It's not often (read: it never happens) that a video game makes me want to read a book, but that's exactly what's happened with Fallout 3. Although I'm late to the apocalypse, I've totally fallen head over heels in love with the game. 114 hours, 145 saves, 3 DLC diversions and 9 bobbleheads later and I still can't wait to leave work of an evening, eager to get some wasteland wandering in before my lass gets home. With all those stats in mind, with all the trekking through the radioactive badlands, I'm surprised that it took my brain so long to make the connection between Fallout 3 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
As I'm sure many other people have, I became aware of Philip K Dick's writing through the movie Blade Runner. For those not in the know, Blade Runner was based (with varying faithfulness) on Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Like the movie, the novel tells the story of Rick Deckard hunting some crafty androids who are almost indistinguishable from real humans. Where Ridley Scott's cinematic masterpiece diverged, however, is in the backdrop upon which the events take place. Blade Runner is set in an overcrowded megalopolis, chock full of neon signs, flying cars and billions of agendas; Dick's original story unfolds within the crumbling post-apocalyptic remains of a mostly abandoned Earth.
In a giant, empty, decaying building which had once housed thousands, a single TV set hawked its wares to an uninhabited room.
This ownerless ruin had, before World War Terminus, been tended and maintained. Here had been the suburbs of San Francisco, a short ride by monorail rapid transit; the entire peninsula had chattered like a bird tree with life and opinions and complaints, and now the watchful owners had either died or migrated to a colony world. Mostly the former; it had been a costly war despite the valiant predictions of the Pentagon and its smug scientific vassel, the Rand Corporation - which had, in fact, existed not far from this spot. Like the apartment owners, the corporation had departed, evidently for good. No one missed it.
The sole occupant of the dilapidated apartment complex is J.R. Isidore, delivery truck driver for a company that repairs artificial animals. Isidore is stuck on Earth, in this wrecked building, with nothing but his thoughts for company:
Silence. It flashed from the woodwork and the walls; it smote him with an awful, total power, as if generated by a vast mill. It rose from the floor, up out of the tattered gray wall-to-wall carpeting. It unleashed itself from the broken and semi-broken appliances in the kitchen, the dead machines which hadn’t worked in all the time Isidore had lived here. From the useless pole lamp in the living room it oozed out, meshing with the empty and wordless descent of itself from the fly-specked ceiling. It managed in fact to emerge from every object within his range of vision, as if it – the silence – meant to supplant all things tangible.
It's not long before Pris, one of the females from the group of rogue androids that Deckard is chasing, takes up residence in Isidore's building:
'Listen,' he said earnestly. 'If we go all over the building looking we can probably find you things that aren't so tattered. A lamp from one apartment, a table from another.'
'I'll do it,' the girl said. 'Myself, thanks.'
'You'd go into those apartments alone?' He could not believe it.
'Why not?' Again she shuddered nervously, grimacing in awareness of saying something wrong.
Isidore said, 'I've tried it. Once. After that I just come home and go in my own place and I don't think about the rest. The apartments in which no one lives – hundreds of them and all full of the possessions people had, like family photographs and clothes. Those that died couldn't take anything and those who emigrated didn't want to. This building, except for my apartment, is completely kipple-ized'
'"Kipple-ized"?' She did not comprehend.
'Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers of yesterday's homeopape. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there's twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.'
'I see.' The girl regarded him uncertainly, not knowing whether to believe him. Not sure if he meant it seriously.
'There's the First Law of Kipple,' he said. '"Kipple drives out nonkipple." Like Gresham's law about bad money. And in these apartments there's been nobody there to fight the kipple.'
'So it has taken over completely,' the girl finished. She nodded. 'Now I understand.'
'Your place, here,' he said, 'this apartment you've picked – it's too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apartments. But –' He broke off.
Isidore said, 'We can't win.'
'Why not?' The girl stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind her; arms folded self-consciously before her small high breasts she faced him, eager to understand. Or so it appeared to him, anyhow. She was at least listening.
'No one can win against kipple,' he said,'except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I've sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I'll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It's a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.'
(Side note: Kipple is one of my favourite Dick terms, and I still use it during internal conversations with myself. I don't think I'd ever dare drop it into casual conversation, though.)
J.R. Isidore is also what is known as a special – a chickenhead in common vernacular – meaning he couldn't pass the minimum mental faculties test. Chickenheads are a marginalised group of people in what's left of Earth society, seen as lesser citizens. Looking at the world of Fallout, I'm reminded of the ghouls, another group of humans who are considered by many to be beneath regular people. Obviously there are some ghouls who are quite intelligent, but there are those who have diminished thought capability due to the post-war fallout. Although it's not completely analogous, I can't help but draw the comparison.
I used to read books all the time. Now, in a world full of podcasts and handheld gaming, I find that the pastime I used to love so much has pretty much disappeared from my daily life. It's a shame, and every now and then I'll see my girlfriend with a book and kick myself for letting the habit slide. But the beautiful irony is that a video game – a very intelligent and well-crafted digital experience – may be what brings me back to the joy of reading. When was the last time you could say that about something you played?