Mapping the Apocalypse: Michael Toy’s Digital Project Proposal

My digital project proposal, like my paper project proposal, centers around the smash-hit 2015 video game Fallout 4. However, unlike the paper proposal, this project would engage with the game directly; rather than its philosophical influences, historical roots, or political narrative, this project would focus on bringing the Fallout world to the real world. By using a website or program like HistoryPins, I propose what would essentially be a reverse-engineering of the Fallout world back into real space—mapping the big-name, recognizable sites and locations featured in the world of Fallout 4 and mapping them virtually onto the map of Boston, the game’s setting.

In Fallout 4 one follows the adventures of the protagonist, “the Sole Survivor,” who emerges from cryostasis from a secured “vault” in the former suburbs of Boston in the year 2287, a decade after the previous title (Fallout 3) takes place and 210 years after the “Great War,” a nuclear apocalypse brought about by a military exchange between the U.S. and China, ignited by a long durée war over resources that has vague political roots but palpable consequences for the world’s denizens. During their journey to avenge a murdered spouse and recover a long-lost son, the Sole Survivor encounters a number of fictional and real-world sites scattered across the ruins of Boston, now known as “the Commonwealth.” Interestingly, the “virtual sandbox” in which Fallout 4 takes place is modeled after the real city of Boston and, due to the use of the next-gen “Creation Engine” (as first featured previously in the hit game Skyrim), is the most faithful recreation of a real-life location to date in the Fallout series, and possibly the most realistic virtual recreation of a real-life city in the history of video games (though that is sure to change as the virtual limitations of memory storage and computational power are overcome with state-of-the-art technology).

My proposal is to, in essence, take the most important locations featured in Fallout 4 and map them onto the real map of Boston so that those familiar with present-day Boston and the Fallout world’s post-apocalyptic Boston can compare the two in real time and see exactly how the game’s programmers decided to miniaturize an entire city in virtual reality. As the world of Fallout includes hundreds upon hundreds of unique locations, this project would be limited to a small number of the most important and influential locations, such as: the location of Vault 111, the protagonist’s home; the headquarters of “the Institute,” a laboratory carved out of the ruins of MIT that creates synthetic humans and stars as the title’s primary antagonist; “the Railroad,” an underground organization dedicated to saving synthetic humans from the Institute; and the headquarters of “the Brotherhood of Steel,” a militant group of technologically-advanced soldiers opposed to both the Institute and the Railroad. The game also features more than 34 “settlements,” residential areas scattered across Boston and populated by the Wasteland’s denizens that form the newest hubs of civilization in the brutal new world, that could serve as helpful landmarks in mapping the virtual Boston onto real-world locations.
While obviously not an exact or to-scale model of Boston, Fallout 4’s programmers were able to recreate a sufficiently accurate representation of the historic city such that many gamers living in Boston were and are able to locate (at least roughly) the location of their real-world homes in the world of Fallout. The project that I propose would basically reverse this process; rather than finding one’s real-world location in-game, the major locations of Fallout 4 could be cataloged and pinned onto the map of Boston by means of an app or program like HistoryPins, giving users the ability to observe both the accuracy of the programmers’ recreation and the locations featured in-game in relation to landmarks in the real world.

One Reply to “Mapping the Apocalypse: Michael Toy’s Digital Project Proposal”

  1. Mapping places from the fictional world in Fallout into the lived world of Boston is a neat idea. It’s still not entirely clear to me who your audience is and what part of the project has to do with history. With that said, I think the components are all there to be sorted out.

    The audience point seems to likely stem from the game. That is, you’ve got a built in audience of game fans. My initial though is that folks uninterested in the game would likely not be particularly interested in the game’s world.

    The second issue in this is, what about this is history? Or, what about this does historical work? My initial thought there is that it would be most interesting to pull up sites from the game that the game interprets and presents as part of a narrative of American History. That is, sites related to Boston’s role in American History and focusing in on how the game reinterprets that history. To that end, part of me thinks it might be worth writing up these points as posts to a WordPress site and then going ahead and pinning them to a map instead of trying to build all of the text into the map interface.

    Altogether, it’s an interesting idea and I think it should be a lot of fun to work on.

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