In many ways, this is a part II to a previous blog on Fallout 4‘s Nick Valentine, and how codes and conventions of well-known, distinctly American cinematic genres—in that case the crime/noir/detective film—are often used as access points through which many video games reinterpret and represent the past. Here, I want to briefy talk about the new (and final) addition to the Fallout 4 universe, the Nuka World DLC pack, and how it similarly pays reference to the western genre (something that I’ve been looking at in my current PhD research too).
But first, I want to start with my first impressions of the DLC more, since I’ve more or less ended up entirely hating all of the others.
I optimistically bought the season pass before the price hike, so downloading each new piece of content has just been an exercise in disappointment so far. Nuka World is the only Fallout 4 DLC I haven’t felt to be a complete waste of money; I can’t even call the others wastes of my time because they either barely had any plot to uncover whatsoever, or they didn’t offer anything I actually wanted to do.
So the premise is that you uncover a massive pre-war theme park—think Disneyland sponsored by Nuka Cola—, where three different Raider factions are co-existing, sort-of peacefully. After defeating the Overboss while trying to gain entrance into the park, you are appointed the Raiders’ new leader, and must not only continue to strive for a lasting peace among the clans, but you’re also tasked with clearing out the other areas of the park occupied by killer space robots, feral ghouls, Aligator-Deathclaw hybrids, and various other deadly creatures, in order to expand the factions’ occupied territory.
Content wise, it seems to have as much as all the previous DLCs combined, at least if doing story-based quests is your thing. And, in comparison, it actually seems to be a fair challenge (especially considering I’m well past the level where there’s actually a chance of me dying in combat, ever), as well as offering lots of different types of things to do in each section of the plot progression, which at least kind of masks the otherwise repetitive nature of the quests, which has been one of my big issues. Each part of the park poses new challenges, new things to see and do. Which brings me to the point of this post…
“Howdy, Partners! welcome to dry rock gulch, where it’s always high noon!”
Welcome to the Old Wild West, circa 2287! Much of Fallout‘s gameplay is explicitly concerned with asking players to choose whether or not to perform certain roles, whether to ‘play along’ with whatever post-apocalyptic strangeness they encounter. At Dry Rock Gulch, players can put on their cowboy hats and ‘western outfits with chaps’, and talk like someone in The Old West seemingly would (or, apparently, wear the Silver Shroud costume and witness hilarity ensue). They can duel, win a ‘Western Revolver’, help ‘tend the bar’ at the saloon, corral a (robotic) horse, all in aid of eventually cracking the safe’s code to gain access to Mad Mulligan’s Mine to deal with the town’s Bloodworm infestation.
A regular cacophony of western tropes and archetypes abound— Sheriffs looking for deputies, “Miss Trixie”, “The Giddyup Kid”, “Doc Phosphate”, and “One-Eyed Ike”—, many of those still around played by protectron robots (of course). (Also weirdly disconcerting is the reuse of certain songs that you hear in other alternate historical video games—like the excerpts of Chopin playing on loop in Nuka World’s Western saloon, which is also used in Bioshock Infinite—, but this sort of thing requires and entirely different kind of blog). Picking up holotapes recorded by previous Wild West Show stars, you’ll learn about actors who took their method acting for the role of town drunk a bit too seriously, and reading staff terminal entries gives a flavour of the daily goings on (frequent brawls) at the saloon.
Red Dead Redemption it ain’t—this is no serious exploration of the themes and history of the Old West. But it capitalises on the same sort of familiarity with this period, and, more especially with this genre.
Western imagery and tropes have been pretty liberally borrowed and channeled through a number of characters and storylines, in various towns and settlements across the other games in the Fallout universe previous to this (and also in the entire concept of The Lone Wanderer, for example). In showcasing such a concentration of explicitly western imagery—convenient, what with HBO’s reboot of Westworld around the corner—, what Fallout 4 does here is to evoke the idea of the Wild West and its commercialisation as a theme park tourist attraction—as with Disney’s Frontierland. The utter commodification and reduction of an entire genre (let alone an entire defining period in America’s history, to say nothing of its importance to conceptions of national identity) is apparent here, but I’m not sure whether or not that was entirely intended— or at least, intended in a way to satire this phenomenon, and the way playing cowboy has become entirely divorced from its original historic context, though these copies of ‘original frontier towns’ are meant to appear ‘authentic’.
But are these things ever, in contemporary, postmodern pop-culture, meant to be critical? Or do they just capitalise on these nostalgic references to other visual culture so embedded in popular memory that everyone understand them?
And so this probably concludes my recent run of Fallout 4 blogs. I can’t say it hasn’t been underwhelming. Here’s to Mafia III’s release next month, and more history/video game blogs to come.