It’s September, and the world is coming to an end on this month’s episode. Join Mege and Matt as they talk about the post-apocalypse in pop culture, from Obsidian’s epic role-playing game Fallout: New Vegas via Mad Max: Fury Road to – bear with us on this one – the HBO series The Leftovers. We also discuss Spike Lee’s latest joint, BlacKkKlansman, and talk about Sarah Vowell’s book Assassination Vacation.
Warning: if you’re not interested in my video game musings, you may want to skip to the end of this post. And now on with the regular programme…
Who doesn’t like a good post-apocalypse? There’s something about nuclear wastelands peopled with desperate survivors and mutated wildlife that brings a radioactive glow to the most hardened geek’s heart. And The Day After has been a topic dear to computer gamers ever since the heady old days of Wasteland, and it’s produced one of the most memorable games of the last five years.
In the ’90s, two spiritual successors of Wasteland, the original (and highly pixellated) post-apocalyptic CRPG (computer role-playing games, for those of you who aren’t fluent in nerd), came out, called Fallout and (somewhat uninventively) Fallout 2. They were ugly beasts at first, with a forbidding user interface and graphics the colour and consistency of irradiated cow dung. However, they were crafted with a wicked sense of humour and created an atmospheric world that was basically the mutant offspring of ’50s sci-fi, the “Duck and Cover” lies of the early Cold War and Mad Max, with Robbie-the-Robots and cathode ray computers sitting side by side with two-headed cattle, wasteland scavengers and slavers. And Fallout 2 had one of my favourite ever ironic uses of music – Louis Armstrong’s A Kiss to Build a Dream On.
Fallout also introduced one of video gaming’s most iconic phrases, delivered by none other than “Stupido Salavtore”, Hellboy, Beast: Ron Perlman himself. If I think of the world after the nuclear bombs have fallen, what comes to my mind isn’t a very young Mel Gibson pulling a Rorschach on the men who killed his wife, or even a touchingly naive elderly couple drawn by Raymond Briggs. No, what comes to my mind is this: War. War never changes. (Do it in a Ron Perlman voice and it suddenly changes from a trite phrase to- Well, listen for yourselves.)
So what’s brought on this attack of love for Fallout? It’s this: I’ve recently started playing Fallout 3, a monster of a computer game. I’m probably a dozen hours into the game and I’ve barely scratched the parched surface of the wasteland. I’ve already disarmed an unexploded nuke in the charming scrapmetal town of Megaton, I’ve ended a plague of firebreathing ants, I’ve faced mutants and feral dogs and giant scorpions. And I’ve lost my dad, as voiced by Liam Neeson, which makes me think that I must be some nucular Leo DiCaprio scouring the irradiated desert in search of a post-apocalyptic Bill the Butcher. It’s weird, but I haven’t enjoyed myself this much in a game in a long time. (Oh, and if you want an explanation of the title of this post, this video should help.)
Ahem. If you skipped all the rest of this post because you’re not interested in video games, I hope that you’re at least a fan of Rube Goldberg machines. If not, I’m afraid I haven’t got the slightest clue why you’d be reading this blog… Anyway, here’s the video of OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass” – enjoy!