‘Fallout Shelter’ Isn’t Really About Survival, But It’s Helping One Writer Survive

When every day brings a new wave of existential dread with the news, it can be challenging to manage issues like anxiety. Personally, I’ve taken to blocking social media in all but the smallest windows of time, because it brings in so much urgent, unsettling news that I start to feel like the world might end if I stop refreshing my feeds. We’re all struggling to find our own ways to minimize or navigate these especially tense days.

Over at Waypoint, Cameron Kunzelman makes an argument for survival games as a coping mechanism; specifically, the simple, clicky survival simulation of Fallout Shelter. It depicts a post-apocalyptic world – but, crucially, not one that feels at all realistic.

It is only now, much later, with the game on Steam that I have finally put a few hours into Fallout Shelter. My play is much more deliberate. I’m taking time off from doing other tasks, going to Steam, opening the game, waiting for the incredibly long initialization, and then clicking all of the different elements of my vault that need to level up and be gathered. It’s because of this very intentional relationship with the game that the simulation, management, and survival tags seem so strange and pressing. Being so deliberate about playing the game has changed how I relate to it.

What, I wonder while playing, is Fallout Shelter simulating? What thing in the world is this game taking, augmenting, and then presenting back to me in a gamified form? And what am I supposed to be surviving?

The tags for Fallout Shelter are reaching an unintended truth about the nature of the wait-and-click game genre. That deep fascination I had with Tiny Tower was about being anxious and then running head-first into confronting that anxiety. It’s the build up and then release. Maybe Fallout Shelter and games like it are not simulators of survival, but truly survival games in that they give the player something, anything, that they can control.

 
There’s more at Waypoint, and you should check it out.


After the tragic June 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, we offered some thoughts on how to cope with difficult news. And while the difficult news right now is only sometimes tragic, and is as often about anxiety and fear as it is about grief, those suggestions may still be helpful when it all gets to be too much.

Finally, remember that love breeds hope, and hope is a most powerful force for healing mental wounds. If you can, consider spreading love to those around you. Foster hope, not hate. Be a force for good. You might be surprised by how such a small thing can have such a large impact.

 
It’s dangerous to go alone, so let’s try to remember that we’re all in this together.