West Virginia Tourism Goes Nuclear

Tourism officials said the game highlights West Virginia's beauty in a unique way.

Tourism officials said the game highlights West Virginia's beauty in a unique way. shutterstock

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The state's tourism office is partnering with a video-game company to promote Fallout 76, a role-playing game set in post-apocalyptic West Virginia.

It started with John Denver.

In April, the West Virginia Tourism Office launched a new “Almost Heaven” campaign, based on Denver’s hit song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Two months later, video game company Bethesda Softworks launched the trailer for Fallout 76, a post-apocalyptic role-playing game set in West Virginia. The teaser, which highlighted real areas throughout the state, was set to a more eerie version of Denver’s song. Tourism officials took notice.

“It was interesting timing,” said Chelsea Ruby, the state’s tourism commissioner. “We started looking into it and when we realized how much interest there was in the game, and some of the ways the state was going to be portrayed as far as our culture and scenic beauty, we decided to contact the company to see if they were interested in doing some cross-promotion.”

Bethesda was interested, and the two entities decided to partner on a promotional campaign that will showcase both the state and the game, scheduled to be released Nov. 14. It’s an interesting partnership given the game’s subject matter, which depicts West Virginia as a land left decimated in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse. But the game also features scenic vistas that hint at the state’s real-life beauty, and given its popularity—the most recent iteration of Fallout sold more than 13 million copies—teaming up to promote it was an easy choice, Ruby said.

“Some people have been surprised given the post-nuclear setting, but we see it as an opportunity,” she said. “There are going to be millions of people exposed to our state and to the theme song of our campaign through this game, and given the way that the state’s beauty is portrayed in this, we just see it as a great way to remind people of West Virginia.”

The bulk of the campaign will kick off after the game’s release and will include promotions, targeted advertising and official travel itineraries and tour opportunities for Fallout fans who’d like to see the real-life inspirations behind the places featured in the virtual world. Some of those sites have already seen increased foot traffic, Ruby said.

“There were several places in the trailer that were identifiable, and we’ve heard from our partners who are already starting to see people who want to see those areas,” she said. “There’s a buzz. Our hope is that once the game comes out, we’ll have more.”

Recognizable spots include the state capitol in Charleston, West Virginia University and Moundsville Penitentiary. Eight locations from the trailer are outlined on the state’s tourism website, with sliding images that allow users to toggle between the real-life and post-apocalyptic versions of each site.

The game will, of course, feature dozens of other sites. Ruby knows what they are, but won’t reveal details before the release date.

“That’s kind of the million-dollar question,” she said. “People all across West Virginia are anxiously waiting to find out what all of the real-life sites in the game are going to be. Once the game comes out on the 14th, we will start putting those sites together and building itineraries for folks.”

The state’s Fallout 76 page also features maps and insights into the state’s culture, including background on some of the creatures from West Virginian folklore—like Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster—that players will encounter in the game.

Fallout 76 is the sixth major iteration of the game. Previous versions have also been based in post-apocalyptic versions of real-life places—Las Vegas, Boston, southern California, Washington D.C.—but this year’s release is the first to tackle an entire state. That adds to the tourism angle, Ruby said.

“Other games have been set in bigger, more metropolitan areas,” she said. “This one is a little bit different because it features more open spaces, and it really does a good job of showcasing the beauty of West Virginia through a unique lens.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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