Fallout 4 Story Optimistic About Nuclear Fallout, The Real 1950s Offered A Darker Post-Apocalypse

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The Big Leagues perk in Fallout 4 has been revealed in a new trailer Bethesda

Drinking toilet water, monitoring your radiation levels, dodging cannibals and mutant monstrosities—nothing about the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 4 seems especially optimistic. But while Fallout 4 (and the Fallout series generally) show a distant post-apocalyptic future where the 1950s aesthetic is the world’s lasting legacy, the real 1950s offered us a vision so apocalyptic in scope that it makes Fallout 4 look downright cheery.

Our stories about the apocalypse are so rarely about the apocalypse. Instead stories like Fallout 4, Mad Max, A Boy and His Dog, and Escape from New York are about the society after: a landscape cleared of moral complication, where violence and warrior virtue reign. Even the best of them are premised in a morbid variety of fantasy fulfillment, placing us in the shoes of a lone hero whose circumstances provide a purposeful life without the social entanglements our un-bombed society wraps us in. Fallout 4 is even more optimistic still, envisioning a society with the forethought to preserve some small slice of itself through the network of Vaults.

Fallout 4 Trailer

On the Beach is different. A 1957 novel by Nevil Shute, On the Beach is about species death. The northern hemisphere has devastated itself with cobalt-packed nuclear bombs designed to maximize radioactive fallout (a design first proposed by father of the atomic bomb Leó Szilárd and probably never built). The citizens of Melbourne wait for the radioactive fallout to circulate through the global air currents.

As the months pass contact is lost with Darwin, Cairns and Townsville, the creeping death covering Australia at an inexorable rate. There is no building fallout shelters and no stockpiling goods. The brief flicker of hope, as the navy searches for evidence of a possible “Jorgensen Effect” absorbing radiation in Northern seas, is quashed in a simple memo. The post-apocalypse of On the Beach is nothing but a temporary state, as the excesses of a few war-like nations creeps up on the rest of our world.

The only comfort the doomed have is the most mundane work. People plant seeds they won’t live to see sprout. Many still go to their jobs. “If what they say is right we’re none of us going to have time to do all that we planned to do. But we can keep on doing it as long as we can.”

On the Beach presented a vision of nuclear destruction so clear in its horror and so inescapable that President Eisenhower’s cabinet discussed ways to undermine the 1959 movie adaptation, afraid it would buoy the “Ban the Bomb” movement.

On the Beach Movie Trailer

What is terrifying about On the Beach is in its encapsulation of a feeling that’s nearly impossible to capture in video games as a storytelling medium: passivity in the face of destruction. Even Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare—which kills the player character in a nuclear explosion—offers the opportunity to crawl valiantly on as the mushrooming death’s head looms. There is always something that can be done.

In Fallout 4 you play a character, but you also play yourself. The things inside the character’s head are the thoughts inside your head.

Novels are different. Even if your brain provides the trimming, the thoughts come from a mind that’s not your own. The sensation of reading On the Beach is far different from playing Fallout 4. While Fallout 4 can offer you the thrills of a post-apocalyptic wasteland where radiation is nothing more than a stat drain, On The Beach has only your spouse’s tormented spasms, radiation nausea, and the final comforts of a suicide pill.

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