Fallout Will Never Make Sense To Me


The Fallout franchise sure does love it some sci-fi doesn’t it?  From irradiated mutants that wander the wastes to laser guns & robots, you can find a lot of staples of science fiction.  Heck, there’s even the Mothership Zeta DLC where you are abducted by aliens and halt a planetary invasion.  There’s a lot about the Fallout universe that you have to swallow to buy into the premise of the world.  Especially the massively convoluted history about resource wars, nuclear escalation, America annexing Canada so it can fight a land war with China after China invades Alaska…  there’s a LOT of stuff going on in the story of these games. Most of which is irrelevant to the actual enjoyment of the games.  In fact, 90% of this stuff I didn’t even bother to learn until after I beat Fallout 3 years ago.  But you know what I can’t just ignore that completes breaks the entire ‘setting’ of these games for me?  That one thing that permeates every aspect of the series and drives me completely mad?

The 1950’s.

Yea. The 1950’s.  Not just that the style and visuals are rooted in the 50’s aesthetic and drawn from the futurist visions depicted at some World’s Fair expo.  But that somehow we are expected that a game set in the year 2277 hasn’t culturally advanced since the 1950’s in anything from fashion, to music, to art.  It’s just stuck there.  Oh but I hear people say, but Vry we’ve been living in a post-apocalyptic nightmare for centuries.  Culture can’t advance in that.

Um… why not?  Did people stop making music?  Did they stop painting?  Did no one want to wear a different style of dress?  We know that eventually someone developed the idea of making video games on holotapes.  So why is everything else stuck? Beyond even that point, the bombs didn’t drop until 2077.  That’s over 100 years of society being stuck in a single cultural period.  And we are talking about a society that currently must differentiate between ‘Early 90s’, ‘Mid 90s’, and ‘Late 90s’  as completely different styles of fashion, music, entertainment, and even things like slang.

The idea of any society only progressing in technology alone while every other aspect of culture being time-locked in one spot is just a baffling concept to me.  Especially since the only explanation we are given for any of this is: Transistors were never discovered.  The hell does that have to do with any of this?

I know that the Fallout universe is dear to some, but it just smacks of world building laziness.  I’m not saying you can’t do the whole 50’s culture retro-futurism thing… but give us a damn reason for it at least.  It almost feels like that movie Blast from the Past with Brendan Frazier and Christopher Walken, where a 1950s family seal themselves in a fallout shelter for forty years when they think a bomb is dropped on their house.  The difference?  That was a comedy.  You can excuse that sort of thing in a comedy.  Fallout wants to be taken seriously – roving gangs of Elvis impersonators aside.

I know probably a hundred people have probably complained about this before, but I don’t care.  It’s probably my biggest pet peeve with fictional universes in general.  It irks me when hundreds of years pass without any significant change in society.  I know that it bugs the hell out of people that it looks like Star Wars’ galaxy hasn’t changed a bit in the thousands of years between The Old Republic and the movies.  Or in fantasy settings where hundreds of years and a dozen wars can do nothing to alter the way society works.  But especially in post-industrial and sci-fi settings this is a far bigger disappointment.  That for three centuries, human forms of expression has stopped dead in its tracks.

So in the end, Ron Perlman was wrong.  It’s not war that never changes.  It’s culture.  It’s music.  It’s fashion.  It’s about human expression.  None of that ever changes in Fallout.  And that’s a far more depressing and cynical thought that any message about humanity’s ingrained desire to kill each other in my opinion.

Remembering to Play the Part

One of the first things a role player will try to beat into your brain is to always separate player knowledge and character knowledge.  It’s one of the most basic tenets of role playing.  Just because you know Ner’zhul became the original Lich King, doesn’t mean Sir Awesomeman the Paladin of Stormwind would.

The other night at my weekly D&D game, I came across a variation of the idea that honestly never occurred to me before. The separation of player motivation and character motivation.  Our party was trying to get into a ‘restricted area’ to speak to an important official in this Church of Pelor that we were sorta-kinda working for.  The high guard decided to cut us off, checked our ‘guest passes’ and declared us “Not supposed to be here.”  She was quite snooty about it too.

Now, as the rest of our gaming group was quick to point out, this woman was a high guard in the organization employing us.  Killing her would be bad, so we should all use non-lethal methods to subdue her.  The group knew this. I knew this.  But did my character?

Well, let’s think about it.  My character – Scythe – is a revenant (if you’re not familiar with the D&D race, think ‘The Crow’. Not the elemental revenants in Northrend) that was raised by the Raven Queen to hunt down and claim souls for her so he can earn his freedom.  He’s a soul-harvesting bounty hunter for the Goddess of Death – I think it is safe to assume he doesn’t do non-lethal.

I went all out on her.  Brought my A-game.  Some solid hits, a little combat advantage, and one brutal critical hit later and she was lying on the floor covered in her own blood, muttering her final words to her god.  Scythe walks over to her and grins, “Pelor has no power where you’re going.” He pulled out his talisman and sent her soul to the Shadowfell to meet his mistress.

I had  knowingly killed what should have been an ally to our cause.  A high guard that served directly underneath the Church’s council. Why?  Because my character had a different motivation.  His freedom was more important than sparing some pain-in-the-butt guard that decided to pull a sword on us because our hall pass was invalid.

I think it’s safe to say that no one else in my group agreed with my actions.  This was a stupid decision that is surely going to cause a lot of issues for our characters in the near future.  As we ended the session for the night I smiled and looked at our Dungeon Master and said, “That was a mistake wasn’t it?”

He smiled back and said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget: “Wil Wheaton knew not to split the party.  Aeofel didn’t.”

I can not wait for our next game.