Opinion: Now I Am Become Game Journalist, The Destroyer Of Fun

This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.

In recent weeks there has been a rebooted push by a group of game journalists to condemn the usage of nuclear bombs as endgame content in the upcoming release of Fallout 76.

The soft souls over at Waypoint kicked off this trend with an article posted on October 12th that criticized the weapon’s inclusion in the game as an area where “power fantasies hit a breaking point”. An early sticking point of the piece was a criticism levied at Gamespot for a now deleted Tweet in which they described a nuclear blast within Fallout as “epic”.

Within days of that post articles began popping up on an increasing list of sites. Journalists at Paste Magazine and Unwinnable essentially repeated the rhetoric of Waypoint writer Cameron Kunzelman while the folks at Motherboard decided to take a different approach by interviewing nuclear war experts on their thoughts to the game.

As is to be expected the experts (and one student) were not fans of their depiction. A sentiment that led to a bevy of sites spewing clickbait driven headlines warning that nuclear war experts are not happy with Fallout 76.

On the one hand it’s semi understandable why those tasked with knowing the ins and outs of nuclear weaponry might have a hard time enjoying their use in the escapist fantasy that is video gaming, but on the other it seems they miss the point of what escapism actually is, a negligence of understanding that is a sin less forgivable to those journalists whose career is writing about gaming.

Read Waypoint often enough, to which I apologize if you do for I can relate to that pain, and one thing you’ll learn about Cameron Kunzelman is that he has no qualms when it comes to murdering people in games. He enjoys Battlefield One, is a big fan of the Dark Souls series, and he most certainly had a blast playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

While writing specifically about the shooting within Mafia III he had this to say:

“The handguns blaze in Mafia III. They make this chunk chunk chunk noise, like they’re trying as hard as they can to just throw the bullets out. Lincoln Clay is a good shooter, and the shots find their marks. Huge splats of blood fly out. The bodies convulse. Suspenders has pulled his shotgun, and he’s making his way around to Lincoln’s left so he can get the optimal angle on snuffing out the protagonist’s lights. He’s so confident, and despite the knowledge that Lincoln is controlled by me and Suspenders is controlled by a fairly delimited AI script, I still get a little shaken up. Suspenders has gotten me a few times. This could be another time.”

Within the context of the piece he has fun with the combat and he believes it to be the best way for Mafia III to tell its story. A valid perspective if not for the hypocrisy of much of his career.

This sentiment is the same for the writers of any of the articles above. It’s not difficult to find instances of them enjoying games in which the player partakes in bloody deeds that in real life would be traumatic and evil. So one must wonder why nuclear bombs are where they draw the line.

Certainly every time they shoot another polygonal human inside the world of an action game they don’t immediately begin questioning the morality of murder -on second thought, considering some of the journalists above, they might- so why all of a sudden is some in game actions taking things too far?

There is no denying that nuclear bombs are terrifying. Live footage of an actual nuclear detonation is a heart stopping affair. The goosebumps that rise from the chill that forms upon seeing clips of the Trinity bomb test is a reaction that stems from the existential dread that these powerful weapons conjure inside the minds of even the most strong willed among us.

It’s horrifying to imagine what will happen to the world around us the next time a bomb goes off in a civilized area of the globe. Within mere moments society on every imaginable level will change. And that’s only if a single bomb was to go off in just one city. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the awful implications of another potential World War.

But all the fear that nuclear bombs instill within the very core of my being is what makes video games such a great experience.

To most people it’s not difficult to separate fiction from reality, and in fiction, nuclear bombs are awe inspiring. At the risk of sounding momentarily callous I also believe the same to be true in reality. The science behind the blast and the sheer sight of a mushroom cloud is incredible.

In the real world, that quick moment of scientific awesomeness is immediately crushed by what that explosion represents, but in gaming, there is no depressingly crushing aftermath. I can see the fungal shaped monster in the sky within the realm of Fallout and not have to question the implications of war and death.

In that sense Gamespot’s tweet was spot on because seeing the mushroom cloud drawn out in all of its digital and pixelated greatness is nothing short of epic. As a whole that is one of the wonderful benefits of gaming.

It lets us enjoy otherwise horrible things in a guilt free environment where we are free of consequence. Why else can I giggle as I lob a mini-nuke at a settlement of human NPC’s in Fallout 4 but cry at the very real tragedy that was the usage of nukes during World War 2.

Too many game journalists have forgotten how to have fun in a hobby that they should have passion for. In our hyper politicized society most people want to turn on a game to escape.

This is conjecture on my part, but I feel safe in stating that the majority of consumers are not purchasing Fallout 76 and worrying about the implications of nuclear bombs in the reality outside of their TV screens. They just want to fucking nuke their friends in the digital confines of a silly and over the top video game.

All this isn’t to say that games can’t be political or shouldn’t be. Some of my favorite games have a deeper message, but come on, blowing people up in Fallout is hardly an action that  needs to be turned into something more.

One other thing many journalists fail to realize is that nuclear bombs in Fallout 76 make for perfect end-game content.

Weapons of mass destruction are an invention bred out of the worst tendencies of humankind, and in the sandbox that is an online game, allowing for the worst of these tendencies makes for an experience where people can role-play in a myriad of ways.

Don’t like nukes, even if imaginary, well good news, you can play hero and work with a group of friends to prevent their usage. Nothing within the coding of the game forces you to launch missiles at other players, so form a dedicated clan and protect the missile sites. Foil the plans of those who play villain.

The magic of gaming is that we are allowed these opportunities.

Most people reading this article are nowhere near the class ranking of the elite (Hi Elon!). As average citizens we have no pieces in play upon the board that is the complex game of geopolitics and war. If a nuke was to go off tomorrow there is absolutely nothing we could do about it.

That thought understandably gives some people pause. We are victims to the whims of those with the power to destroy a city in less than a moment, which is why video games and the escapism they offer are special.

In the realm of Fallout 76 we all are the elite and sometimes we all want a power fantasy where we can play Death, the destroyer of worlds, free of consequence.

Fallout 76 is launching on November 14th across Windows PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Note: As a freelance contributor to Niche Gamer, I am funded via my GoFundMe – please consider supporting independent journalism and writing like you’ve seen here.

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Sophia was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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