With the benefit of a little perspective, it all makes complete sense. Video game characters have to stay hydrated. It’s crucial in their line of work. They generally spend their days either pursuing or being pursued by others, and their jobs tend to involve a lot of running and jumping but not much standing still. They’re bound to work up a powerful thirst, what with all that killing and being killed and coming back to life to kill and be killed all over again. And video game developers are sympathetic to this problem, thoughtfully working soda machines into the design of many games, including the Fallout series, Grand Theft Auto V, and Half-Life. These colorful drink dispensers are so common that hardcore gamers may not even notice them. But Dr. Jason “Jess” Morrissette, a professor of political science at Marshall University, sure noticed. He noticed the shit out of them, in fact, to the point that he started collecting and cataloging images of soda machines in video games. Morrisstte also occasionally posts such images to his Twitter account. Recently, the professor spoke with NPR’s Gabriel Rosenberg about why he does this.
Morrissette says that soda machines are, at heart, “shorthand for modernity.” Everyone knows what they are and how they’re used. Plus, since they’re basically just big, 3-D rectangles, they’re not all that difficult to render. But that doesn’t mean that all video game soda machines are created equal. Some actually serve a function in their respective games, the professor says, while “others are meant to be a pop of color in an otherwise drab game.” The machines Morrissette likes best are the ones that poke a little fun at the soft-drink industry. Fallout’s fabled Nuka-Cola, for instance, is a post-apocalyptic parody of the mighty Coke brand. Other classic fake sodas from video games include Sprunk and Fountain View. But does this project have a larger meaning for its curator? Not yet, but Morrissette is working on that part. Now that he’s collected all this data, it’s time to analyze it. “It wouldn’t be the first time a journal published something about the most minute of minutiae,” he threatens.