An odd thing has been occuring over the past several days as I have shoulder-surfed Bob's campaigns on behalf of the citizens of Megaton. There's been a slow evolution in my reaction to the bleak wastelands displayed on his screen.
In the beginning was irritation at the charred, ashen cast to the entire landscape. There is very little color to be had save for the occasional splotch of blood or streak of paint left on roadside signs that survived a blast. I spent my time being amused at the "use lots of light bloom and reflection over top of grayscales and browns for GRITTY REALISM!" trick they had in it. It was fairly cliche. I'd seen it in Resistance: Fall of Man, Gears of War, Halo...hell, I'd seen it in the Outlands in World of WarCraft. It's been done to the point of having no initial visual impact and basically making the enemy really hard to see if they are at all similar to the color of dirt.
But then as he ventured further I saw that there was a reason for this. It wasn't just that they were going for gritty realism, it was the fact that the entire world was scrabbling around after a nuclear freakin' holocaust. This was what the landscape would probably really look like after dropping the big one on suburbs of DC.
At that point the focus switched to how they were recyclng everything, and how scavenging 200 year old technology was keeping the current survivors afloat. And I was impressed that they'd kept the feel of the 1950's Americana around but still made it feel as if America had aged. I started paying far more attention to the signs, the billboards and the posters on the walls. Those little remnants of advertising and communication stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of all that is burnt out and sorta still on flame. Like America got trashed, but it isn't willing to go quietly. And it's going to tell you all about Nuka-Cola from the side of a ruined building because that's what we do in America. We drink soda, and we like to advertise the product. Sort of amusing and telling all in one little graphic, really. These days you can barely escape sponsors' labels on everyone and everything on TV. They even throw commercials up on TV in the middle of the show, those little banner-runners that creep in just under your line of sight and tell you that ER has a cliffhanger coming up.... crap like that. Indeed, it's SO prevalent that you would be more likely to find advertising for something in a former populated area than anything else. And this is why I think it's funny and entirely apt that it's the most visible....but 98% of the books are burnt.
Then, finally, this was reached the other night as my beloved was crossing the wastelands to the 3Com satelite station, or whatever it is called. Anybody who's hit this part knows what I'm talking about. It's the one near those with rusty armor from the Brotherhood. As he crossed, I realized that this could have all been true. One iota less sense, one micron more paranoia, and we could be scavenging Philadelphia for non-radioactive soda and food. The burnt out and crumbled overpasses, and the deserted subway tunnels would be where we would withdraw to in order to stay out of the radiation. There would be no continuation of society. All invention and innovation would stop cold at that point and take possibly hundreds of years to re-establish after trade routes and supplies for our every day life had been wiped out.
In that moment I gave great thanks that those who came before us were so deeply aware of what it might mean to launch a nuclear weapon in this world. I have a beautiful green planet outside my door, with people who don't want to shiv me for a bottle of soda or capture me for slavery. It's a place where we have the time to withdraw and create music and art, or play games. Or just sit and read. It's not a struggle every second to keep from being eaten, killed, or irradiated.
Why all of this occured to me as I looked over my shoulder to look over my mate's shoulder and watch this game he loved and lusted over play out, I can't be sure. I'm not sure it would have had the same impact even if I had been the one to play it, as I would have been absorbed in trying to find mole rats for testing, looking for characters for fed-ex quests, and the like. This allowed me to actually watch someone interact in the world and be an impartial observer of the whole mess, notice patterns and ironies that might have flashed by only partially appreciated otherwise.
If nothing else, it's left me grateful to walk outside and have grass in my yard and flaming foiliage on the trees. I won't get sick from drinking Coke, and nobody's going to run me down on the road to steal my clothes. I never even realized I had it to be grateful for until I watched my bf interact with the citizens of Megaton.