If you’ve listened to our podcast, you’ve probably heard us say a million times that I and the other two Backloggers are originally from a state in the USA called West Virginia. Huntington WV, to be exact, similar to some other good, good podcast boys.
Plain and simple, we love our home. While I left it a few years back, I’m always homesick for it. Growing up, I took for granted just how freaking beautiful the state was, and the amazing opportunities I was granted by being in a state where even the most major city was not even a mile away from massive forests and rolling mountains. Camping, hiking, and many other things were second-nature to me. I’ve mentioned it before but Yuru Camp legit had me crying remembering what I had to leave behind for better opportunity.
See, my home state is poor. Very poor, by United States standards, anyway. As beautiful as it is, West Virginia has been taken advantage of by hundreds of companies that mined it for its natural resources and then took all that money and ran. We prospered while those companies were here, but they’re mostly gone and so has our fortune. The unemployment rate is higher than the national average and the state government is constantly misappropriating funds. However, we’ve always been a strong people. We were birthed out of a fighting spirit, seceding from the Confederacy and joining the Union in the American Civil War because we were against slavery. We were the first ones to start the Railroad Riots of the 1870s because we weren’t going to lie down and let companies destroy the lives of their workers, and we continued that tradition of fighting for the little guys even this year, with the Teachers’ Strikes that started a national movement for better pay state by state for teachers. We’ve always been a strong people, though we suffer a lot.
It’s because of this that I’ve found pride in the better aspects of my home. Yes, we unfortunately still have many horrible racial and gender issues, brought on by years of physical seclusion from the rest of the world thanks to our mountains as well as decades of conservatives ruling our entire state government, but we also have so many wonderful people that may not always politically agree, but will always have you at the dinner table, no matter your views or the color of your skin. There’s a hospitality in my home state that I hold dearly. We’ll not only give someone the time of day, but if you strike up a conversation, we’ll also give you a free meal and place to stay, if you need it. So I think it’s such a shame that we’ve always been given a bad rep.
West Virginia is rarely known about. Most people can find Israel on a map faster than they can find us, some of these people (no joke) living just a state over. When people do know about us, we have notoriously been represented in American media for decades as the place of illiterate and idiotic hillbillies who couldn’t tell a door from a window. We’ve been the butt of millions of jokes about how stupid and bigoted we are compared to the cultured and enlightened masses of the rest of the nation. This, coming from even those Confederate states who still to this day have some of the highest rates of police violence and racial discrimination in America. But there’s nothing we can really do. We don’t have the funds or the media empires needed to try and change other’s minds, or even have them realize we exist. So we duck our heads, keep to ourselves, and try to get by with what we have, hoping America learns about the real us in time. We’re used to being the underdog because it’s all we’ve ever known.
That’s why this past E3 Gaming Conference absolutely shocked me.
Fallout, a game series about the horrors and effects of nuclear war, has always been in love with taking well-known places in America and depicting what their apocalyptic counterparts would be. The dev teams for these games take great pride and pain to represent some of the most famous places in America, whether it be our nation’s capital of D.C., the historical city of Boston, the infamous “sin city” of Las Vegas, and even larger swaths of land like California and the Midwest. The most recent games had their teams spend long periods researching even tiny little details of Boston and D.C., representing relatively accurately (if apocalyptically) the buildings and culture of these places. So imagine what went through my head when I suddenly see the player character of Fallout walking through the hills of my home, stepping over the ruins of many places I spent my childhood.
This was unheard of. West Virginia barely gets mentioned in a TV show now and again. The only movies that mention us are usually horror films, like Silence of the Lambs, Silent Hill, and Tucker Vs. The Forces of Evil. All good films in my book but terrible representation when the only thing we’re known for is bad cell reception and the perfect place to murder some kids. Yet booming off the walls of this convention hall was the famous song about West Virginia by John Denver, and on screens altogether larger than my apartment was something completely different. Positive representation.
In his well-known deep voice, Ron Perlman talked over that beautiful rendition of “Country Roads” in the trailer about a people that would open the door to their vault and travel out into a gorgeous landscape to rebuild, the trailer showing off beautiful mountains, dense forests, rustic towns, and unbridled opportunity. There it all was. The New River Gorge, Morgantown, The Greenbrier Hotel, and even later on in the show was Camden Park, an amusement park located not even ten minutes from my old house. But to top it all off, after the dust had settled from seeing this trailer, the director and executive producer Todd Howard took the stage and stole my heart, giving these short and sweet words:
“Now most people don’t know West Virginia that well. It is an incredible array of natural wonders, towns, and government secrets.”
It may seem like such a small thing, only two sentences, but for someone to speak so kindly even in this way about the place I grew up is so rare. And he even knew our history enough to include the mystery of ‘government secrets’ in the mix, as we used to house the US government’s secret emergency nuclear bunker. Not only this but Todd stated soon after:
“And we even use the folklore of West Virginia to bring our Fallout [creatures] to life.”
A line stated while showcasing cryptids and monsters from our folklore and history, like The Grafton Monster, Giant Sloths from ancient times, and even allusions to The Mothman. Pieces of the culture of my state were there, in all their strange and quirky glory. As the presentation went on, and Todd continued to talk, I just became even more giddy in my seat. The millions of people who play the Fallout games would finally experience in even a small way this place that I loved.
Mothman is real, on Twitter, and will take what they want.
Representation is an important issue and there are many, many groups out there that desperately need it more than some straight white guy from the boonies. Most importantly, I feel these groups of people need our time and attention first. However, this whole thing made me realize that there was more to representation than I had initially thought, and a smaller subset to it. My visceral reaction to seeing some geological location like Charleston in a video game was because I associate with that place so much. It’s surprising how impactful where we grow up or where we call home can be to us. It incites a pride in us at times, something that is easily seen when going to sports games and watching the crowds cheer for their hometown. It’s the feeling we get when after a long trip to other cities and places, we return exhausted and collapse comfortably in the safety and familiarity our beds. Our homes speak to us deeply, and help to shape who we are in many ways.
And it’s more than just a place on a map. To see a video game company try so hard to represent an underappreciated and oftentimes forgotten culture filled me with a joy I didn’t realize I could feel. I spent a large amount of my time as a teenager just wanting to escape the culture around me. I hated the Appalachian accent, for instance, because it and its close cousin the Southern accent were the go-to accents in media to showcase someone as an ignorant idiot. My father even spent years getting rid of his Appalachian accent to be taken seriously in his field, his doctorate of chemistry apparently not always being enough to prove his intelligence. However, as I got older, and the idea of moving away became very real, I realized how much impact the people and culture around me had. I grew up with these hills and with these people, influenced by them, warts, accents, and all. I even started wishing for more of an accent, among other things I wanted to take with me, a reminder of where I came from and where I sadly had to leave.
West Virginia is one of many places that is rarely ever represented well, if represented at all. I’m glad for those small bits of positivity we get, like the My Brother My Brother and Me television show, the wonderful film Logan Lucky, the respectful and loving episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown television series, and other small claims to fame my state gets. However, there are many other places that need some respect as well. We all have places that mean something to us. We should celebrate where we call our home and share that love with others, talk to them, let them see where our hearts lie. So that even if our homes aren’t always represented in some medium, we can represent them ourselves.
And speaking of representing, here’s some of my favorite images I found of WV landscapes. Hope you enjoy them.
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[…] from the Backloggers shared a bit of a personal post about the importance of seeing our homes in media. He looked specifically at Fallout and its depiction of West Virginia and it was a really great […]
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