On the verge of extinction; our romantizisation of the 50’s

It is clear that gaming culture is heavily influenced by the world we live in. Developers use it to express our desires, our fears and our hopes for the future. Art forms are created within these games, to beautifully express certain time periods and explore the cultural ideas and norms of the period (and to extrapolate into the future).

One movement that has really stuck out to me is the Art Deco 1920’s-50’s movement within gaming. I know that sounds like a bunch of waffle to most people, but hear me out, it makes sense.

There is no doubt that the great cultural movements due to WW2 and the Cold War had massive impacts on everyone. Western culture had changed rapidly, and America was now heralded as a producer of quality design and manufacturing. The economy was booming, and people were feeling great after having avoided a nuclear holocaust.

This was such a glorious era in human history, and has been romanticized into the 21st century, moving on from just movies and TV shows, into gaming. Just as gaming has reflected modern cultural reforms, it also reflects our cultural relics, and does so rather beautifully.

I guess the main example everyone jumps to is Fallout. From a gaming point of view, it is a magnificent game, but with the extra layer of preserved culture extrapolated into the future makes it a masterpiece. Every aspect of life is explored, from the people who survived outside the vaults, to the continuation of our species after a horrible nuclear war, and of course, the left over remnants of the world left behind. All this accumulated to a gaming experience perfectly suited to really give us a feeling as to what would have occurred had we decided to go and kill everyone, and that is not only interesting from a historical stand point, but chilling.

Moving onto other games with more accurate historical merit, we find a treasure trove of wonderfully historically set games, such as Mafia II and L.A Noire. While not actually based on true stories, they provide a wonderful snapshot into a period of history we usually can only see through sepia photographs and deteriorating newspapers. Bringing to life our rich history through the eyes of the underdog allows us to break through the romantisisation of this era, while also keeping the beauty of it intact.

Lastly, I look to games such as Bioshock and XCOM, who both employ Art Deco styling in their game design and culture, but offer a sci-fi view of the world that they are based in. This imaginative look at the different applications of these cultural stylings allows us to continue the Art Deco movement through into the 21st century, allowing it to stay relivent to modern culture and future generations. While these games do modify these designs, it still allows the underlying historical tones to continue into our cultural conscious.

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2 responses to “On the verge of extinction; our romantizisation of the 50’s

  1. Quite a valid analysis. I’ve been kinda intrigued by how we haven’t had much in gaming that qualifies as “straight steampunk.” Everything notable that borrows from similar art styles are mutated. Dishonored and Bioshock are cases in point. It never fully surrendered to the tropes of Steampunk. I believe this is a sign of an even better thing: namely that the mutated artistic mashups are creating imaginative worlds that play off of our familiarities, but don’t bow to them.

    But maybe even then, some might contest that the mashup genres are only bastardizations if they’re not inherently brilliant. Bioshock works. Fallout 3 works surprisingly well despite some subtle departures from the art direction of the first and second. Personally, I like 3 much more, but that could again be just plain romanticism.

    Thanks again for the great article.

    • Thank you for such a nicely thought out response :)

      I am glad that these games do not bow down entirely to the whims of our artistic likes. It encourages other artistic outlets.

      As for steampunk in games, I think that genre is too wide, and there would have to be a lot of historical context as well. The game would have to revolve around living in a steampunk world. I’m not exactly a huge fan of steampunk, but I can see it’s appeal.

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