While running around Fallout 3’s post-apocalyptic wasteland in my power armor I saw something oddly familiar rising up above the landscape in the pre-dawn gloom. It was a bright, flickering light coming from a hi-tech device purchased atop a metal tripod. It seemed to be blinking out a kind of rhythmic pattern, inviting me to come closer.
Then I realized where I’d seen this before: I’d seen something almost exactly like it in the Nevada desert at every Burning Man I’d ever attended. This was clearly a camp of some kind. But this particular four o’clock in the morning, instead of finding a group of tired nerds dancing to techno music and offering to trade me drinks for trinkets, I was greeted by four laser wielding Enclave soldiers and a cyborg Deathclaw.
But it dawned on me that except for my character’s tendency to use violence to solve 90% of all his problems, there were a lot of things in common between the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 3, and the post-millenial temporary autonomous zone known as The Burning Man Festival.
10: Paper money is worthless.
Well, mostly worthless, anyway. Burning man is a gifting society where you can only spend “real” money to buy stimulants and ice. Fallout 3 is a world where “pre-war dollars” are only useful as trinkets for trade.
In both places a large handful of bottle caps will probably get your more loot than a wad of paper money will.
9. Everything is covered in dust.
In a world without trees the dust rules. The dry lakebed and the DC wasteland are both covered with a fine grit that can take the most colorful object and renders it into a spectrum of browns.
8. Taking drugs can help.
While you can argue that drug use is never a good thing, it certainly can be helpful if you have a specific goal in mind. Stimulants are especially useful, but ingesting psychedelics can lead to effects in the real world that more closely match the combat-screwing “withdrawal” effects of Fallout’s drug addiction. But, as I mentioned above, you tend to fight less stuff at Burning Man.
7. Cars don’t work.
By the time you’ve driven from the entry gate and into your camp your automobile has become a dust-covered albatross. For the next week your car will do little more than take up space and provide a semi-secure place for all your stuff. Fallout does lack art-cars and bicycles however, although I guess you could consider Liberty Prime an art-car of sorts. Or is he “The Man”?
6. Pre-packaged food.
While it may lack the fanciful and humorous names of the products in Fallout, there’s no doubt that it’s much easier to eat food out of a can or bag than try to whip up something fresh. There’s also far less radiation absorbed with every meal, although you’re certainly swallowing plenty of dust.
5. Galaxy News Radio
Although Black Rock City has internet these days, the best (and often fastest) way to get information in any wasteland is to listen to one of the radio stations. And just like D.C., one station provides music and news, while all the others are nothing but propaganda.
4. Attendees voluntarily assume the risk of death.
It says so right on your ticket. But if you want to stay in your vault and never venture out into the world, be my guest. Let’s see how much fun that’s going to be.
3. Most people are wearing a costume.
Can you really tell Raider Painspike armor apart from the average member of Death Guild? How about a naked four hundred pound man from a super-mutant, or the guy who’s spent four days sleeping in his glam-makeup from a ghoul?
And while you may not need body-armor, there’s a definite need to wear something warm and protective on those cold and dusty nights, along with whatever you may have managed to “borrow” from that guy who passed out in your camp this afternoon.
2. People wearing nice clothes are inevitably assholes
Tenpenny Tower may look like an enclave of civilization, but the people in it are anti-ghoul bigots who deserve whatever it is that’s coming to them. Clothes may make the man, but clean clothes may make the man a douche bag. In a twist of irony the ugly hordes of Burning Man are the well-dressed dudes and dudettes who stream in from Los Angeles the day before the burn, looking to see some naked chicks, or just experience the scene without actually being a part of it. Good karma, bad karma, you’re the guy with the glowstick.
1. You’re always looking for someone.
Whether it’s your father who’s set out on a journey to save the world, or your girlfriend sneaking out to try and hook up with that hot guy dressed like a satyr (don’t worry, he’s gay), it turns out that a lot of your time in the desert landscape is spent trying to find people you actually know. And while it may not be easy to figure out where they are in the middle of the night, you’ll definitely be able to have a conversation with them the next day.
So next time you step out into a stark, blasted, landscape, remember that you don’t have to just visit a virtual wasteland. You can go to the real thing at the end of August.