Fallout 76 didn’t have much of a storyline when it was released in November 2018. Its world was full of interesting little details, but bereft of living, breathing characters. Instead, it tasked players with creating their own narratives. Some role-played as cannibals, others joined cults. One person decided to try and weave these player experiences into a story all its own, by turning them into a 1920s-style radio show.
That podcast, called Chad: A Fallout 76 Story, has proven so popular that it got its creator all the way to the main stage at Bethesda’s PAX East event.
“Most of you are probably wondering: Who the hell even are these people, and what are they doing up here,” creator Kenneth Vigue said at the Bethesda Game Days event last Sunday, where Vigue and his troupe of volunteer voice actors had been invited by the Fallout publisher to show off their work.
Indeed, some in the audience definitely seemed confused about what was going on, at least at first. An hour later, the Chad cast were taking their bows amidst cheers from a packed room of some of Fallout 76's biggest fans. Even the livestream chat was onboard (that is, when they weren’t calling for Skyrim 2 trailers).
Chad: A Fallout 76 Story, currently midway through its first 20-episode season after launching in January 2019, follows the journey of Simon (voiced by Vigue) and his high school bully Chad (voiced by Alexander Luthor) as they leave Vault 76 on Reclamation Day. Simon tries to mind his own business: He creates a campsite, scavenges for materials, and kills the stray Scorched that comes his way. But he’s constantly interrupted by the oblivious and selfish Chad. It’s the quintessential Fallout 76 experience of trying to play it like a single-player game only to have a stranger wander into your orbit and start messing up your camp.
The idea for the podcast came about while Vigue and his friends were playing around in Fallout 76's high school area. “We were reminiscing about high school, and I was talking about a typical douchebag bro bully called Chad,” Vigue said in an email to Kotaku. “Everyone in the group told similar stories about people they knew named Chad.” (The name, Vigue said, had nothing to do with the alpha-male stereotype popular in incel circles; he’d never even heard of it prior to beginning the show.)
While he describes Chad as a “sex-driven jock,” Vigue says the character was also inspired by the charisma and swagger that might be exuded by a Matthew McConaughey performance. And though Chad starts out as the series’ antagonist, future episodes reveal a more complex relationship between him, Simon, and the other characters, which include boy scouts, raiders, super mutants, and ghouls.
T turning point for Chad’s character came late last year after he’d adopted the little ghoul girl Susie, whose best friend is a possessed doll. “There is a powerful moment in the Christmas special that got the reaction I was hoping for when Chad went out of his way to give Susie her very first Christmas in 25 years,” he said. “On the verge of sleep she says, ‘I love you’ and he’s beside himself unable to formulate a response. We had so many fans message in that they teared up in that moment.”
Vigue believes making listeners come to root for their high school bully is one of the things that helped elevate the series’ first 10 episodes beyond the brief, comic strip-like fanfiction entries that they began as. It’s also reminiscent of the grim moral ambiguity that’s laid the groundwork for some of the previous Fallout games’ most memorable storylines—ones that have been missing from Fallout 76’s abandoned world.
The podcast also incorporates other 76 mainstays as well, with characters joking about respawns, glitches, and gags that rely on having some passing familiarity with the extensive theorycrafting around character builds in the game.
“The moment we started joking about a hopped-up character on drugs being a ‘junkie’s build,’ we had everyone turn their heads,” Vigue said of the audience at PAX East. Listening to the show can feel part like picking up an actual audiolog in the game and part like turning on the radio to hear the cast of A Prairie Home Companion joke about Scorchbeasts.
The stories you create for yourself in a game can often be some of the most memorable, but rarely translate for other players who weren’t around to experience it firsthand. Vigue thinks part of the reason Chad has found an audience is because of how it bridges the gap between personal gaming experiences and the artistry around a structured narrative.
The show attracts listeners who love Fallout 76 as well as those who don’t. “For Fallout 76 players, the meta-commentary on the players experiencing the game mechanics, glitches, and even quest lines [in] first person is hilarious and relatable,” Vigue said. “For people who love Fallout, but didn’t like 76 at all, I think they take my good-humored wink-wink commentary on all of that meta as something they already joke about in a more negative light than we do.”
Fallout 76 will finally get its own batch of new stories and flesh-and-blood characters when its massive Wastelanders update arrives in April. Rather than competition, Vigue sees it as more fodder for him and the rest of Chad’s performers.
“Wastelanders will mean a new chapter for us in terms of introducing new threats, heroes, companions, and villains,” he said. “It introduces a new conflict for our team to battle, and one that will require Simon and Chad working together to address.” Until then, players who long ago exhausted all of Fallout 76's audio logs can always turn to the first year of Chad to make their journeys feel less lonely.