Fallout 76. Plus, The Enduring Power of Rubik’s Cube
The latest in the Fallout franchise reminds us of the threat of mutually assured destruction—with plenty of gallows humor
what would nuclear war be like? One way to imagine might be to visit the Greenbrier, a five-star resort in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, which contains a once-secret underground bunker meant to house members of Congress in the event of an attack. The bunker is still off-limits, but a virtual tour of the Greenbrier resort is now available, courtesy of Bethesda Game Studios, in its latest video game release, Fallout 76.
To play Fallout 76 is to become a survivor in a fictional postapocalyptic world meant to hint at what life might have been like had the Cold
War turned hot. As in the other five games in the franchise, Fallout
76 follows survivors after they emerge from their shelters, known in the game as “vaults,” after global thermonuclear war has incinerated Western civilization. In a chaotic world bereft of traditional institutions, players are forced to fend for themselves, gathering clean food and water, building shelters and organizing communities.
Atomic-era aesthetics have been lucrative for Bethesda Game Studios, which has sold millions of these games; no post-apocalyptic movie, TV show or video game has found more commercial success than this franchise. Fallout is “this idea of a 1950s, 1940s sensibility, but then it veers off from our own time line and goes nuts,” says Pete Hines, the senior vice president of global marketing and communications for Bethesda. “What would it be like if America held on to that sensibility but with way more nuclear-powered technology and ridiculous advancements like rocket cars and robot maids?”
Unlike the previous games, Fallout 76 is intended for multiple players. For the first time in the franchise’s history, players must work with, or against, one another. The game pays homage to the Greenbrier by including a resort called the White Springs, a digital knockoff named after the real facility’s West Virginia hometown, White Sulphur Springs. The White Springs is a faithful re-creation of the Greenbrier, down to the checkerboard tile floors and verdant floral wallpaper designed by Dorothy Draper.
Fallout 76 takes a casually absurd tone with a forced normalcy that heightens the eerie post-apocalyptic atmosphere. For example, a press room in the bunker contains televised backdrops of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., complete with seasonal weather effects—as if fake snow on TV would comfort citizens living in a nuclear winter. Vault-tec, a fictitious company, sells memberships to vaults door-to-door and serves as a de facto Big Brother, constantly surveilling and compiling detailed reports on the behavior of the inhabitants. Vault-tec populates its shelters with cartoon mascots and tutorials inspired by the infamous duck-and-cover school safety drills of the ’50s and ’60s. A horror show with a cheeky vibe.
The Greenbrier bunker has long been legendary among the staff at
Bethesda, which Hines says almost held an event at the resort for 2008’s Fallout 3 because it looms so large in the company’s hometown lore. (Transportation logistics proved onerous—the Greenbrier is in a remote location for a reason). “We’re in D.C., so we’re in or around politics all the time,” he says. “We know about Greenbrier, and its place in continuing the government and the fact that there was a ‘vault’ there.”
Turns out nostalgia works even %E6Tʝ/AID P/A16 Scenes from Fallout 76, which re-creates the real Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia—home to a oncesecret underground bunker meant to house Congress in the event of an attack.
“What would it be like if America held on to a 1950s sensibility but with ridiculous advancements, like rocket cars and robot maids?”
for the things we would prefer to forget. The Cold War arms race is now far enough in the past that we can play at nuclear annihilation— even as current events continue to remind us of that the chilling possibility remains.