The ’50s Kitsch: How Fallout 3 and XCOM Provide Deep Thematic Meaning

As I traverse the Capitol Wasteland, I study my surroundings. My health bar is very low, and I need to carefully ration supplies in order to reach my destination. A red blip signals danger on my radar.

As the intensity sharpens and my anticipation fixates on the unidentified mortal enemy, something in the background completes a laid-back atmospheric scene. The soft tones of The Ink Spots's "Maybe" emit from my Pip-Boy 3000 with a raspy effect on the transmission, and the juxtaposition engulfs me.

The cheerful asthetics of this sign compliment the harsh setting of this slave camp.

The harsh and depressing visuals contrast with the classical lyrics that represent what we believe to be a simpler time. Kids play baseball, mothers bake apple pie, and the super mutant kidnaps a slave for dinner.

This thematic mix between the mad hysteria of the wasteland and the pleasant relics of authentic music and advertisements builds the game's appeal to a larger audience. Soft music riding next to gritty and frequently disturbing combat creates a strong impression.


People today often express memories of easy times and young love; when a creative work tears the perception of this time period apart with death, its interest to the user increases tenfold. This contrast serves to expose the dark underbelly of society by exposing evil acts against humanity.

One scene I find truly remarkable in Fallout 3 is Tranquility Lane. As you despreately seek your dad, you scout for answers in a simulation world of a seemingly peaceful cul-de-sac. Innocent-looking Betty prods you to commit terrible acts in exchange for answers. You delve deeper into a community shrouded by lies and cheating — tears and death. The fact that the face this sequence puts on — a black and white aesthetic without evidence of the nuclear holocaust — so magnificently portrays typical '50s lifestyle, sets it up for a huge contrast even in a serene environment.

With the reboot of X-Com: UFO Defense in XCOM, you can definitely see this theme transforming but still adhering to the underlying formula.

Instead Fallout 3's approach of beginning players' journey after these world-changing events, XCOM invites them to watch as the peacefulness deteriorates into a deadly environment. This will only enhance the defining piece to the '50s-kitsch puzzle: memories of the old world's past through simple and innocent props.

Prestine conditions allow for striking contrast with XCOM's newly unique action.

Because games like XCOM will let you witness first hand the downfall of society, you get to know the world a little better by being familiar with the setting before the deterioration commences.

The '50s kitsch really seems to have taken off; while it sits behind the curtains, it quietly holds major influence. Its success stems from the shear amount of versatility, and its striking contrasts enhance environmental texture and atmosphere. Themes like this can easily define a game or series and take design and progress in the industry to heights previously unfathomable. It's extremely fascinating to follow the theme's progress and influence.

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