Stealing Independence: Liberal and Late Liberal Modes of Representation
In this paper, I explore the ways that digital texts like videogames address the master narratives of American history, with a special focus on the "leftover" promises of liberalism as they continue to unspool across the twenty-first century from their distant origins in the eighteenth. Elizabeth Povinelli has pointed to "the phantom-like nature of liberalism" noting that it is not, after all, "a thing" but "a moving target developed in the European empire and used to secure power in the contemporary world. . . . located nowhere but in its continual citation as the motivating logic and aspiration of dispersed and competing social and cultural experiments" (Economies of Abandonment, 13). Nevertheless, she notes, "the fantasy of liberalism is tightly associated with the fantasy of the performative subject" (14), and this is where it becomes useful to join it to an account of contemporary videogame culture, which is also invested in "the fantasy of the performative subject"-a sovereign game-player whose every command is executed, without lag, into direct action before her very eyes (in-game). Here, my focus is on the blockbuster videogame franchise Fallout (and especially Fallout 3), a post-apocalyptic open-world role-playing game that is lovingly devoted to the object it has seemingly dismantled: the nation-state (and in particular the United States of America). A meditation (like so many contemporary videogames) on imperial decline, freedom, choice, loneliness, desire, and despair, Fallout 3 stages this volatile concoction in twenty-third century Washington, DC-imagined as the once and future center of the free world, if freedom means (as it does in this and similar "open-world" videogames) doing whatever you like on-screen. The paper does not assume familiarity with videogames in general or Fallout in particular. Anyone is welcome.
Trish Loughran is the author ofThe Republic in Print: Print Culture in the Age of U.S. Nation-Building, 1776-1876 (Columbia UP, 2007), which won the Oscar Kenshur Book Prize for Best Book in Eighteenth Century Studies for 2007 and was a finalist for the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize. She is Associate Professor of English and Affiliate Faculty in History and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her current book project is titled Empire-Building: The Time and Place of U.S. Governmentality.