Video games have long been an escape from the harsh realities of life, and as technologies advance and persist as an ever-present part of reality, some wonder about the cultural and philosophical implications of escaping into these mini-worlds. Games like the Fallout series have created an extensive, virtual universe, or simulacrum, that reflects an idyllic version of our world, but is there a danger in representing and idealizing the past?
In The Wasteland of the Real: Nostalgia and Simulacra in Fallout, an article recently published in Game Studies, Dr. Kathleen McClancy explores the ways in which the Fallout franchise mocks the Cold War nostalgia of video game worlds since the post-September 11th period. She cites that many other media have since used this Cold War nostalgia as well, including AMC’s Mad Men and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Many Americans view the 1950s as a time of innocence, and after the tragedy of the September 11 attacks, they yearn to return to a more simplistic time.
“For Americans who are uncomfortable with the rapid social changes of the last several decades, [the idyllic 1950’s] image stands in for a period when social codes were both simpler and less hotly debated, and the future they imagined was a peaceful one both on the national and on the domestic front,” McClancy writes.
As the political climate continues to heat up in America, and as new threats emerge, new cultural anxiety has begun to materialize, McClancy argues. Newer games in the Fallout franchise, like Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Fallout 4, share this increasing cultural anxiety about the re-emergence of a nuclear threat. They are filled with depictions of a futuristic society destroyed by technology, which undermines Cold War nostalgia.
This article examines how Fallout depicts the threat of technology, and it discredits 1950s nostalgia. As Americans continue to face anxiety about the future, McClancy urges us to look toward the future and abandon nostalgia for the past.