Like most West Virginians, I approach pop culture depictions of my home state with trepidation.
I expect to see the complex reality of my homefolk erased by stick characters, like the murderous hillbillies of the Wrong Turn films or the sad hillbillies of The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. I expect to see only poverty, in spite of the state’s pockets of great wealth. Mostly, I expect West Virginia will be treated as an idea, with very little attention paid to the state’s multifaceted nature.
I am, then, pleasantly surprised by the complex rendering of West Virginia in Bethesda Game Studios’ new release, Fallout 76. The latest installment in the venerable, post-apocalyptic role-playing video game franchise, it’s the first of the games to be multi-player. Set 25 years after nuclear war has destroyed the region (and, presumably, most of the world), the game focuses on rebuilding—through resource gathering, camp building, and monster killing—a new, post-war world centered in West Virginia. But Fallout 76 is not set in the popular imagination about West Virginia, but in the complicated physical and cultural realities of the state.
The design director at Bethesda Game Studios, Emil Pagliarulo, said in an interview with games and entertainment website Polygon: “I hate ‘redneck post-apocalyptic’ … It’s very cliché, stereotyped. And that was really important for us, to not stereotype the people or the culture and to not go down that road, and to treat it with respect.” The careful work that went into realizing this mandate can be seen throughout the game. As a player, you enter the game through Vault 76—a fallout shelter meant to house people through the toxic years—and find yourself in a wooded