Fictional worlds like that of Fallout often allow us to look at behavior and conventions that are present in reality from a different perspective than normally afforded us. This could refer to something as specific as the subject of border security in a country surrounded by war, to subjects much more general such as prejudice in a nuclear wasteland. One way or another, viewing something through the lens of fiction, especially games allows for greater understanding for the most part.
The world presented in the Fallout games provides a very intriguing way of looking at current social conventions and those of the past. Pre-war Fallout presents a world in which aesthetics and social conventions of the 1950’s remained constant and nuclear technology was embraced rather than the transistor based equivalent. Unlike the 50’s however there are several notable social conventions missing, as Cole notes in his article racism seems not to exist in pre and post war Fallout, neither does sexism. Pre-war Fallout seems to represent a version of an ideal human society, at least on the ground level. The world’s governments and the ever diabolical VaultTec certainly don’t represent the best in humanity, but those living in middle class America seem like the good examples of what we might hope for. Cole argues that there is a lack of racial history present in Fallout causing a void where prejudice used to fit, and that this deprives characters of true meaning and roundedness.
“It’s a world where race is relegated to the realm of phenotypic distinction, down to the roll of the dice, emptied of social significance.”
“Bethesda’s random racial lottery does much to present traditionally marginalized people as well rounded characters. But it does so by erasing identity rather than adding to it.”
Cole makes an interesting point, however I would argue that Fallout creates a new context separate from that of our own reality. There is a suggestion that, for some reason American society at least had risen above racial and gendered stereotypes (With the possible exception of the Chinese who in Fallout are presented as aggressors and still subject to scorn). Despite this rise above such petty grievances we still see prejudice present in post-war Fallout; all that’s changed are the players. Sentient ghouls could be an amalgamated representation of all the downtrodden, they are seen as second class citizens by most inhabitants of the wasteland, excluded from living with their less irradiated brethren and sometimes secluding themselves for the purpose of avoiding trouble; see cases such as Tenpenny Tower in Fallout 3.
Ghouls and un-irradiated humans even sport their own slurs for each other, Ghouls making use of the term ‘smoothskin’ and humans making use of terms like ‘zombie’ or ‘brain eater’. While there may be some more tangible reasons to dislike ghouls in the Fallout universe due to the possibility of becoming feral, even Ghouls proven to be able to live in regular society still suffer this prejudice.
Another point touched on in Cole’s blog is the replacement of a servant class with robots such as Mister Handy and Miss Nanny.
“Robots have replaced the servant class and while Fallout questions the ethics of relying on intelligent beings for their uncompensated labor but we don’t get to find out if there was a Betty Friedan-equivalent who ever questioned the assumption that it’s a woman’s job to take care of the kitchen in the first place. The robot becomes the homemaker, but the concept of homemaker could not exist without the patriarchal structure in place to contrive its necessity.”
While Cole sees this as a justification for explaining away slavery it could be argued that robots such as these actually provide an analogue for the enslaved races of our own past, Fallout provides its own context and commentary on these subjects without needing to draw on real Earth history. We are given a place to stand and view these topics from outside of our own cultural experience, it is difficult to be objective about a topic when one is personally involved, but in a hypothetical representation such as tat presented in Fallout it’s made a lot easier.
The Fallout version of history seems both hopeful and bleak; this dichotomy is present throughout the entire series, the picture painted is that of humanities decline despite all perceived progress. This suggests to me whether in tough conditions or surrounded by luxury and safety, humanity will always find a way to tear itself down, quite fitting considering the themes present. War never changes after all.
Fallout 4 2015, computer program, Bethesda Softworks, United States.
Fallout 3 2008, computer program, Bethesda Softworks, United States.
Cole, Y 2015, ‘Fallout 4: An Apocalypse Outside of Context’, Yussef Cole, 25 November, < https://medium.com/@youmeyou/fallout-4-an-apocalypse-outside-of-context-7679152ac30a#.o4e3tholk >.