Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Nuclear Culture 5: Video Games of the Nuclear Apocalypse

Screenshot wallpaper from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007) © GSC Gameworld.

Radiation, once considered a source of vitality, now inspires our most horrific nightmares about lingering sickness, painful death - and eugenics. In 1968, H. R. Giger created a piece called Atomic Children (see it in this post), which appears to have influenced his famous design of the Alien for that movie franchise. In other words, the Alien might, in its original conception, have partly been imagined as a human being genetically morphed through the effects of radiation. Speculation on how we would survive in the poisoned atmosphere of a nuclear wasteland and the kinds of organisms we would become under those conditions have dominated sci-fi and horror tropes since the mid-twentieth century.

Screenshot wallpaper from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky (2008-2009) © GSC Gameworld.

Video games provide some of the most visceral cultural explorations of the long term consequences of nuclear war and radioactive disasters. They allow the player immersion in hellish apocalyptic settings that are marked by total obliteration of the environment and survival at any cost.

Screenshot wallpaper from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007) © GSC Gameworld.

In some games, nukes are just weapons (such as: Mass Effect; DEFCON; CIVILIZATION). In others, nuclear holocausts spawn new worlds, populated by mutants. Two big game franchises in this branch of survival horror are the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky (2008-2009); S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007); S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (2009-2010)) and the Fallout series (Fallout (1997); Fallout 2 (1998); Fallout Tactics (2001); Fallout 3 (2008); Fallout: New Vegas (2010)). Both franchises deal with how we perceive the genetic effects of radiation in ruined landscapes. In both cases, an individual shooter player confronts mutants and genetically-twisted monsters. These creatures are inversions of the radioactive comic book superhero. The latter are caricatures of our fantasy that radiation could potentially have a positive impact on human evolution. These game worlds are the flip side of that atomic heroism.

Screenshot wallpaper from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky (2008-2009) © GSC Gameworld.

The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, made by the Ukrainian developers GSC Gameworld, is set around the Chernobyl reactor, Pripyat and the exclusion zone. In the game universe, attempts have been made to repopulate the exclusion zone with scientists and military personnel; this effort was followed by a second radioactive disaster, set in 2006. Mutated plants, humans and animals are everywhere in the zone. Experiments with seven neurally-linked scientists lead to the creation of a hivemind at the heart of Reactor #4 in Chernobyl called the C-Consciousness, which demonstrates psi-powers and wish granting. Scavenger and mercenary shooters called Stalkers roam the zone, searching for scientific information, materials and other artifacts. Shadow of Chernobyl was the first game to be released in this series (although not the first game in terms of plot); it inspired the following comments from Tech Digest in 2007:
Maybe it’s a bit in bad taste basing a game around the world’s worst nuclear disaster, but naysayers were shocked into silence when Stalker booted up on their PCs. Battling mutant factions around the wreckage of Chernobyl’s power plant, oppressively bleak landscapes gave way to some of the most unsettling interior sequences we’ve ever experienced in a game.
Screenshot wallpaper from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007) © GSC Gameworld.
Screenshot wallpaper from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky (2008-2009) © GSC Gameworld.

The Fallout series adds retro-futurism to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s atomic Darwinism. It is set in the 23rd century. After a nuclear war arose in the second half of the 21st century between America and China, the survivors have taken refuge in sealed vaults underground. They later emerge and struggle to rebuild society. The retro-futuristic aesthetic of the game constantly refers to the the dawn of atomic culture from the 1940s and 1950s.

Fallout 1 intro movie. Video Source: Youtube.
Screenshot of the Master, a human-computer hybrid, from Fallout (1997) © Black Isle Studios.

To see the animated game version of the Fallout 1 speech with the Master, go here. It depicts a creepy demise for the antagonist, a character that defends the "new age of Mutants" against the Normals (who "brought nuclear death to us all") and Ghouls. When the player proves that the Mutants are sterile and cannot form the basis for a new "master race," the Master is defeated.

Fallout 2 game trailer. Video Source: Youtube.

Fallout 2 intro movie. Video Source: Youtube.

Fallout 3 game trailer. Video Source: Youtube.

Fallout 3 intro movie. Video Source: Youtube.

Fallout: New Vegas teaser trailer. Video Source: Youtube.

Fallout: New Vegas intro movie. Video Source: Youtube.

See all my posts on nuclear themes.

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  1. cool love fallout3

  2. Yeah. Just so long as it isn't training for real life in the future.

  3. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mgames.EvilSeal

    Hi guys! Sorry to bother you, but I really want to show my boyfriend's videogame project.
    It's a new survival horror game set in a post-apocalyptic world. For the moment is available only for
    Android devices but he's working to include also other operating systems.
    We'd be glad if you could please download it and give us your opinion!
    Thank you for your kind attention