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.