With World War Three looking like a very real possibility and none of the world leaders looking like they’re very good at tic-tac-toe, it’s time to get ready for the apocalypse. That may be a pretty gloomy outlook and, hopefully, it won’t happen at all, but it’s best to be prepared. So what’s the best way to get ready? By playing computer games. Whether you’re aiming to be the Lone Wanderer or the Sole Survivor of the post-nuclear wasteland, there’s a lot to be learned from the Fallout series of games. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the original Fallout RPG was made available for free on Steam, the management strategy game Fallout Shelter is available for free download on various platforms and the Game Of The Year edition of Fallout 4 hit the shelves… but what can those games teach us about how to survive Armageddon?
“Shall we play a game?”
“Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War?”
– WarGames (1983)
1. Don’t Duck And Cover… HIDE!
It’s hard to believe old government advice for surviving a nuclear war was to duck under a blanket or table, a strategy known as Duck And Cover. If only it were that simple. When those nukes start flying there’s only one safe place to be, and that’s nowhere near them! Or you may have to go deep underground. Or, if you’re a kid called Billy, you can try locking yourself in a fridge… but really that’s a lousy idea. Look at Indiana Jones, it ruined him. So if you’re going to be sticking around at ground zero then you’ll be wanting a hole in the ground, preferably lead-lined and with concrete walls. A cryogenic stasis pod to sleep in would be good too, since it’ll take centuries for all the radiation above ground to ease up. You need… a vault. Just don’t enter one from Vault-Tec, the Fallout in-game company, because those guys are evil. Sure, their Vault Boy mascot may be cute and fun, but they’re corporate evil and his cutesy factor is meant to be ironic. But you definitely need to be deep, deep, deep underground, because ducking and covering just won’t do.
2. Be Nice To Your Pets
Man’s best friend is the dog, and in the Fallout games that’s even more true. Dogmeat, your character’s loyal companion, would sacrifice his life for you and all you have to do to reward him is to give him some food, the odd stimpack, and maybe dress him in a fancy bandana-and-goggles combo. Yes, even in the post-apocalyptic wasteland this world may soon become, dressing up your dog will apparently be a thing. Dogmeat can be sent off scouting for food, salvageable items of junk (you can never have too many Jangles The Moon Monkey dolls) and he’ll help keep you safe. Meanwhile, in the Fallout Shelter game, you’ll find parrots that give your characters less damage, dogs that will allow them to move faster, and cats that… okay, so we’re not sure what the cats do, but it’s got to be something good. The point is that your pets are more important to your survival than you think, so be good to them folks.
3. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
This one should be pretty obvious. You’ll need guns. Lots of guns. Lots of big guns. The bigger the better. In fact, it doesn’t hurt if you’ve got a couple of spare rocket launchers lying around, because the apocalyptic wasteland is going to be home to your worst nightmares: irradiated feral ghouls, molerats, super-mutants, mirelurks, radroaches, lawyers… okay, so maybe not lawyers, but there are some people billed as “Raider Scum”, so they may be linked. If you don’t have a gun handy, use a baseball bat, a machete, or any other damn weapon you can get your hands on for protection. It’s no use being a pacifist after WW3, the damage will have already been done and it’s going to be a kill-or-be-killed world out there. Get used to being covered with the blood of others.
Just because there’s no room for being a pacifist, it doesn’t mean you can’t be an environmentalist – even if the environment has a green-tinged sky and everything out there is trying to kill you. If you want to survive, you’ll need to be a scavenger of note and grab everything that isn’t nailed down. See that desk lamp and fan? With a little work stripping them down to their component parts, they could be your new body armour. There’s no point in saluting the flag of a country that no longer exists, so rip it up and turn it into some sexy nightclothes. Bobby pins are lockpicks and scrap metal is a gun turret. All it takes is the recycling attitude of a dumpster-diver, some creativity, and a bit of MacGyvering. Now, don’t you wish you’d paid more attention to separating your paper and plastics, and learned more in metal-shop class?
5. Never Judge A Book By Its Cover
In a literal (and literary) sense, forget the classics and go straight to the reference library. Books, like the Big Book Of Science, Motivational Secrets Of The Stars, and 30 Handy Flamethrower Recipes, will get you further than a copy of Moby Dick because they’ll teach you real survival skills. Even pulp magazines and comics like Grognak The Barbarian and Pugilism Illustrated will come in handy. See? Reading IS good for you! Beyond that, there’s the other side of never judging a book by its cover. The other inhabitants of the post-nuclear wasteland come in all shapes and sizes, and while many will be trying to kill you there are others who are simply trying to survive, just like you. See that super-mutant, Strong? He’s looking for the milk of human kindness because he’s become obsessed with Shakespeare. See that ghoul whose face looks like a melted candle? That’s John Hancock, and he’s trying to give his people a safe place to live. They can be your friends if you’ll let them. Beauty is just skin deep, and those other survivors all have their own lives going on. It isn’t always about you, and judging them instantly can be a huge mistake.
6. Moral Flexibility
The Fallout games have come a long way over the years. They may be First Person Shooters now, but hardcore gamers will remember the originals as tactical GURPS-based games. With the newer games has come one big drawback – the lack of true moral flexibility, which originally meant that the player could be as good or bad as they wanted to be. These days there are some no-no’s that the games simply won’t allow, but there’s still an element of being an absolute asshole at times if you choose to be. You can slaughter your own people, betray your friends, become a drug addict and sleep around if you want to. But why would you want to? Simple: because when it’s the end of the world as we know it, the normal rules of right and wrong don’t apply. What worked for society in the past clearly didn’t work, otherwise the bombs would never have dropped in the first place. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be a good person; it’s just that you need to adapt and be a bit more flexible if you want to survive. If you want to leap tall buildings in a single bound, you may need to get high on buffjet. If you want to have sex with a French-sounding robot whose body looks like a floating steel beachball, download her consciousness into a synthetic human body and go for it, even if you claim to be mourning the loss of your spouse. The future is yours!
7. Father Doesn’t Know Best
One of the G.O.A.T. (Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test) questions in Fallout 3 involves how you would play a prank on your father. The options involve flooding a room he’s in, blowing up the toilet he’s sitting on, replacing his medication with sugar pills and electrocuting him with his electric razor. Those aren’t great things to do to your dear old dad, especially when he’s being voiced by Liam Neeson. If you’ve seen any of the Taken movies, why would you even consider pissing that man off? It doesn’t matter, because in the game he’s a decent guy even if he does become a dog at one point. In Fallout 4, there’s a more villainous father-figure called Father who’s… spoilers here… he’s your son. And he’s an asshole bad guy (although you can choose to join forces with him if you want). Both games have the concept of family at their core, but if you want to survive then you’re going to have to get past that. Family is good and maybe father knows best… but you’re better off being alone, so you don’t have to listen to him.
8. Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life
One of the highlights of the games over the years has been the dark sense of humour on display in them. From the chipper and cheerful Vault Boy, sometimes posing in completely demented ways, to the bad puns and pick-up lines of Fallout Shelter, it helps to keep a smile on your face. When the games introduced “old-timey” music, the upbeat, foot-tapping songs were usually referencing the wonders of the atomic age and the joys of uranium, all of which led to… global thermonuclear war and the death of five billion people. One of the biggest recurring references in all the games are those made to the legendary Monty Python comedy team, from character names and the Holy Hand Grenade to anti-Roman graffiti and comments like “’Tis but a scratch!” The message is clear: If you’re going to survive in a grim, depressing nuclear wasteland, you’d best keep your sense of humour intact.
No, not like you’d do for an exam, but rather it’s a foodstuff – tinned cooked meat, to be precise. It’s another Monty Python reference and is the Fallout world’s version of Spam. Spam is generally frowned upon as “real” food by snooty folks, and its nutritional values are debatable. Well, guess what? You’ll have no time to be a fussy eater when you’re dying of hunger and radiation poisoning, so you’d better get used to it now. Other delicacies you may find around the wasteland are… just about anything that was ever alive. Vegetables are always popular, but if you want some meat with your veg then the only Sunday roast available will be if you cannibalise somebody. Yeah, suddenly a tin of processed cooked meat doesn’t sound too bad, does it? It’s a sick thought having to eat your friend Gary’s leg, so learning some cooking skills will be a bonus just in case you can find some molerats to tuck in on instead. Wash it down with some cola for good measure, and don’t forget to save the bottlecaps, because those may be the currency of your new world.
10. Play Computer Games
This one may sound ridiculous, since this whole article is about how it makes sense to play the Fallout games if you want to know how to prepare for WW3 anyway. But if you’re planning on spending time underground with others, then Fallout Shelter is definitely going to help you become the next Doctor Strangelove (not that that’s strictly a good thing) because it’s a management resource game. It seems easy enough, being an Overseer and setting up a power supply, water supply, food supply and barracks, and juggling the people around so they’re doing their jobs and staying happy. It isn’t. Like The Sims, Sim City and in real life, things can spiral out of control in an instant. But learning these basics may help you survive in a real-life vault if you have to, just from a tactical standpoint. More than that, the more recent main series games also have an element of hacking computer terminals through a process of elimination, and where better to learn that than from games? So the next time someone says you’re wasting your life sitting on the sofa just playing games, tell them you’re preparing for nuclear war.
The end is coming, and you’re ready for it.