The Fallout 4 Boston Tour: A Reflection

As previously mentioned, the goal of the Fallout 4 Boston HistoryPin tour is to integrate well-known, historically-significant areas of present day, real-life Boston with the post-apocalyptic version of Boston presented in the smash-hit 2015 videogame Fallout 4. Though this Fallout 4-centric project is, at the time of writing, several months or even years from being fully completed and perfected, its potential as an educational tool that can engage a younger age group is already visible to some; a friend who teaches elementary school saw my poster and asked, were I to do a version of this project set in Washington D.C., to let her know immediately because she thought it would be a great way to engage her notoriously moody and difficult age group with the history of the city. Luckily for her, two titles prior to Fallout 4 was Fallout 3, a lower-tech recreation of post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. that, while smaller and even more tightly compressed than Fallout 4’s Boston, still attempts to recreate a real-life city within a fictional future by blending the city’s historicity with the game’s dark, overarching narrative, blending a real-life historical D.C. with a stylized, fictional D.C. We shall return to this later, as this is where I see the future of this project, should I continue to develop it on my own time.

I chose Fallout 4 for three reasons:

Firstly, having played through multiple times from every point of view, I knew it backward and forward such that I had, in my own way, already studied the primary material.

Secondly, I saw Fallout 4 as not only an interesting case study in alternate history but as an opportunity to engage with an elusive, difficult, but passionate demographic sought after by many marketing agencies and advertisers—the tween and adolescent market. Not only would many tweens and adolescents already be familiar with the game, but they could take advantage of this HistoryPin tour while on the traditional middle school trip to Boston that so many northeastern schools take. This would help them relate to educational information that would otherwise bore them by integrally tying it to something which interests and engages them, reinforcing both.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Fallout 4 is by far the most accurate attempt to recreate to any exactitude a real-life major U.S. city; though previous Fallouts are all set in real-life locations, the capabilities of computing and data processing technology at the time of the previous games was simply insufficient to recreate a city to the level of accuracy found in this most recent edition. Though it depends heavily on where one is on the map, the ratio between Fallout’s Boston and our Boston is, on average, about 1:3. Of course, one of the many things I learned over the course of this project is that, should one head downtown, the ratio can become infinitesimally small as the game’s programmers would regularly take up to and sometimes in excess of a dozen blocks and condense them to a single street in-game for practical purposes. On the whole, though, Fallout 4 is to be commended for the overall success of its ambitious quest to digitally recreate Boston.

I learned a lot from this project and this class, but one fundamental theme stood out: accurately translating a real-life location into a digital form is extremely difficult and problematic, to say the least. Most real-life cities (even modestly-sized cities and towns) are still too large to recreate on a 1:1 scale with our current technology; it’s simply too much information for current consoles and PCs to process at the speeds necessary for reliable gameplay. Even if a game designer were to recreate an exact 1:1 scale city, the fans might view this more as a gameplay downgrade than upgrade; the 1:3 scale of Fallout 4 was still a sticking point for some fans, who complained of slow gameplay because of the enormous amount of walking required to travel from one settlement to the next.

The already short attention-span of many gamers can be tested by including too much to explore, or by requiring long monotonous actions and movements to travel from place to place. However, the inclusion of a “fast travel” mechanism for most game modes has eliminated this problem, as players need only select a point on the map and click to be instantly warped there, a trend that is likely to continue as videogames get larger, more expansive, and more ambitious. On top of all that, the programs that accurately map real-world locations are often difficult to obtain, expensive, and even more difficult to use and master, often requiring professional instruction and a relatively tech-forward background to operate at even the most basic level. But as technology grows and data processing continues to increase in speed, efficiency, and availability, we are likely to also see an uptick in real-life locations featured in our videogames and other digital mediums.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I see the immediate future of this project in previous and subsequent Fallout titles. With the series going strong and almost ten titles under its belt, we’re likely to see several more post-apocalyptic locales courtesy of Fallout in the foreseeable future, locales that will only continue to grow in sophistication and accuracy. After Boston, analyzing Fallout 3’s recreation of Washington, D.C. and creating a similar HistoryPin tour is the most logical next step; after that, I could delve further into Fallout’s past with settings like southern California, Las Vegas, and the Midwest—that is, at least until Fallout 5 is released! Once the Fallout series has been exhausted, or should another intriguing urban recreation present itself, there are a plethora of games set across the country that would make nice subjects for a tour such as this. If others were to pursue similar projects, hopefully one day we could live in a future where a digitally-based world of fiction is just one button away in the form of HistoryPin tours cataloging video game-related maps and locations within most major American cities, allowing anyone with knowledge of a video game to blend information which interests them with historical and educational information, simultaneously reinforcing both.

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