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Fallout 76 role-players are staging in-game plays and productions

Fallout belongs to the theater kids now

Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks via The Theater Company
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Fallout 76 is an action-packed game at times, with adventurers battling back waves of cryptids and mutants in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Appalachia. Despite all the guns and gore, the most compelling part of the world remains what the players do to entertain themselves. For instance, you could log in and try some in-game challenges for new weapons and rewards ... or you could go and see a lovely play, carefully rehearsed and set up by a dedicated group of players who role-play a theater troupe.

The Theatre Company is Fallout 76’s most practiced theatre troupe. They stage scenes from A Clockwork Orange, Hamlet, West Side Story, and the Indiana Jones trilogy, in a classy take on a long-running theme of fans making their own in-game creative works and movies. The troupe’s current long-term plan is to work with the New Responders role-play group — they’ve run multiple events, including a red carpet — to stage an abridged production of Macbeth.

“Our mission is to bring arts and culture back to Appalachia by rebuilding theaters across the region, and staging famous (and obscure) performances on our stages,” said Northern_Harvest, one of the players in The Theatre Company, in an interview with Polygon.

If you want to attend an in-game play, all you have to do is show up at the appropriate CAMP. The troupe does not perform in Fallout Worlds yet, so their performances are often open to the public. Lines are delivered over proximity chat as the characters act scenes out in real time.

The Theatre Company was formed after players noticed there are mannequins set up — some of them posed in little scenes — around the Fallout 76 map. As Northern_Harvest puts it, it’s “as though people resorted to them to try to re-live some form of humanity and human interaction.” Players wanted to recreate that kind of art experience through the theater company, and their earliest stages were built around these mannequins to serve simple roles. These mannequins still hang out today, even in the most recent and elaborate productions.

Northern_Harvest was also inspired by a player named Leemus, from the UK, who built a movie theater in Fallout 76. Leemus now serves as the troupe’s engineering advisor, while Northern_Harvest draws on in-game inspiration combined with his background studying English literature in university. He came together with other players to buy costumes from the Atomic Shop, and he advised on set design and the particulars of productions. Thanks to this experience, the troupe is well-prepared. For instance, every member of the cast is armed in case a scorch beast or giant mutated sloth rolls up to try and interrupt the show.

To build sets, the troupe repurposed Fallout 76’s CAMP tools, which are meant for homesteads, makeshift stores, or bases of operations. The Theatre Company uses their CAMPs to make stages that mimic historical theatres. The Watoga Opera House is currently showing Gioachino Rossini’s Barber of Seville, while the Grafton Globe is modelled after the London Globe, and hosts Shakespeare.

Nothing about this commitment to old arts and entertainment is unusual for the franchise. In Fallout: New Vegas, the player encounters a group of people who worship and emulate Elvis, the King of Rock. There are also characters who muse on Roman literature, read old pulp comics, and wear pre-war fashion. A theater troupe makes perfect sense in this setting, and it also connects some of the most interesting parts of Fallout 76’s lifespan so far.

Fallout 76 - a man sits in a movie theater, wearing a fancy tuxedo. Image: Bethesda Game Studios / Bethesda Softworks via Five-0

It also fits well with the broader arts and culture scene in Fallout 76. Veteran roleplayers, like the New Responders, even run in-game film premieres to celebrate their achievements and stories. Everyone dresses up and crowds into an in-game theater to enjoy the show. It’s a real red carpet event, which really livens up the experience of scavenging for survival after a nuclear war.

Some players are a little skeptical at the concept of a theater troupe — in post-apocalyptic Appalachia, wouldn’t people be too busy boiling water and building basic shelters? “Fallout 76 doesn’t take place too far off from the war,” says Northern_Harvest. “It’s not a far stretch to imagine survivors would scavenge to rebuild what they had, including the arts. In fact, theatre and arts persist during and after wars and atrocities. We felt like [our plays] are historically appropriate, and add to the humanity of post-war Appalachia.”

Northern_Harvest isn’t slowed down by these critiques, and he enjoys debating art during the apocalypse with his fellow Fallout 76 players. “In our own little way, our Theatre Company has contributed to people’s thinking, not just about the game, but about humanity.”