long before deconstructing games moves into the academic mainstream. I suspect my generation will play a major part in that transition. Having been raised on videogames, we are far more likely to take them seriously. In an odd way, Fallout is a part of my childhood, as much a part of my memory as the Challenger disaster, 9/11 or moving from Seattle to Cincinnati. The way games speak to us, and the way we talk back to game companies is a discourse that deserves our full attention.

3 Replies to “Wandering the Wasteland, Final Thoughts”

  1. This is really interesting I have never played the game!

    It is interesting that you should bring up gender in video games as a subject of study. I was just having a conversation the other day with a woman who plays we golf and chooses to play as a female player, but in doing is also hampered by the limited distance allowed the female players. So, even though this may accurately portray the reality of distance discrepancy, she must play with much greater skill to win against opponents playing male golfers. She feels that this forces women to play as men and plays into female feelings of inadequacy. She also tells me that the commentators often use a belittling tone when commenting on the female players swings. I have not personally played this game either, so I cannot attest to the accuracy of her experiences but it does seem to demonstrate that gender does play a role in certain games.

  2. What's interesting in a lot of games is that you get the exact opposite. Many game companies seek to diminish gender differences. Take for instance, World of Warcraft. Whether you select a male paladin or a female paladin makes absolutely no difference in the gameplay mechanic. The choice between male and female is a purely aesthetic one. Yet, because the action of the game is player driven, women and men may have completely different experiences playing the game. Just ask anyone who has been hit on while running a dungeon simply because they had a female character. In the Fallout series, the differences creep up in different ways. Female characters can sometimes solve problems by sleeping with people for instance (Fallout 2). Often it's a linguistic thing- "My daughter" vs. "My son" or "You're dead bitch" instead of "You're dead pal." For those kinds of things, it would take someone far more skilled in unpacking language than i to deconstruct. Sexuality has become a major topic in games as well. As games, and gamers get more mature, games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect have the option to get into sexual relationships. Dragon Age 2 just took some major press heat because it includes a male character that hits on you whether you are a male or female, and includes the option for a gay sexual relationship. As time goes on, these issues are only going to get more complex.

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