Why ‘Fallout’ Is the Best Nuclear War Story Ever Told
Matthew Gault
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I’ll ignore the fact that a video game informs the author’s understanding of the 1950s and the Cold War. I’ll also ignore the fact that he shares a left-wing historical view (itself deriving from Marxist historiography) that the past is always worse than the present which is worse than the eventual triumph of “the correct” ideology in the future.

The best nuclear fiction is NOT Fallout but Game Designer’s Workshop’s 1984 role-playing game Twilight:2000. This was a game played with paper and dice and a sh*tload of imagination. Though I was the real last Cold War generation (the Wall came down my Senior year), it wasn’t the post-nuclear premise that got me into the game — it was one of the few military role-playing games.

The premise was that in 1995, a Soviet-Chinese war (with nuclear weapons used) prompts an attempt at German reunification that most of NATO support. The Third World War results, with tactical nuclear weapons used. When NATO sweeps East, the Soviets launch a limited nuclear strike on the USA in 1997. The Federal Government collapses with three factions vying for control: the liberal CivGov; military/conservative MilGov; and racist survivalist New America. Yet by the game’s start in 2000, the war continues on.

The initial game had the characters playing members of the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) cut off in Poland and trying to escape home while still fighting the Warsaw Pact and marauders. As GDW added new modules in booklet form (the game really only ran out of steam when the Cold War ended and “revisions” to the backstory came off as too forced )— the game mythology allowed players to explore the Persian Gulf or back home in the USA. You could play a civilian militia member or a Delta Force operator. The only limit was your budget for game modules but even then, Gamemasters could come up with their own story ideas. And if you didn’t like something GDW released as “canon” you could ignore it.

My GM once ran a game where we were all Special Ops all stars: Seal Team Six and SAS, parachuting behind Soviet lines in Iran to stop a nuclear suitcase bomb from attacking our allied Iranian government. It involved us taking on Soviet Spetsnaz and Hind helicopters. Once I was exposed to the real military, I instantly realized where T:2000 got the military and combat wrong but as a 16 year old it was great fun like a Chuck Norris film.

T:2000 made a serious attempt to think about life in a post-nuclear world where survivors not only had to find food and fuel but wage war and govern. Very few video games go into the detail T:2000 did — hundreds of pages written. Imagination was really your only limit. We were not dependent on a software company putting out a new release.

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