The Impossible Will Take A Little While

The Impossible Will Take A Little While

I’m as corny as Kansas in August, high as the flag on the Fourth of July…


Fallout 3 takes place two centuries after a nuclear war between the U.S. and China. Most of the Earth’s population has been decimated. The rest scrabble out grueling lives in wasteland tribes, scrapyard villages or the irradiated remains of cities. Raiders roam the wastes, raping and murdering with abandon. And let’s not forget the Super Mutants.

Though we see little of the world outside the U.S. in the Fallout series, it’s safe to presume that nuclear winter has turned the human race into a threatened species. It’s likely that the population is too small, and too thinly spread, to maintain sufficient biodiversity. On top of that, centuries of collected knowledge have been lost. The human race has stopped creating and now survives by scavenging. Perhaps if the surviving humans banded together into one peaceful community and set their differences aside, the cycle of growth could resume. But instead, raiders, slavers and Enclave soldiers blow each other apart, thinning out the already sparse ranks.

The tragedy’s not that ninety-nine percent of humanity died in a fire. It’s that the last one percent will finish the job.

In this world, which Fallout 3 depicts with photorealistic accuracy, the Galaxy News Radio soundtrack acts as literal nostalgia: the “pain of a remembered wound” in Greek. Listening to the sweet voice of Billie Holliday or the cheery tones of Mary Martin reminds you of a world with a hopeful future. There was a time when people woke up in the morning thinking the future might be better than the past. And you – a lone wanderer in the remains of America’s capital, surviving on stolen ammo and rusting firearms – know that isn’t true.

Fallout 3 seems calculated to evoke a profound nihilistic despair. But is it really?

10 Comments on “The Impossible Will Take A Little While”

  1. Ryan #

    It’s very true: after playing so many hours of Fallout 3, I can’t stand not to hear Three Dog on the radio. It’s too quiet. Even in the deserted metro stations, I have to have it playing. Also, I’m now a big fan of the Ink Spots.


  2. Punning Pundit #

    My first playthrough, I didn’t repair the radio station, and thus spent a lot of time listening to Enclave Radio. It was actually a rather effective bit of propaganda…


  3. Eric #

    “People who are genuinely unsatisfied with civilization don’t write big band music. They write punk.”

    Sorry, but that’s just an embarrassingly bad line. Grow up.


  4. Perich #

    @Eric: You’re totally right! “Dissatisfied,” rather than “unsatisfied,” would have worked much better. Thank you.


  5. odeed #

    “My first playthrough, I didn’t repair the radio station, and thus spent a lot of time listening to Enclave Radio. It was actually a rather effective bit of propaganda…”

    Yeah, I actually found myself thinking, ‘maybe these guys aren’t so bad after all,’ Eton sounds so calm, and kindly.


  6. AtomicRed #

    I love Fallout 3 and reading this article makes it more appealing. Keep up the good work.


  7. Sheelagh the vault dweller #

    Very interesting piece.

    However, while it might help make your point, you’re wrong about humanity dying in the Fallout universe. Out west, the NCR has a population of 700,000 along with railroads, factories, electricity, a well-organised army and a police force. While the Capital Wasteland is more lawless, there’s no shortage of people there either (Vault 101, at least, has the lack of genetic viability, something the Overseer admits)

    What are your thoughts of on Enclave Radio? Broadcasting stirring speeches and patriotic songs across the devastated remnants of the nation? Trying to rally the people by talking about stuff they’ll have never experienced, like baseball games? I have to admit, I support the Enclave. Not because of the propaganda, but because of the truth. They have the biggest, most advanced army in the Capital Wasteland. Who better to get rid of the raiders and super mutants (you see patrols in lots of areas doing just this), to use their resources to let people get on with rebuilding instead of just surviving?


  8. perich OTI Staff #

    @Sheelagh: good points. I don’t know that the Fallout developers have commented explicitly on the long-term future of the human species in their universe. And they probably don’t intend to. So maybe things aren’t hopeless!

    However, an industrial society (like the NCR and the Enclave are trying to recreate) requires an industrial population base to labor in support of it. 700,000 people may be enough to support a civilization with railroads and factories, but I suspect that’s cutting it really close. London circa 1900 had 6.7 million people. Presuming (pure seat of my pants guesswork) that 15% of them worked in blue collar labor, that’s at least 1 million souls keeping the trains running on time.

    Also, bear in mind when I talk about “the end of the human species,” I mean on an ecological scale of time. It took the last Cretaceous dinosaurs at least a million years to die off. Humans have wrecked the planet far worse in Fallout 3, but even the most pessimistic estimates would give the human race another, say, two thousand years of life.


  9. Sheelagh the vault dweller #

    @Perich: Good points too. Don’t forget that the Fallout universe is more advanced than ours, and so automation (specifically robots and AIs) can take care of a lot of tasks. They also have huge advantages in the form of their fusion power sources which means electricity isn’t something that needs as much effort dedicated to it. I suspect this is part of the explanation for how (as my other half wondered) all the lights in the subways and sewers still work – every so often, you come across a small reactor humming away happily in a utility room, as it has done for the last two centuries.

    As we never get to see the NCR running (apart from the capital city) up close it’s hard to say just how well it all works but I’d imagine that it must. Certainly in Fallout 2, the various independent settlements all had a speciality they traded (Modoc had produce, Vault City medicine, Redding gold, Broken Hills uranium, Gecko power, San Francisco weapons) for the stuff they lacked.

    A lot of folks have said that Fallout 3’s nuclear devastation would be more befitting of a world 2 years after the war, not 200. After two centuries, many plant species would have started to regrow and certainly we wouldn’t still have a desert… Point Lookout gives a more realistically overgrown setting. It’s also mentioned that once you get about 50 miles out to sea, the ocean is largely as it is now (and no doubt getting better, given there’s no trawlers scooping up everything in huge nets).


Add a Comment