One of Fallout 76’s most-hyped marketing features is that you can drop nukes on other players. But with the world in political tumult and the prospect of an atomic apocalypse an actual thing if Donald Trump doesn’t stop double-dog daring Kim Jong Un on Twitter, is that even okay? Some people don’t think so.
Most video games present a somewhat indifferent, sterile version of violence – a necessary means to some narrative end and assured moral absolution and XP, maybe, and definitely not ever a gratuitous exposition of questionable ideology or a recruitment ad for the army because, omg mom, it’s just a video game and it’s not subject to this sort of criticism and what is this even, ethics in my video games?
Talking to Motherboard, three war experts propose that dropping nukes on other players in a video game is kind of… gross.
“It’s very sanitized,” says Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy consultant and author of (fictional-for-now) The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Attacks Against the United States. “I find it a little off-putting.”
“ICBMs are not fun. Or funny. They created the hellish world your player is in. Launching them for laughs is a complete violation of the sense of the game,” Tom Nichols, professor at the US Navy War College, author of No Use: Nuclear Weapons and US National Security, and a fan of the Fallout series, explains. “I think if you really want to zing Bethesda, give them hell for taking one of the most literate, well-written franchises in gaming history and turning it into just another way that teenage griefers can go around nuking each other.”
“Nuclear war wouldn’t be fun and that doesn’t sell well,” adds University of Mexico PhD candidate Martin Pfeiffer, who concedes that some video games – DEFCON: Everybody Dies and Civilization, for example – incorporate nuclear war as part of a meaningful meta, with significant diplomatic consequences and a human cost. Not so much Fallout, though.
“I have always been somewhat ambivalent about Fallout. I would argue that a focus on the aesthetics of nuclear warfare rather than the human toll descends into spectacular #NukePorn…navigating a post-nuclear wasteland for fun, well. That line between satire and an aestheticized and fun post-apocalypse can get awful thin.”
It’s a provocative premise, perhaps, but one that shouldn’t be dismissed entirely even if – like me – you’ve been playing video games since you were a kid and you totally wouldn’t drop a nuke on a real person so what’s the problem. Do video games have a responsibility to consider historical precedent and prevailing circumstances, and manage controversial content like this with more discretion? More than 70 years since the US dropped nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whether or not it was justified is still a matter of debate.
And we want to drop nukes for the lulz.