“The best place to view Los Angeles of the next millennium is from the ruins of its alternative future” thus Mike Davies begins his provocative history of L.A. When Davies interrogates Blade Runner and The Martian Chronicles he finds a considerable amount of material to critically interpret the city and the idea of the west itself. I’m not sure that we can find that kind of depth for understanding DC in Fallout 3. I do, however, think it effects us on a deeper affective level. It feels less like a specific critique of society and more of a heady mixture of 50s nostalgia and unsettling paranoia.
When I started writing my post about historical thinking in Fallout 3 last month, I quickly realized that there were two very different things I wanted to comment on. First, there is the way that you understand the past of the gameworld, which I wrote about. But I kicked the second part down the road for this post. Aside from the role the past plays in the game, there is a funny way that the games depicted future plays games with our lived experience.
Feeling Uneasy in DC
You might need to live in DC for this to have effected you, but the several gamers who live in the area have reported a funny kind of feeling after playing the game. Several friends have told me that the game tends to make you see the real world a little different, at least for a while. One friend talked about how he felt a strange urgency to stay off main through-ways around the city. Another mentioned a funny kind of uneasiness when going down into metro stations. Almost all of them have tried to plot where their house would be on the game map. The fact that the game happens in a vision of the place we live our lives makes the game a lens we use to see and experience that city in a different light.
It is as if the experience of the game does not just wash off. The visual anchors of DC, the Washington Memorial, the Federal style architecture, the metro stations, the remnants of the retro-futuristic Smithsonian institution stick with you. It is an augmented reality game that plays out after the fact. A set of visual information that your mind layers onto the physical environment long after you have turned off the game.
Visiting Project Purity, Um.. I mean the Jefferson Memorial
The game gives you a kind of prosthetic memory. Earlier this year a few good fvisited to participate in the Rally4Sanity. The following day we had a bit of time before I needed to drop them off at the Airport, so we decided to make a stop at the Jefferson Memorial. As the memorial came in sight, both my cousin and my friend made statements like “Oh, right Project purity!.” Both had been Fallout 3 players, and both had the salience of that moment in their minds when they first took in the monument.
The Jefferson Memorial had been designed to give a particular impression of Jefferson. The experience of the monument entangles with our memories of fictional events from the wasteland. As we walked up to the door to the gift shop my cousin made jokes about swapping out for some heavier armor, and we collectively reminisced about a few of the times the game sent you back into the memorial through the gift shop to clear it out again.
This might seem trivial, but when we remember that monuments have rhetoric’s, that they are created to make arguments, the power this game had to change our experience of the monument is significant. As Sanford Levinson reminds us, the arguments of monuments and memorials are Written in Stone. We experienced the monument, to some extent, mediated through our memories of the wastes.
Seeing the City through Fallout
Lest you think these are simply the peculiarities of me and my strange friends, I offer you these images from flicker. This is just a sampling of the ways people are using the game to filter their experience.
I would suggest that this image is filtered twice over. That it is filtered both explicitly and implicitly. When yarnzombie put the image filter on this photo they did more than apply a photo effect. They actually used Fallout 3 as a kind of filter to interpret the Jefferson Memorial.
It’s Fallout 3, did not even require the first kind of filter. This view is exactly the same view that grabbed me and my friends when we visited the memorial. Fallout primes you to experience the entry way into the visitors center as the most salient part of the experience. This is where you as the player stop to check your inventory of stem-packs, try to make some quick repairs to the armor you scavenged off some raiders, and double check your ammo before you skulk in to take down the super mutants who have laid claim to the Project Purity housed in the former Jefferson Memorial. The fact that a game can, to some extent, overwrite part of the story of America embedded in this monument is fascinating.
Does it stick with you?
Are their other moments in Fallout, or for that mater in other games which have stuck with you and changed how you see the world? Does the way a game like Fallout engages us make this work differently than other media, like books and film, or do we think this is a generic property of various modes of storytelling?