The Wasteland and The Waste Land

I’ve just finished playing Old World Blues, Obsidian‘s latest DLC for Fallout: New Vegas. It’s a brilliant game, and probably the most enjoyable of all the games I’ve played in the Fallout universe.

It set me thinking about a major element of the Fallout series: the frequent cultural allusions. I’ve only played New Vegas (four times) and its add-ons, Fallout 3, and a little of Fallout 2, but I’ve seen enough to recognize that little cultural references to movies, music or television are a big part of the Fallout world.

At first, I didn’t really like these little touches. They were often funny, to be sure, but it’s always been my opinion that in-universe, character-based humor is preferable to topical stuff. And many people won’t get the references anyway.

Playing Old World Blues made me re-think that a little. I think it was the Wizard of Oz reference towards the end of it. It made me see the use of these allusions in a way that is complementary to the post-apocalyptic setting.

I realized that while these cultural references are mostly played for humor, they also serve to underscore the decayed civilization aspect of Fallout. There is something about seeing a familiar cultural reference in a the middle of the bleak, war-ravaged landscape that is actually a little disconcerting. The placing of these familiar lines, scenes etc. into unfamiliar surroundings give one a sense of a scattered, but not wholly unrecognizable culture–just as we would expect after a nuclear war.

(It makes me think of T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. That poem was also filled with allusions to works of art and philosophy, and created a similar sensation, as weird as that sounds. Though I think what the Bible and Shakespeare were to Eliot’s readers, Star Wars and Monty Python are to Fallout players.)

I don’t know if any of this was intentional on the part of any of the makers of Fallout, but it’s interesting to me either way.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?