Imagine a world devastated by nuclear war. You’re one of a handful of lucky survivors who took shelter before the bombs fell and destroyed civilization as we know it. Your Vault-Tec bomb shelter is well-stocked and secure. You and your fellow survivors could live in the vault for years, decades even.

Life goes on in the vault much as it did before. Jobs are assigned, families form, civilization lives on. To pass the time, stories are told of the land that was and will be again. Songs of home and hill are sung with reverence to pass the time and find joy in the toil. Tales of resilience and heroism against impossible odds fuel the imagination. Stories about wild, wonderful West Virginia paint a picture of beauty and life, sorrow and struggle.

Children whose entire world is contained within this underground safe haven struggle to imagine a place that’s almost heaven, with hills bathed in glory. Sons and daughters of the mountains learn what it means to be a West Virginian without ever seeing the land they love. In the dark, tales of monsters and unimaginable horror haunt nightmares as well.

Years pass this way. Young and old eagerly await “Reclamation Day,” the day the vault doors open, and celebrate its coming every year like the homecoming celebrations of old. Reclamation Day is the day we’ll have a chance to rebuild the world that was lost, a world that lives on in the memories of some and the dreams of others, a day to remember that, no matter the struggle, Mountaineers are always free.

“For when the fighting has stopped, and the fallout has settled, you must rebuild. In Vault 76, our future begins.”

This is the world Bethesda Game Studios has created in “Fallout 76.”

If you’re from West Virginia, you can tell that it is remarkably different from other games in the “Fallout” series in one important regard. In the eight other installments in the series, those locked away in these underground fallout shelters view the outside world with suspicion, leaving the safety of their vaults to take on the dangers of the outside world only when forced to do so.

But in the trailer for “Fallout 76,” viewers see the remains of a party in one of these vaults– decorated with streamers and balloons, confetti scattered and completely empty. At the first opportunity, every resident of Vault 76 abandoned the safety to return to the home they love, even those who had never experienced it’s beauty before nuclear war.

Who but West Virginians would be eager to return to their war-torn world for the chance to rebuild it?

Who but sons and daughters of the Mountain State would keep the dreams and stories of what it means to be West Virginian alive for all that time?

Who but Mountaineers would celebrate “Reclamation Day” as a homecoming? Without help, working to make the world a better place with nothing but pure grit and Mountain ingenuity.

Twenty million players will learn firsthand through Wednesday’s release of “Fallout 76” what it means to be a West Virginian and what it’s like to live in the Mountain State – the beauty and the struggle, the identity and pride, the sacrifice and the joy.

They’ll learn what it means to be a Mountaineer and why Mountaineers are always free.

John Barton is a resident of Lincoln County, West Virginia, and runs 100 Days in Appalachia’s “Fallout 76” Reddit page. He and his wife, Christal, are the founders of WV Autism, a support group for the families of children with autism in the state.

Creative Commons License

This article was originally published by 100 Days in Appalachia, a nonprofit, collaborative newsroom telling the complex stories of the region that deserve to be heard. Sign up for their weekly newsletter here.