Monday, 21 November 2016

Post-Apocalyptia: Fragile, Metro, and Fallout, Part 3 - Bits and Pieces

Post-Apocalyptia: Fragile, Metro, and Fallout, Part 3
Bits and Pieces

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

We're back and talking about three great works in one of my favourite genres! Before we conclude, here's some stray thoughts that don't fit anywhere else. Together though, they kind of do.

The supernatural

When I started playing Metro, I was briefly surprised by the prominence of an unexpected supernatural element. It doesn't jar, in fact it's enmeshed in the world extremely well, and in a manner that contributes to the plot and atmosphere. But you wouldn't normally think to go that direction in a post-apocalyptic story. You might think that the seriousness of the subject matter would funnel you towards “realism,” and Fallout, after all, didn't really have anything like th—oh, wait, Fallout had ghouls and Super Mutants.

Oddly, none of the properties is satisfied to bank on interest in the post-Apocalypse alone; all three decide to introduce a supernatural element to the proceedings.

Fragile features robots and woodland creatures as enemies, but also contains plenty of supernatural enemies, such as ethereal jellyfish. More significantly, of course, is the Glass Cage, whose entire premise is on technology unavailable in the real world. The impact of this decision is very large, given what it allows the creators to do with the story, as only a select few humans are spared, and they're located far from one another. Seto also encounters several ghosts, one of whom is his main companion throughout the adventure. Another is the main antagonist, and others impede his path in various ways. There's even an old woman who projects the residual self-image of a small child. Many more appear as weak enemies, including banshee-like foes and little kids playing hide-and-go-seek. It's unclear what causes someone to linger after death, but it wasn't the failed human instrumentality attempt per se, otherwise there would be millions of them stalking the streets of Toukyou, rather than a few dozen.

It's hard to say what's behind this interest in blending the serious and supernatural, but it may be to make technology a little more mysterious. We use it in our everyday lives, our dependence upon it increasing by the second, so we tend to assume we have a pretty good handle on it, and yet in these stories it has nearly destroyed us. By introducing unpredictable effects, the creators point out how little we really understand about our own technology, and, indeed, the world around us.

The place of technology

What's the most important piece of technology you're going to need to survive the post-Apocalypse? Your trusty gun, right? Of course not, don't be daft.

"Millions...perhaps even billions, died because science
 outpaced man's restraint!"
By far the most valuable technology is anything that can help you grow or acquire food or water. Even Fallout knows this. Tons of major characters devote their lives to seeking out powerful relics of the Old World. The Brotherhood of Steel, a neo-knightly order of technophiles, jealously hoards its knowledge, even placing the value of its retrieval over that of human life (“After all, everyone knows how to make another human, but the secrets to making a P94 Plasma Rifle are all but lost”). Despite warnings from some members, the Brotherhood gets so wrapped up in locating bombs and weapons schematics that it neglects more useful technologies like aeration or securing the safety of the populace. This difference of opinion tears apart one chapter and nearly destroys another. Plus, the whole plot of Fallout 1 is kicked off when your Vault's Water Chip fails, threatening to leave its residents without potable drinking water and forcing the Overseer to open the Vault early so that you can go look for one.

Metro takes this to a whole new level. Sure, people value weapons maybe a little more than they should, but they focus on the fundamentals of survival, tracking down or reinventing the most primitive, unsexy technologies available. We're talking water purification. Gardening. Domestication. That kind of stuff. They don't talk about it, but I imagine electric sewing machines fetch an outrageous price. And don't forget medicine! Some medical textbooks have survived in Fallout, but in Metro we only ever see two infirmaries in all of Metro, one at Polis in Last Light, and one in I forget where in 2034. I'm sure I don't have to explain why doctors would be highly valued. The gaudiest stations in the series are described as having medical facilities, hot running water, and adequate lighting.

The antagonist in Fragile believed that technology would solve the world's problems, but instead it nearly ended it. And all the everyday technology that once made life possible now sits unused and decaying. Surely the writers don't mean to suggest that we need to get some global genocide happening pronto, but they may be trying to tell us that we'd do well to get back to nature from time to time. Technology makes our lives possible, but it can also end them. A sickle can sustain life, or it can kill, depending how it is used. In these stories, we used the bounties available to us to destroy ourselves. Hell, you could even argue that we're doing that today, with problems like global warming. Some creators may even have had this is in mind when making the games. Nuclear bombs as a stand-in for global warming – well, the latter is slower and less exciting, but just as deadly. And just as avoidable.

What is the place of technology in our world – and in theirs? What technologies should these people pursue – and what should we? These stories are not necessarily anti-technology, but they do seem to warn against its misuse.

Sex and sexuality

Fahrenheit, an ass-kicking woman from F4
In Fallout, conventional racism has given way to an equally insidious prejudice towards the irradiated, nigh-immortal ghouls. Sexism, however, has all but been obliterated. Oh, you still have the odd old-fashioned gender roles type cropping up here and there, but for the most part, except as it pertains to whether or not you want to sleep with somebody, sex and gender are a bit of a non-issue. When your camp is assaulted by raiders, nobody cares what's between your legs – they only care how well you can fight. (The exception to this is Caesar's Legion, in which women are childbearers and caregivers and literally nothing else, but even this is more part of Caesar's ruthless division of labour than actual sexism – the same as how his veteran soldiers are never the first into battle not as some kind of privilege, but because it's more effective to hold them in relief until the enemy is already fatigued from fighting the grunts.)

On a related topic, homosexuality in the world of Fallout is a-ok. There's only one instance where I can remember it being frowned upon, and only because it was among a group of isolationists who felt that it was their peoples' duty to procreate lest they all die out, so it was more of a practical issue than actual bigotry. Basically you're free to bang whoever you want; I always play a woman and try to be as slutty as possible, and everybody's fine with it, and they give equally few fucks if you're a blushing virgin. Which is partly down to freedom of player choice, but there are plenty of non-hetero relationships between NPCs as well. It makes total sense that people would have more pressing issues on their minds than who's sleeping with whom, but there's also the fact that danger is a powerful aphrodesiac, and Post-Apocalyptia is nothing if not dangerous. Biology drives them to panic procreate, and perhaps they also realise that every chance at a good hard pounding may be their last, so they pretty much just take whatever they can get, whenever they can get it.

Also, Fragile features a totally out of nowhere boy-on-boy kiss, in a game from a country not exactly noted for its social progressivism, so wrap your head around that one.

Ammunition

As described above in the section on economics, both Fallout and Metro feature interesting substitutes for money. Metro uses pre-War AK-47 casings, now impossible to counterfeit. The underground inhabitants still make bullets, but they are vastly inferior to the industrial products manufactured for use by the actual military back when there was one.

Similarly, the people of Fallout use Nuka-Cola bottle caps as currency, as their veracity and scarcity are guaranteed because no one knows how to make them anymore. However, as soon as people started cobbling together a semblance of society once again, one of the first things they relearned how to make was high-quality weapons and ammunition. I think that says a lot.

(And by the way – in Mad Max, people don't ever figure out how to mass-produce ammunition, leading to the emphasis on melee combat.)

Glad you could join me for today's session! I've got one more point to make, so I hope I'll see you again next time.

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