Fallout: New Vegas’ Boomers: Real American Heroes 2

There is an expres­sion in the Wasteland: “Old World Blues”. It refers to those so obsessed with the past they can’t see the present, even less the future, for what it is. ” – Dr. Mobius and Dr. Klein, Old World Blues

The beau­ti­ful thing about New Vegas is that it serves as a snow globe of 21st Century America. When the bombs fell, America stopped. All that we are is on dis­play and played out for us to  exam­ine. The polit­i­cal cli­mate of the Mojave rep­re­sents a micro­cosm of American ideas and its many frac­tured ideals; the var­i­ous fac­tions that war in the var­i­ous stra­ta of con­flict rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent strug­gles between dif­fer­ent American ide­olo­gies.

I could explore at length the man­i­fold metaphors and analogs with­in the Mojave to today’s America, how the New California Republic rep­re­sents Manifest Destiny’s notion of tam­ing and civ­i­liz­ing the Wasteland that belongs to them, how the Brotherhood of Steel sig­ni­fies the stal­wart Religious Right, how the Bright Followers walk the same path down which Joseph Smith led his flock, and how all of them and every other major fac­tion in the Wasteland rep­re­sent a dif­fer­ent shard of the America that once was whole, but today I wish to explore some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Roughly halfway through the game, after the Courier has estab­lished a con­sid­er­able rep­u­ta­tion as a sort of Count of Monte Cristo, the key play­ers in the Mojave ‑the NCR, Legion, and Mr. House- each want hir to deliv­er mes­sages and diplo­ma­cy to expand their respec­tive spheres of influ­ence. The first place the Courier is sent is to Nellis Air Force Base to talk with the Boomers.

The Boomers, a tribe of for­mer Vault-dwellers, are gun-happy, self-sufficient, and iso­la­tion­ist to a fault. Given the motif of Mojave-as-America, the Boomers are meant to sym­bol­ize the American spir­it, with their fas­ci­na­tion with Guns and Freedom. As BioShock’s Rapture rep­re­sents a Randian Disneyland, Nellis rep­re­sents the myth of what America could be, “ought to” be: an embod­i­ment of the ideal of Freedom, an exam­ple of Washingtonian America in minia­ture.

Shortly before leav­ing the pres­i­den­cy, Washington wrote a let­ter to the American peo­ple giv­ing his pro­fes­sion­al opin­ion on the direc­tion the coun­try ought to go as it grew. His phi­los­o­phy was fair­ly straight­for­ward: Free trade, lim­it­ed but unit­ed gov­er­nance, and resis­tance to for­eign entan­gle­ments. Though America (both dur­ing and after his tenure) ignored his advice, Washington’s coun­sel remains a cher­ished ideal for many Americans. The Boomers revere these prin­ci­ples and endeav­or to come as close as they can to Washington’s ideal.

Within the walls of Nellis, the Boomers have con­struct­ed a peace­ful soci­ety where every per­son is armed from birth and taught how to use all the explo­sives and weapons hir lit­tle heart could ever desire. No con­flict exists in the soci­ety because destruc­tion of all feud­ing par­ties is of the mutually-assured fla­vor1, and frowns never stick around because grenades and how­itzers make for mar­velous stress-relievers. The Boomers never have any prob­lems with out­siders (whom they call “Savages”), because any­one who wan­ders close enough to their gates gets a high­ly explo­sive greet­ing fired from the Boomer’s mas­sive, friend­ly guns. It is the sound these guns make, as it would hap­pen, that has inspired sav­ages the Mojave over to call them Boomers.

I think I can demon­strate why the Boomers would so zeal­ous­ly adopt such a lifestyle. To do so, let us return to imme­di­ate­ly post‑9/11 America. I was eleven at the time, and I couldn’t com­pre­hend what was hap­pen­ing to my coun­try. In the after­math of 9/11, there was a resur­gence of American mil­i­tarism and nation­al­ism across the coun­try, but espe­cial­ly among the Religious Right (to which I belonged). Within two years, we waged two wars, all with the hope of mak­ing our nation safer by seek­ing out and bomb­ing the hell out of Terror wher­ev­er we per­ceived it.

At the core of the last decade’s vio­lent behav­ior is the fun­da­men­tal fear of the Other. It explains two dis­tinct phe­nom­e­na which I until very recent­ly con­flat­ed, name­ly our rush to two unnec­es­sary wars, as those dragged on (as Washington warned they would) the desire to be rid of entan­gle­ments with every­one, espe­cial­ly Mexico. Before 9/11, I had no con­cept of Islam, or what it meant to be Muslim. Afterward, I still couldn’t real­ly get straight answers; they were from Outside our bor­ders, and some of them attacked us, thus they were the enemy. We ran into war in Iraq when the United Nations wasn’t mov­ing fast enough or giv­ing them enough of a spank­ing.

However, the wars did not make us feel bet­ter. Our sol­diers kept dying, and we didn’t feel much safer (As evi­dence, I sub­mit that the TSA has grown steadi­ly more obnox­ious with­in the last five to seven years, not less). So, see­ing a tremen­dous vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to the south, Americans began clam­or­ing for a wall all along our south­ern bor­der so that no for­eign­ers could come here and take all the jobs that nobody actu­al­ly wants to do.

In ret­ro­spect, it is easy to won­der how we went so crazy so fast; why we were so quick to go to war against an ill-defined enemy (we weren’t fight­ing a nation, mind. We were fight­ing Terrorism, an enemy as wide­spread and face­less as Communism or Drugs or Evil). I knew many who became a very spe­cif­ic form of Libertarian (a move­ment which would later become the Tea Party), sus­pi­cious of the rest of the world and hun­gry for enough guns to wage pri­vate war against any Outsider. The biggest War Hawks, how­ev­er, were the ones in power, the old school neo­cons that held the reins of this fear­some war horse we call America. Much of this trans­for­ma­tion had to do with the fact that the invul­ner­a­ble jug­ger­naut of America had been sucker-punched. What we used to be, strong, coura­geous, and inde­pen­dent, was threat­ened. Far from being Exceptional, we were just as vul­ner­a­ble to attack as any­one else. So we went to war to feel bet­ter about our­selves.

Alright, enough his­to­ry lessons. Back to the game.

The Boomers were born of a sim­i­lar, though more glob­al, change to their world­view. Naturally no Boomer the Courier encoun­ters was alive when the bombs fell, but the his­to­ry of how they came to be entombed in Vault 34 was com­mon knowl­edge. In fact, of all the fac­tions in the Mojave2, none revere his­to­ry and the Old World as much as the Boomers.

The Boomers revere their tra­di­tions and hold the story of the Past on high as an ideal to be pur­sued and jeal­ous­ly guard­ed. Pete, the Keeper of the Story, is a young boy who has mem­o­rized the his­to­ry of the Boomers and their tri­als, and as a result holds a posi­tion of honor (A not-insignificant one, too, given that his soci­ety reveres his­to­ry so much that it usu­al­ly defers to its eldest mem­ber as leader). In the early part of the Courier’s acquain­tance with the tribe, hav­ing a brief story-time ses­sion with Pete can go a long way toward win­ning their respect.

The Boomers began their life as a tribe under­ground, in the bow­els of Vault 34, one of many bunkers designed to pre­serve human­i­ty in the face of impend­ing apoc­a­lypse. Vault 34 was designed with an abun­dance of lux­u­ry ameni­ties (includ­ing a gigan­tic swim­ming pool) at the expense of liv­ing quar­ters. Moreover, the vault’s armory was pur­pose­ful­ly over­stocked and its doors had no locks. Given a lot of guns to play with and no pri­va­cy, the vault dwellers began to get stir-crazy. Eventually, a large por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion rebelled and struck out for green­er pas­tures, so to speak. Free of the vault’s cramped con­di­tions and bliss­ful­ly iso­lat­ed from the rest of the world, the Boomers live a life that would make Glenn Beck sali­vate. They live pret­ty much as they please, with a very loose social struc­ture that allows for plen­ty of good ol’ fash­ioned Freedom. They have a sup­ply of clean water, and are thus able to grow crops to sus­tain them­selves, which means that they need not both­er them­selves with the affairs of the sav­ages out­side their walls. Should any­thing that looks vague­ly human approach Nellis, the Boomers shell it into mem­o­ry. Consequently, they have never dealt with out­siders in any­thing other than a mil­i­tant capac­i­ty. The Boomers seem­ing­ly have hit upon the per­fect solu­tion for idyl­lic liv­ing in Post-Apocalyptia.

Listening to Pete’s story, it is strik­ing how sim­i­lar the Boomers’ story is to that of America’s birth. A group of dis­af­fect­ed cit­i­zens of a larg­er pop­u­la­tion body are denied cer­tain perks that come with belong­ing to that body, a vio­lent revolt ensues dur­ing which time shit gets wrecked, and the group sets off on its own. A fer­tile new home is found, “sav­ages” are exe­cut­ed to secure the home­land, and the group now defends its borders/interests with fero­cious  fire­pow­er, per­fect­ly con­tent to pay no never mind to for­eign entan­gle­ments.

But Fallout, with its bias toward adap­ta­tion and pro­gres­sivism, sug­gests that it is a doomed life the Boomers live, that they are already stag­nat­ing and fated to destruc­tion. A recur­ring theme of the series is that those who cling to the past, or those who tun­nel, are doomed to fall. The Brotherhood of Steel and the Enclave fight over the right­ful claim to a throne (that of the American pres­i­den­cy) that no longer exists. Caesar’s Legion is a joke that only one man gets, built in the image of an empire now dou­bly lost, and will thus col­lapse when he dies. The series has us take con­trol of two Vault Dwellers, and each one gets exiled from a home that rolls the door shut behind hir. Can the Boomers, whose ded­i­ca­tion to their grand illu­sion of America rivals that of the Brotherhood (who treat tech­nol­o­gy and the future like Ted Haggard treats drugs and homo­sex­u­al­i­ty), real­ly last for­ev­er? Are they even an insti­tu­tion worth sav­ing?

Mother Pearl, the Boomer’s Elder and leader, sees the wis­dom in meet­ing with Outsiders. Pearl is one of the last remain­ing Boomers to have actu­al­ly been at Vault 34, which gives her a unique per­spec­tive on their way of life. Pearl is also one of the very few Boomers who are inter­est­ed in the out­side world. When the Courier sur­vives their greet­ing and makes it to the front gates, the Boomers, flum­moxed by a sit­u­a­tion they never antic­i­pat­ed, take hir to speak with Pearl, who extends a cau­tious wel­come and charges the Courier to take advan­tage of this unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to influ­ence the tribe’s opin­ion of sav­ages. The Courier, being the first Outsider dumb enough to run through a rain of Howitzer shells just to say “Hi”, becomes a sort of ambas­sador for the out­side world, and can either con­firm the Boomer’s sus­pi­cions of the sav­ages out­side Nellis’ gates or show that the rest of the Mojave might not be so bad after all.

An alliance with Nellis, with their respectable arse­nal and afore­men­tioned Howitzers, is a very tempt­ing prospect for both Caesar’s Legion and the New California Republic in their strug­gle to rule the Mojave. In ser­vice to the quest-giver du jour, the Courier must win the com­pli­ance of the Boomers, which can be accom­plished by doing a num­ber of small tasks. The Boomers, how­ev­er, are not inter­est­ed in long-term bind­ing alliances, an out­look which would make Father Washington weep with joy. Provided the Courier does not just kill them and take their land, the Boomers will for the most part remain soli­tary; end­ings vary from them stay­ing inside Nellis, slow­ly drift­ing away, estab­lish­ing trade rela­tions, or to get­ting devoured by the Legion, but in no case does it seem as though the Boomers will glad­ly throw open their gates and fully inte­grate, which would make Washington weep.

Prior to the Second World War, America had been very effec­tive at intro­duc­ing the con­cept of Spheres of Influence and zeal­ous­ly defend­ing them with the same grit and deter­mi­na­tion that oblit­er­at­ed and con­sol­i­dat­ed sev­er­al Native American tribes and thumbed its nose at the chance to be a part of the Greatest. Empire. Ever.3

As with America’s dream of being a great, impen­e­tra­ble jug­ger­naut of a nation, the Boomers have a dream as well, that of soar­ing through the skies on a bit of American his­to­ry. When the Courier has cur­ried enough favor, the Boomers will ask hir to help res­ur­rect a crashed B‑29 bomber from beneath Lake Mead so that they can rebuild it and real­ize their dream. A noble goal, to be sure, but their desire for the B‑29 is emblem­at­ic of the prob­lems with America’s infat­u­a­tion with the Way Things Were.

The  prob­lem with the bomber is that it crashed; the plane sucked at being a plane, and con­se­quent­ly went down. This is not to say that the B‑29 was a poor piece of machin­ery, far from it. I mere­ly mean that this spe­cif­ic B‑29 crashed before it could ever do its coun­try proud. Second, the B‑29 in ques­tion crashed three hun­dred thirty-three years before the Courier ever romped through the Mojave. Though the Boomers man­age to restore the plane, one still must ques­tion the wis­dom of fly­ing an ancient plane that failed its attempts at plane-hood and hold­ing it aloft as the solemn goal of one’s civ­i­liza­tion. Sure, it might work for a while, but even­tu­al­ly it’s going to crash again and kill its pilots. This obses­sion with old and out-of-date equip­ment (and ideals) may pro­vide short-term gain, but won’t hold up to long-term scruti­ny.

It also occurs to me that the name “Boomers” itself might ref­er­ence anoth­er gen­er­a­tion born of war. The next gen­er­a­tion to arise after WWII was called the “Baby Boomers” because, like the pre­vi­ous Oil and Land Booms, there became a glut of new babies which forced, among other things, the devel­op­ment of American sub­ur­bia. The Boomers them­selves are a soci­ety in rel­a­tive infan­cy, and it is heav­i­ly implied by Mother Pearl that it would prob­a­bly be best for the tribe if it learned to play with its neigh­bors to the south (Nellis being locat­ed at the north­east­ern extrem­i­ty of the Mojave).

In the Fallout games, there is no longer an America. America died when the bombs fell, and though there are many groups scur­ry­ing around attempt­ing to rebuild and reestab­lish it, they are chas­ing a myth. There are at least six fac­tions in New Vegas that are try­ing to reclaim the glory of the Past in one way or anoth­er, but none of them will ever suc­ceed, because though America, the Old World, hasn’t changed, the world of Fallout has. The B‑29 that is the Old World can never fly from sea to shin­ing sea. The NCR, by far the series’ most legit­i­mate suc­ces­sor to the American spir­it, is seen as weak and bloat­ed for its phi­los­o­phy of expan­sion beyond what it can sus­tain. The NCR’s vision is grand, but it can­not real­ize its ambi­tions of being the sec­ond com­ing of America. Any attempts to res­ur­rect the Past can only suc­ceed in small, iso­lat­ed pock­ets, like the Boomers, the Enclave, or the Brotherhood of Steel, but even these run the risk of atro­phy­ing in their cult-like fanati­cism for the Old World4.

The Mojave has changed. Though Mr. House glo­ries in the fact that he pre­served Las Vegas much as it was, one needs mere­ly walk across the Mojave to see how hol­low that preser­va­tion actu­al­ly is. The tribes that once ruled the Wasteland were given roles and scripts they did not under­stand and told to act or else. Even the Kings, who of their own accord adopt­ed the lega­cy of Elvis, don’t know what Elvis actu­al­ly means. Though the look of Vegas is pre­served on the Strip, it is mere­ly a veneer. The soul of Vegas, as exem­pli­fied by count­less dis­si­dents across the Mojave, wants to be free, to change with a changed world.

Much as the Mojave is a dif­fer­ent place two hun­dred years from now, America is not what it was two hun­dred years ago. We are no longer a con­fed­er­a­tion of sov­er­eign states, but a nation, albeit a nation that has a bad case of grow­ing pains and chokes on progress. This hes­i­tance aside, we do work togeth­er, usu­al­ly. And we are mov­ing for­ward, becom­ing a coun­try where slav­ery is final­ly ille­gal and being a gay per­son mar­ried to anoth­er gay per­son isn’t (in an increas­ing num­ber of places). Things are a lot bet­ter now than they used to be, because we’re forced to work togeth­er for the good of that whole, and have even been known to coop­er­ate with the other nations5. It does no good to spec­u­late on the visions of long-dead men who couldn’t have, I don’t think, pos­si­bly imag­ined what we’d become in a lit­tle over two cen­turies. The fact is, the game has changed, and we have changed with it.

Well how about that. Something has changed. Happy Birthday, America, you mag­nif­i­cent bas­tard.

  1. The very fla­vor that made Fallout a post-nuclear role-playing game instead of just a role-playing game. []
  2. Which include Mr. House, who SPOILERS is a liv­ing relic of the pre-war era, and the Legion, whose pla­gia­rism of Rome’s his­to­ry is so bla­tant and wide­spread that the real Caesar would have strong grounds to sue for copy­right infringe­ment. []
  3. Yes, I mean Britain. []
  4. This phe­nom­e­non is referred to as the Old World Blues, a name which is applied to a group of sci­en­tists who sealed them­selves away in a Science-Dome before the bombs fell and were very lit­er­al­ly dehu­man­ized in their efforts to pre­serve the old ways. []
  5. To bor­row from Dr. Seuss, “Except when we don’t. Because some­times we won’t.” []

Chelsea L. Shephard

About Chelsea L. Shephard

Chelsea L. Shepard (formerly Hannah DuVoix) doesn't write for the Ontological Geek anymore, but she used to be our Editor-in-Chief! She is currently earning her MFA in Game Design from NYU and is probably also thinking about Fallout: New Vegas.

2 thoughts on “Fallout: New Vegas’ Boomers: Real American Heroes

  • Axelle

    Another great Fallout: NV arti­cle. I’m from Europe, so even though I’m aware the Fallout series is all about America’s mythol­o­gy, my polit­i­cal read­ing of the game was less focused on his­tor­i­cal details (Washington’s vision, etc.), and more about… the rela­tion­ship between the ruins of an old world (any old world) and the young soci­ety that slow­ly emerges from them. In that regard, I think your men­tion of Old World Blues was spot-on. In my opin­ion, this DLC was an extreme re-imagining and of the game’s glob­al sto­ry­line, one that got rid of real­ism or verisimil­i­tude and just dumped the play­er into this insane, iso­lat­ed micro-world (Big Empty is lit­er­al­ly a snow globe!). I liked that the game never real­ly explains how the Courier gets from this crashed satel­lite in Nipton to Big Empty. It’s like telling the play­er “who cares, maybe it’s a dream, a way for the Courier to remix the old and the new and process the very ques­tion that dri­ves them through­out the game, i.e. how do you decide what is worth pre­serv­ing, what must change, what part you should play?” Needless to say, my couri­er left her brain in Big Emtpy. They part­ed on friend­ly terms.

    Anyway, it was a very good arti­cle. Would you ever con­sid­er doing more in-depth pieces about the four DLCs? I still remem­ber fond­ly what you wrote about them in your ter­rif­ic ‘Existentialism in Fallout’ arti­cle and I’d love to read more. To my (lim­it­ed) knowl­edge, you’re the only writer who dared to step into full-blown meta­phys­i­cal ter­ri­to­ry when it comes to inter­pret­ing the Fallout mythos, and it was won­der­ful. More please. :p

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