For a classicist, being objective when it comes to modern receptions of the ancient world is difficult. The various films that have been produced have proved good examples. I for one can never forgive the film Troy for its handling of Priam's aristeia in Iliad 24. However, this does also extend into video games, an area as yet (as far as I know) untouched, and most certainly wrongly so, by classical reception studies. To prove my point, I would only need mention how the extent to which Rome: Total War accurately portrayed ancient military tactics proved too difficult to resist for some, the result of which was the production of Rome: Total Realism, amongst other mods.
Nevertheless, in our search to demonstrate how the ancient world is continually being reinterpreted, we shouldn't ignore the possibility that the receptors don't actually know what they're talking about when it comes to the ancient world.
So, with those two contradictory but equally valid and important points, I shall get round to the matter at hand, which is the reception of Greek mythology in Fallout: New Vegas. The various aspects of this game's reception of both the Greek and Roman worlds is a source of continuing interest to me, and is forming something of a "side-quest" in my research. Or, in other words, watch this space for more. For the time being, however, I am restricting myself to a single poster produced by Poseidon Energy, who were the most important power company prior to the Great War. Here it is:
For anyone who has read the Odyssey, the problem with this poster is instantly and blindingly obvious: Poseidon does nearly all he can to hinder Odysseus' homecoming, and yet here he blows gentle winds on the sails and the crew are clearly elated. And so enters the question in my title: is this a conscious inversion of the Greek original or have the creators simply never read the Odyssey?
Perhaps one of the most interesting answers could actually lie in dissecting the second half of that question more carefully. Which creators are we actually talking about?
This brings us into the world of narratology and ideas about the embedding of narrators and focalizers, i.e. the people through whose eyes you see and who tell you the story of the world you're in. To continue in narratological terms, the poster is narrated and focalized by the primary external narrator-focalizer, who has embedded in this case a company that has produced a poster that itself narrates and focalizes. To put it more simply, the poster is at once the product of the company Poseidon Energy and the game. The game is the primary external narrator-focalizer, which is not necessarily connected with the real-life makers of the game - the game narrates its own world. Poseidon Energy is an internal construct, but which nevertheless has its own motivations.
Seen in narratological terms, then, when we talk about the "creators" of the poster, we have to be a little more discerning. Once we discern between Poseidon Energy and the game as creators, we may make the argument that it is not the game that has not read the Odyssey, rather it is Poseidon Energy. The game, according to this argument, presents us with a company that makes great use of classical mythology, but doesn't really know what it's doing.
At this point, knowledge of Poseidon as he is presented in the Odyssey comes in handy. In its heyday before the Great War, Poseidon Energy was intimately connected with the Enclave, the U.S. government. It was perceived as many large corporations are - untrustworthy. And perhaps for good reason, as it was involved (presumably with government grants) in a variety of experimental, military projects, such as the Archimedes project at Helios One in New Vegas. To cut a long story short, where Poseidon Energy is involved, danger lurks behind the friendly, public face, just as the Poseidon of the Odyssey lurks behind the poster.
I want to end this simply by contextualizing the argument made here that the game presents us with a world (in this case exemplified by the company) that is more than happy to manipulate the ancient world in various, and, as I shall later show, on a broad level very reductive, ways. Without going into too much detail, since it is another argument for another time, the use of Roman military and other idea(l)s by Caesar in New Vegas displays a similar style, in which the ancient world is invoked very specifically through a certain lens that clearly distorts the original. For example, the use of Catonian ideology is totally out of synch with Caesar. I would suggest, then, that this is the role the reception of the ancient world plays in Fallout, and particularly in New Vegas. It is to remind us of the importance of remembering history, as the context of the game is one in which those who do remember bits and pieces of the world are very few and far between.