I collect nuclear paraphernalia and paranoia like decent people collect stamps and coins. I have no idea why.

True, I grew up through the ’80s, when the Cold War was still relatively warm to the touch. But I knew next to nothing about ICBMs, politics, or even communism. In fact, much of my grade school’s population was comprised of Russian Jews whose parents had fled their home country because being a Jew in Russia historically isn’t an A+ #1 awesome circumstance.

So Russians weren’t the faraway but ever-looming threat they were to my North Carolinian husband at the same age. They were my friends, albeit friends with harsh accents and a repertoire of cool swear words.

(Incidentally, it took me decades to realise my peer group wasn’t born of normal circumstances — that it wasn’t normal to go to school with dozens of children who came to Canada after seeing relatives die at the hands of violent regimes. Even the white kids, myself included, were relatively new to the country, as many of our grandparents had left Europe and Asia after the Holocaust and / or because of general persecution. It wasn’t until my husband mentioned his family in America dates back to the 17th century that I thought “Oh shit — long-term settlement is a thing some people did.”)

If there’s a reason why I can talk to you for hours about Protect & Survive, When the Wind Blows, Threads, The Day After, and the rest of it, it might be because, like many North American ’80s kids, I was often exposed to the Emergency Broadcast System tone.

[inhale] "BWAAAAA" [inhale]

[inhale] “BWAAAAA” [inhale]

Though Canada doesn’t have its own unified emergency alert system (IT SHOULD), the tests would snake their way across the border via American TV stations and make us collectively crap our little Canadian mooseskin pantaloons.

Thanks, Obama. Er, Bush. Reagan. Whomever.

Maybe at some point I drudged up the memory of the EBS’s reverse siren song (so-named because it sends you feeling from the source instead of towards it) and wondered, “What was up with that shit,” prompting me to start an investigation about how we all came pretty close to being flash-fried around the same time I learned how to play Donkey Kong on the ColecoVision.

My drive to absorb Cold War-era paraphernalia and media like so much radiation after a ground-burst has predictably led me to take an interest in the Fallout game series. Believe it or not, my feelings towards the series are tepid compared to the loud opinions I have about disaster movies. I think it’s because I’m terrible at actually playing Fallout games (and the 3D iterations trigger some pretty  nasty motion sickness).

That said, I think I’m still qualified to make cool observations about how the Fallout titles visually compare to other uranium-dusted entertainment.

One such recent cool observation: Fallout 4 is a pretty colourful game, and that makes a lot of sense.


“My insides are gradually liquefying, but isn’t this lovely?”

We tend to think of nuclear wastelands as grey, dead slabs of poisoned rock, maybe peppered with the crumbling remnants of civilization. The wind is constantly blowing a sad note, and the skies are perpetually blanketed with thick, cold clouds. Once the bombs fall in Threads and The Day After, nary a day of sunshine follows in either movie.

Most scientists believe a massive thermonuclear war would throw enough soot and trash into the stratosphere to give us a miserable “nuclear winter” that’d surely be a lovely accompaniment to our burns and lingering radiation sickness. There’s already some scientific basis in this theory: We already know large volcanic eruptions can affect faraway climates for years at a time. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 mucked up the world’s climate for about five years, and that blast was good for five or six nuclear bombs. Who knows what state the climate would be in after hundreds or thousands of bombs had gone off.

But wind and rain will eventually get rid of all that nasty junk, and the skies won’t stay grumbly forever (provided we, uh, stop bombing each other once the initial devastation is done). The events of Fallout 4 occur following this initial period of healing, about 200 years after the bombing’s done with. Boston’s weather is quite sunny and agreeable — excepting the occasional hair-raising radiation storm.

Would we actually see a sunny day a mere 200 years after a nuclear war? Who can say. God willing, our species won’t flip its shit and provide us with an opportunity to study hard data. Either way, Fallout 4’s uncharacteristic brightness makes for a nice change of pace.

"Hey kid. Wanna see a dead body?"

“Hey kid. Wanna see a dead body?”

Because, really, there’s little scientific reason for a nuclear wasteland to not be colourful. Even the term “wasteland” might be a misnomer. The closest thing we have to a real-world Radiation Death Zone is the ruins of Chernobyl, which are currently teeming with flora and fauna of all kinds. Yes, the lingering radiation has caused mutations, but the point is, Life Found a Way™.

(Also, the ferocious rate at which Chernobyl’s wild animal populations rebounded after humans cleared out indicates we’re far more of a threat to the natural world than massive doses of radiation. That’s really depressing.)

And even though Chernobyl doesn’t host any Deathclaw-grade mutations that we know of, it doesn’t mean a biological horror show can’t lunge for your heart while flashing all the colours of the rainbow.

To wit, one of my favourite fantasy books is The Talisman by Peter Straub and Stephen King (who wrote it under the penname Richard Bachman). The Talisman outlines a fantasy world that parallels our own in some interesting ways cause-and-effect can apparently seep through the fabric separating dimensions. As a consequence, when the USA tested bombs in Nevada, it inadvertently created the “Blasted Lands” in the Territories, an irradiated stretch of land populated by nightmares.

Take a tour of the Blasted Lands courtesy of World of Warcraft

Take a tour of the Blasted Lands courtesy of World of Warcraft

The Blasted Lands are saturated with colour. Problem is, it’s the wrong kind of colour. The soil is blood-red. The scrubby grasses are a shade of yellow that matches diseased urine. The things that live there — mutant dogs, giant worms, half-sentient lizard-men — are described in slithering pinks and warty greens.

It’s an unsettling passage to read, probably because we’re not used to seeing riotous colours used in descriptions of sickness and slow, wasting death.

And that’s an odd thing, because in nature, colour typically means “Whoa, stay away bro — you don’t want none of what I’m selling.”

Monarch butterflies are brilliantly-patterned to discourage predators. Many venomous snakes have themselves all prettied up so you won’t go stepping on them like an asshole. The deadly skin of the poison dart frog makes Joseph’s coat of colours look like a bar mop that’s been marinating in a puke-bucket through Friday night.

Point is, I can dig it. Good job letting yourself shine, Fallout 4! Here’s to more beautifully savage wastelands in gaming.