Virtual Dark Tourism

Fallout via GOG

In their article about dark and toxic tourism, Yankovska and Hannam mention the video game franchise S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which centers around an alternate history take on the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. For them, the games stand as representative of the popular mass-media distortion of the disastrous events at Chernobyl.

But although it certainly does misrepresent the event, I don’t think S.T.A.L.K.E.R. intends to exploit the victims of the accident. Rather, I think the game series acts as a manifestation of our fascination with disaster and devastation (particularly the kind that involve nuclear causes) as mentioned in our earlier reading by Susan Sontag (“The Imagination of Disaster”). Other game series deal with similar kinds of devastation, perhaps most notably the Fallout franchise.The game series themselves are quite dissimilar in tone and subject matter–S.T.A.L.K.E.R. uses a pseudo-horror lens to show an alternate take on a real event, whereas Fallout gives an action/adventure-RPG look at a fictional nuclear apocalypse.

However, they do overlap in their portrayal of fictional nuclear destruction on the real world. Both game series incorporate real world locations to revel in the horrifying destruction that comes with nuclear apocalypse–S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with its semi-realistic depictions of Chernobyl and Pripyat, Fallout with its imagined ruins of Washington, D.C. and Boston (among others). In this manner, the games tap into the dark and toxic tourism discussed in the article. They capitalize on the same fascination that the tours do, acting as virtual dark and toxic tours while also engaging a wider than the tours ever could.