In the beginning of the pandemic, depressed over the loss of my freelance job and social life in the city, I promised my wife: no post-apocalyptic video games, no Armageddon twist. We had just moved 45 minutes from Manhattan to a 100 year old apartment building because we both believed that living in a 450 square foot apartment was not sustainable forever and we wanted more space than we could actually afford. allow.
When we moved I felt out of place, a lifelong city dweller trapped in a suburban town, far from within walking distance of my friends and haunts. When I told people I was moving to Jersey they would say, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry” and pat me on the shoulder. My wife loved living among the deer and the woods. She couldn’t understand that not being able to go for a walk and eat questionable street meat at 1am felt overwhelming to me. We lived in an updated version of Green Acres played by two middle-aged biracial geeks.
Suddenly, Covid-19 struck and ravaged New York City, and everything changed. The weekly trips I made to town for meetings, classes, or dates that gave a sense of freedom were all gone. Living in burbs already seemed claustrophobic to me – now it was like total imprisonment.
I struggled to play open world RPGs with idyllic views of fictional meadows and forests. After a while, I could hardly bring myself to continue into my playroom, a converted closet with a single window to the outside. I would compare the waterfalls and the trees Skyrim against the walls of my small office, which felt smaller and more stuffy over the weeks.
Eventually, I ended up turning to games about worlds torn apart by war, violence and human depravity. Unexpectedly, they made me feel so much better. It wasn’t immersing myself in dystopian suffering that helped me see things from a different perspective, but rather to imagine how fictional people overcame insurmountable obstacles in staged worlds after the collapse of the world. civilization which gave me hope for the future.
Fallout 4: Finding more than a friend in a good neighbor
I went back and started Fallout 4, arguably my least favorite game in the series. The protagonist’s default spouse didn’t seem to have much onscreen time to develop a personality, and I felt little incentive to play all of the quests when the main one is looking for the main character’s son. After all, what monster would spend 40 hours doing side missions knowing that their child has been kidnapped?
In my new game, I created Bobby Sue, a I love lucy lookalike that beats people with a giant lead pipe. Giving up hope for her lost son, Bobby Sue decided to live out her dreams of the theater degree she never pursued in the apocalypse, slapping costume pieces like wigs or a tricorn hat and wearing defending small villages by breaking the kneecaps of the Super Mutants. Bobby Sue has finally found a love for Magnolia, a living room singer played by Lynda Carter in an old run down bar. I made an effort to walk the Third Rail at the end of each job, order a whiskey, and then gently toss a mutated fern flower that I found on stage as Magnolia finished her song. Throughout each of the Fall games, the background music makes a big part of the story and sets the mood. Playing Billie Holiday while gazing at dilapidated skyscrapers and irradiated plains is an ironic look back into the past, a commentary on a cheesy, simpler and bygone era. Yet, had all that was good in this world died if Magnolia’s songs still stirred the protagonist’s heart every time?
Bobby Sue may never find her lost son again, but right now she’s having too much fun watching the original Wonder Woman and getting drunk dressing like Alexander Hamilton. There was something endearing about this little bit of a woman with a Donna Reed haircut that had enough strength to lift a hammer above her head and take down four men. In a world deprived of everything she’s ever known or loved, she ended up finding one thing: herself.