Weird Al Yankovic’s irreverent “Christmas at Ground Zero” joked about the idea of nuclear annihilation, setting the apocalypse under a mistletoe for a jolt of irony. Yankovic released the song during the Cold War, mocking the stupidity shown by super powers (even using a clip of President Reagan in the video), and the casualness with which society goes about their day as mutually assured destruction looms.
That’s relevant because Rad is effectively the same thing. Time stopped for Rad during the Cold War as indicated by a still ticking Pac-Man arcade machine and routine ’80s neon aesthetic. And further, mutations become central to gameplay, letting characters grow tails or twisted arms for more offensive power. This, then, is the world of “Christmas at Ground Zero.”
However, where there’s a satirical punch to Yankovic’s words, Rad toys with the theme. It’s kooky, at home because other videogames like to play in radiation baths, separated from that reality. That title too, a double meaning that again casually plays with fallout effects.
Western pop culture forever mocked the idea of radiation poisoning, following Hiroshima with movies about irradiated monsters or irradiated superheroes like Incredible Hulk. Now though, in the wake of Fukushima and recent events in Russia, Rad comes across as crass. Careless, even. In Rad’s case, absorbing radiation is good, even central to progress. Spawning a new leg or arm equals progress.
There’s something here – Rad revolves around kids restoring the world from a non-specific nuclear disaster, which in the face of climate change is borderline inspiring; the next generation can still restore nature. But turning those kids into rejects from the Garbage Pail Kids to get there? That’s not as neat as it thinks that is.