Trisha Moon still remembers her first time. She had been exploring the mole-infested Blackwater Mine long enough that she had run out of food and water, with nary a can of dog food in sight. She was lost, and quickly losing hope. “I thought I was going to die,” Moon told Polygon. That’s when she noticed someone else in the mines with her, busy fighting a crab-like Mirelurk.
He didn’t see her coming from the shadows, Super Sledge in-hand. By the time he did, it was too late. “I couldn’t hold back the hunger and thirst,” Moon recalls. “I went in for the first bite and I never turned back.”
Cannibalism has been a part of the world of Fallout since 1997, when the original post-apocalyptic game featured roaming packs of feral humans who would eat anything in front of them. When the niceties of society are gone, and everyone has to fight for survival, of course some will do whatever it takes to live another day. It wasn’t until Fallout 3, which was released in 2008, that cannibalism became a perk. In Fallout 3, cannibalism replenished the player’s hit points upon the consumption of certain body types in exchange for losing some overall karma. As karma dictates how NPCs regard you, the downside of cannibalism was that if anyone saw you committing such crimes against humanity, they would turn against you. Well, most people, anyway. Some factions in the Fallout universe embraced the unholy practice.
Cannibalism returned in Fallout 76, a multiplayer survival game where players must eat and drink to survive. Given the scarcity of supplies, cannibalism is considered a useful perk.
“I usually don’t have to look for or carry food, freeing up my time and inventory for other things,” says Captain Weird, a role-playing Fallout 76 fan.
Unlike previous single-player games, however, Fallout 76 lets you eat other player characters in-game. With the press of a button, your character will hunch over and start feasting on whatever entrails lie before them. It’s a small detail that has sparked a new consideration for Fallout fans, who now have to uphold a moral code against actual human beings.
“I don’t eat anyone who hasn’t harmed me in some way,” Captain Weird says.
Other players, meanwhile, embrace cannibalism as a lifestyle in the Appalachia region. For a year now, a player-run collective known as EATT (Establishment of Appalachian Taste Testers) has functioned as a haven for people who crave flesh.
“In the early days of the game, many with a taste for human flesh were concerned about judgment from outsiders stuck with pre-war notions,” recalls Kris Graul, EATT’s founder.
Driven by such precaution, some members won’t disclose their status as a cannibal outright to members outside of EATT. Graul told me that it’s because cannibals want to treat the food preference as a normal thing. But listening to players tell stories of their favorite cannibal memories, another picture emerged: Other players may not always know if they can trust a cannibal.
If that seems excessive — why would anyone care about digital cannibalism? — consider this story. One time, Graul was following another player who was taking on a pack of Scorched enemies that he couldn’t handle. The player went down, but noticing Graul in the distance, hailed for help. Fallout 76 has a down-but-not-out state where players can be revived by nearby allies, so the weakened fan must have thought he had a chance of survival. Graul ran over.
“He was relieved that I had come to his aid, only to have that relief snatched from him as I, instead of reviving him, decided to eat his cheeks instead,” Graul says. “He didn’t come back after that.”
EATT is loosely inspired by Fallout: New Vegas’ White Glove Society, an elite club with a sharp dress code. The player soon finds out that the group is actually a front for cannibals, however, who mask their depravity with a high-class veneer. It’s a mindset that gives some creative players a cool prompt to work with.
“My choice to role play a cannibal stems from the ideology that human is the finest of meats,” says Fallout 76 player Marcus Jaurigue. “If humanity is at the top of the food chain, and you eat human, you are essentially setting yourself above your own kind.”
You actually don’t have to be a cannibal to join the EATT, which might explain how the group has swelled to over 600 members. Non-cannibals feel right at home at EATT, largely because the group makes a huge effort to provide players with attractions. There’s a fight club, where players will duke it out as onlookers bet on the results. While EATT members will generally not eat other members, but in fight club, the rules go out the window. Losers very well may get eaten by their comrades. It’s all a part of the fun.
“The act of cannibalism in Fallout 76 is so outrageous — your character leaps to the ground and starts pulling chunks of flesh from the corpse, stuffing it in their mouth, occasionally releasing a large ‘burp!’ at the end — that it seems to function much more as a bonding experience,” Graul says.
EATT also hosts a comedy club, where comics go up on a stage and perform in front of an audience. (“What did the cannibal get when he showed up to the party late? The cold shoulder.”) There’s a shopping strip, where merchants who spend hours grinding for legendary gear sell their wares. There’s a diner, which serves food for weary-eyed travelers. EATT Responders, meanwhile, will try to provide aid to overwhelmed members out in the field.
But perhaps the biggest attraction at EATT is the production of The Most Dangerous Game, an event that takes cues from a Holotape found at the Addington Lodge in Fallout 76. In it, two wealthy brothers discuss opening their hunting lodge for a weekend, free of charge, only to find themselves unwitting participants in a high-stakes game. Tired of hunting the same old fare, the Addingtons were seeking “a real challenge for a change,” the Holotape says.
EATT has blown this small side story up into a full-fledged minigame where five to nine members will take turns chasing down a volunteer who has to become “wanted” in-game. Wanted players get a bounty placed on their heads by Fallout 76, which will show these wastelanders on the map for everyone to see. The prey is given a two-minute head start, and the goal is to survive for 10 minutes against other EATT members. Hunters can see exactly where their target is at all times, but the target has no idea where people might come from. Only two people have won so far, but that hasn’t stopped the event. So far, EATT has held 10 of them.
“We try to be what Fallout 76 doesn’t come with,” remarks Marcus Jaurigue.
The Most Dangerous Game is what convinced DarkGreenTulip, a non-cannibal, that EATT had a lot in common with her despite their differing appetites.
“Besides the random broccoli emote I throw in the chat (to counteract their ham emoji) it really isn’t that big a deal that I don’t partake in the cannibalistic lifestyle,” DarkGreenTulip says. “When they decid[e] to get drunk of the blood of their enemies, [I] take a sip of Rosé instead.”
Other members have had a different journey through EATT. Donald Meeks, the first person to ever join the squad, says that he initially refused to eat other vault dwellers. That is, until he found himself in trouble.
“I had no food and some guy had just died and called out for help,” Meeks says. “Help him I did by sending his soul to be with our God.” Nowadays, Meeks likes the tension that cannibalism introduces into Fallout 76. “The meal is more satisfying when they struggle,” he says.
This was a common thread among some cannibals I spoke to: Being able to eat other players transformed Fallout 76 into more of a horror game. EATT member Chris Wright, for example, says that his favorite memory of being a Fallout 76 cannibal involved blasting the Mortal Kombat theme song “Techno Syndrome” as he chased down his next meal. Confused as to what was happening, the low-level player initiated player-versus-player combat against Wright. The newbie stood no chance, but Wright still remembers how fun it was to eat that player.
EATT’s Brother Corrigan, meanwhile, takes his cannibalism to the next level by building elaborate traps for his prey. One time, he built a base with a sign that implied the establishment was a recruitment locale for the Brotherhood of Steel, Fallout’s technology-obsessed faction. Players had no idea what was waiting inside.
“I like to use the build system to create otherwise unassuming shops, clinics and homes that hide flamethrowers, Tesla traps [a sort of electrical node that shoots lightning], and radiation emitters,” Corrigan says. If it wasn’t obvious, Corrigan plays as an evil cannibal.
Though everyone I spoke to has fond memories of their life as a cannibal in Fallout 76, seemingly everyone agreed that the best moments are often the accidental ones.
“The healing action and the cannibal action use the same button if you have the card equipped,” says Marcus Jaurigue. “There [have] been many times I go to help a downed friend, and next thing I know, my character is ripping chunks out of them.” When this happens, players can’t help but laugh.
While EATT provides Fallout 76 players with incentives to keep playing, not everyone is a fan of the group. The game has plenty of player-created guilds who take up specific role-plays, some of which are at odds with other player-led factions in the group.
“Some outsiders have taken offense to [EATT] and what it stands for,” Graul says. “These people have made it their purpose to try and destroy the great community that we have built.”
Graul isn’t bothered, however. “We have names for those kinds of people,” he says. “Meat.”