Fallout 3. The apocalypse that never happened.


Jean Baudrillard always insisted that the Apocalypse had already taken place. Even if we hadn’t noticed it and can’t quite pin-point when exactly. There was no nuclear disaster, no viral epidemic, not even a disintegration of nation states or a spectacular shift of power towards mega-corporations. Yet, Baudrillard maintained that we are clearly living in a post-apocalyptic world. Just not the one we expected.

Maybe this is why so many movies and videogames these days tell a tale of a dramatic end-of-the-world scenario. We have a nagging feeling of having missed something, a black spot in our collective memory where the Apocalypse should be. Our entertainers are trying to reconstruct our memories, our at least fill them up with a meaningful fantasy. Because there must be meaning! This post-modern post-apocalyptic black-hole that absorbs all meaning is too much for us to handle. It makes us almost wish for an all-out nuclear war.


That’s where Fallout 3 starts. The end of the world has happened. Everything is destroyed. The remaining humans are stubbornly trying to organize themselves, inspired by their recollections of capitalist society. This is an alternate reality. It would have to be. Because this is not what really happened. In Fallout 3, the world came to an end some time in the 1950s, or in a reality in which that era never stopped, judging by the style of the remainders of advertising and vehicles.

The sad sight of an obliterated landscape feels strangely comforting. It’s as if developer Bethesda is feverishly clinging to the illusion that we are not powerless. As with many war-inspired tales, it is easy to interpret Fallout 3 as a protest and a warning. It feels almost nostalgic at this point, that one could take a stand against war, against destruction. The 50s style language and music fit this nostalgia very well.

But Bethesda goes one step further. As critical as many war stories pretend to be, almost all of them end up celebrating the core of that which they are supposedly protesting against. Many post-apocalyptic tales feature lone heroes, all macho’s, all driven to destroy their enemies/defend their families/uphold morality/etc. This model would be very convenient as the backdrop for a game, a game that a player needs to win. In Fallout 3, however, there are no heroes.


Bethesda completely wipes away the idea that, somehow, a grave disaster would bring out nobility in humans, that there is always hope for humanity, that, essentially, we are all decent beings. That the freedom that follows the fall of the governmental and military order would turn our lives into a great adventure. In a sense, the world that Fallout 3 depicts, is one of the strongest arguments against large-scale war. Because this world is not only devastated, but also devoid of human sympathy, of kindness or tenderness. And, perhaps even worse, it is a large empty world with nothing whatsoever to do!

Fallout’s ravaged landscapes are gray and barren. There’s destruction everywhere. Corpses here and there, that you scavenge to the skin. Bombed-out houses where you steal tin plates and cups from abandoned provisionally set tables. Most of the food you find is radiated. You have to eat it to stay alive, but it kills you slowly. Sure, there’s mutated monsters that you can shoot at. But they all seem so sad. So alone. The only cheerful figures you meet are old style robots, crackling and buzzing, on the verge of breaking down. The few humans dotted across the ruins will attack you without warning. You’re all alone in the world and when you meet someone, they want to kill you. So you become like them. Even the ones that don’t immediately see you as a target, never allow you to join them. You’re too weak, too poor. You don’t have any skills they can use. Or proper equipment. If you’re lucky, you can be their slave.


So the reason you don’t want a nuclear war, according to Bethesda, is that a post-apocalyptic world is unbelievably dull and tedious. No heroes, no adventures, no joyful encounters with other survivors. Sounds a bit like our current post-apocalyptic reality. Except that at least now our cities are not in ruins. Our technology is merrily purring along. The people on the internet are friendly. And when they’re not, they’re funny. Our leaders are protecting us and making sure we stay warm and well-fed. They are fighting evil in our name and carefully balancing the existence of the planet so we can drive our cars and import our gadgets. And since the apocalypse is behind us, we can sleep soundly knowing that this will never end!