Screencap from the game 'Fallout 4.' Teresa Jusino's female player character is dressed in the Silver Shroud black trench coat and hat and has brown skin and a pink, chin-length bob. She's standing next to her Minuteman Power Armor at Sanctuary settlement.

‘Hurriquakes,’ Culture Wars, and Why I’m Suddenly Obsessed With ‘Fallout 4’

I started playing Fallout 4 earlier this summer because I’m a huge fan of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (probably best known as the co-creators of Westworld), and they’re producing a Fallout TV show for Amazon. I’d seen the video where Nolan hilariously fanboys about the franchise, so I wanted to finally check it out, and of all the Fallout games, Fallout 4 seemed the most “me.”

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I’ve always loved atompunk. My parents were born in 1935 and had me later in life. I grew up with photos of them from the 1940s-60s and fell in love with the aesthetic of those years. As a lifelong fan of science fiction and dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories, I loved that era’s take on sci-fi, too, and I enjoy it when modern storytellers bring atompunk to their genre work. It’s why I love shows like Caprica and films like The Iron Giant.

Fallout 4 scratches my atompunk itch like nobody’s business, and I’m particularly obsessed with the Commonwealth’s only real radio station, Diamond City Radio. Especially the game’s original songs sung by OG Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, who does the voice of Goodneighbor’s popular songstress, Magnolia.

Over the past three months, I’ve become unhealthily obsessed with this game. Yet despite playing for an embarrassing amount of hours, I haven’t gotten to the end of the main story yet. Mostly because I keep focusing on building up my 20+ settlements, and Preston Garvey KEEPS GIVING ME TASKS. FFS dude, I’m the “General” of the Minutemen! Why am I out here running errands?! YOU build a beacon!

I recently started wondering why I’ve become so obsessed with this old game. Especially since, while I enjoy many games, I usually only obsess over games with strong narratives, like The Last of Us, or great puzzles, like Portal. What is it about this sprawling RPG that compels me?

“We’re all a little strange in here…”

Screencap from the game 'Fallout 4.' Teresa Jusino's female player character is seen from behind wearing Power Armor while looking at a house where a pack Brahmin is standing on the roof.
SANCTUARY! The settlement so great the Brahmin are leaping into the air with joy! (Bethesda Game Studios)

Fallout 4 is annoyingly known for bugs and glitches. Sometimes that means you’ll find a two-headed Brahmin cow on top of your house. Other times, it means you’ll find the annoying woman in your settlement who blames you for a death you didn’t cause on top of your house.

Screencap from the game 'Fallout 4.' Teresa Jusino's female player character is seen in profile wearing her blue Vault suit under body armor while looking at a house where the NPC Marcy Long is standing on the roof.
“Don’t do it, Marcy! I know we don’t see eye to eye (and that you continually bringing up Mama Murphy’s death months later is hella annoying), but I still want you around! Also, that’s not a high enough roof.” (Bethesda Game Studios)

The point is, you’re gonna find some weird sh*t on top of your house. Yet in spite of that, the world of Fallout is deep, nuanced, and feels real. Fallout 4 is such a well-written game, and though the NPC responses get repetitive after a while (shouldn’t they know I freaking live here? Why do settlers keep acting like they’ve never met me before?), each person you encounter feels like an actual person with a history.

I’m amazed by the thought that’s gone into even seemingly inconsequential NPCs. For the longest time I assumed that Travis, the voice of Diamond City Radio, would simply be the DJ voice accompanying the game’s soundtrack. If he’d only been that, he would’ve been an enjoyable, funny element that filled out the world.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Diamond City and actually got to interact with Travis. What’s more, we went on a whole side-quest adventure together that started with me helping him stand up to bullies and encouraging the woman he has a crush on to ask him out, and ended with him coming with me to save a friend of his from those same bullies, risking his life to be a hero.

Then, Travis has some beautiful character development. Whereas early-game Travis is an anxiety-ridden, clumsy, self-deprecating scaredy-cat, later-game Travis emerges on the other side of this adventure proud of himself, which comes through as he continues his radio gig. He’s saying a lot of the same stuff, but in a more suave, confident way. And that’s just one character!

Nuclear apocalypse aside, these are regular people living their lives, and the minutiae of those lives are fascinating!

That includes the player character which, depending on the gender you choose is a husband/wife and mother/father to a baby named Shaun. The main engine for the story is that you and your family were cryogenically frozen in one of the U.S.’s many Vault-Tec vaults as the world fell to nuclear annihilation. However, you woke up early—just in time to watch your spouse be killed and your baby be kidnapped before being put under again. Next time you wake, your mission is to find your child.

You get to name your character (I gave myself my wife’s last name, calling my character Teresa Douglass) and build the character through dialogue, clothing, and weapons choices, as well as access to “barbers” and “reconstructive surgeons” so you can revisit the character creation menu to change your face and hair. However, Fallout 4 also gives you a solid foundation of emotionally resonant and compelling backstory to work from.

Screencap from the game 'Fallout 4.' Teresa Jusino's female player character stands in her bedroom in Sanctuary transferring items from her personal inventory to her Steamer Trunk. Both inventory menus are open and on their "Junk" tab. Most notably, the Steamer Trunk inventory contains 159 Dirty Ashtrays.
Teresa Douglass has collected 159 Dirty Ashtrays during her adventures so far. Every one of them tells a story. (Bethesda Game Studios)

Teresa Douglass went from feeling like a blank slate to being a fully fleshed-out person with likes, dislikes, and values who—SPOILER ALERT—is ashamed of how her son turned out after she went to all the trouble of finding him. She collects Dirty Ashtrays (I’ll regularly tell my wife, in character, “All clean ashtrays are the same, but every dirty ashtray tells a story”), and turned her faithful, charming robot butler, Codsworth, into a goddamn tank the second she gained robotics skills.

Fallout 4 has me wanting to learn more about every single person and location in it.

Screencap from the game 'Fallout 4.' Teresa Jusino's female player character wears the Silver Shroud trench coat and hat and has brown skin and a pink, chin-length bob. She's standing next to her robot companion, Codsworth, who is a tall, hefty blue robot on tank treads with a laser for one hand and a flamethrower for the other.
Codsworth does most of the fighting now while Teresa loots bodies and looks for Dirty Ashtrays. (Bethesda Game Studios)

When life imitates art a bit too closely

The real world seems more dumpster fire-esque every day. From the rise of fascism, discrimination, and climate change, to the counterbalance of class consciousness and the labor movement spurred on by COVID lockdown and late-stage capitalism, our world looks only slightly better than Fallout 4.

I’m joking.

But am I, though?

Yet playing Fallout 4 calms me because it offers control over a fictional world that’s totally out of control. I get to build communities and alliances, find resources and protect citizens from harm, and help others find hope in the midst of horrors.

And there’s something so soothing about opening the workshop in a new settlement and spending 20 minutes scrapping all the wood, steel, or concrete you can find.

“Have faith, or pandemonium liable to walk upon the scene…”

Screencap from the game 'Fallout 4.' Teresa Jusino's female player character wears the Institute Courser outfit and sunglasses, and has brown skin and a pink, chin-length bob. She's standing next to a Railroad flag hanging on her bedroom wall in Sanctuary.
Teresa might be dressed like an Institute Courser, but she is RAILROAD 4 LIFE! (Bethesda Game Studios)

This past weekend, a #hurriquake hit Los Angeles, where I live. Yup, L.A’s first tropical storm in over a century had an earthquake in the middle of it. Figures.

As my wife and I prepared for the storm I imagined, as I often do, what kind of person I’d be if civilization collapsed. Would I be able to repurpose items for survival? Could I successfully engage in mutual aid with others? What goods/skills do I even have to trade? And am I a good enough cook to actually live on radroaches?

Fallout 4 has affected how I interpret the world around me.

Photograph of two couches left out on the sidewalk as trash. In the foreground is a red fabric couch that looks like one part of a sectional. Behind it is a grey couch that's been flipped over onto its back.
I saw this on the sidewalk across from my apartment and immediately thought of it as a “Fallout workshop couch.” (Teresa Jusino)

Yet weirdly, playing Fallout 4 makes me confident about who I’d be under apocalyptic circumstances. As I create a character I genuinely like, I’m creating myself. It’s nice to see yourself through the prism of a character and like what you see. I’ll never be as good as Teresa Douglass at wielding big guns, but I could be the kind of ethical leader who’s capable of bringing disparate groups together to build a better whole.

Fallout 4 feels creepily relevant as the U.S. engages in yet another socio-political “culture war” about fundamental values. A 1950s brand of morality bumping up against a world that realized long ago that the “Good Old Days” weren’t actually good, fighting not to get back to something, but to build something entirely new.

Long live the Commonwealth.

Screencap from the game 'Fallout 4.' Teresa Jusino's female player character wears the Minuteman outfit and body armor, and has brown skin and a pink, chin-length bob. She's on one knee to greet her German Shepherd, Dogmeat, who's sitting in his doghouse wearing metal armor. "DOGMEAT" is spelled out in stuck-on letters above the dog house's doorway.
Teresa leaves Dogmeat at Sanctuary in armor, because she doesn’t want anything happening to her Very Good Boy. (Bethesda Game Studios)

(featured image: Bethesda Game Studios)


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Author
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.