Fallout 3

On Xbox 360.

I wish I could say that, while temporarily living the life of an anxiety-ridden, cold-weather-hating shut-in, I took the opportunity to complete an afghan or immerse myself in French New Wave films or organize the papers stacked on my desk or do something else productive, to quote my ever-productive mother. Sadly, I did none of those things. Instead, I spent an inordinate amount of time blowing the heads off terrifying, gun-toting mutants.

The Xbox is primarily Sean’s toy. Deprived as a child of all but the most educational computer games, I have no talent or affinity for the first-person-shooters he and his friends sometimes play together online. But occasionally, one of the video games hooks me in spite of myself, and I, too, am hypnotized by the screen, holding my breath, twitching my thumbs, and feeling very, very dorky.

The hook for Fallout 3 is the setting: a desolate, post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. I find an odd, Planet of the Apes–type pleasure in exploring familiar landmarks through a nightmarish looking glass, but beyond that, post-apocalyptic stories fascinate me. There’s a perverse kind of optimism in imagining a world gone utterly, completely wrong in which hope, somehow, still endures. The water may be radioactive, the mutants may be vicious, but people are still cobbling together communities—reduced in circumstances, perhaps, but surviving, in a bleak, sci-fi twist on the Little House books I loved as a kid.