1UP has put together an article in which they wonder how accurate the portrayal of a post-nuclear wasteland is in the Fallout series - minus the super mutants and deathclaws, we assume - with the help of Dr. Curtis Miyamoto, chairperson of the radiation oncology department at Temple University School of Medicine, and Dr. Karen Cerulo, chair of the sociology department at Rutgers University. Here's a snippet:
Of course, nuclear radiation is only one of the threats facing wasteland wanderers. As any post-modern monster flick will gladly tell you, man is the real monster. Even if humanity was physically capable of repopulating the planet, would we see the relatively sophisticated social structure portrayed in the games? These were questions for Dr. Cerulo to lend her expertise on human behavior.
The propagation of small, self-sustaining agrarian societies is fairly realistic, according to Cerulo. "People tend to localize their behavior when these kinds of things occur," she said. "So if there were a complete wipeout of the central government, we'd see lots of local communities empowered by those people bonding together."
Hostilities between groups would rely quite a bit on how much time has passed. "Each of these small communities would be trying to figure out how to sustain themselves, so the tendency to look outward would come way down the road when the local community was stabilized," Cerulo said. A longer timeline means more warring factions. "People want to maximize their resources, and sometimes they do that in a competitive fashion. These communities might merge their resources, trade on the basis of strengths and weaknesses -- or you might get some people who use violence or force, just as we see now. For the game's purpose, it's more fun to go to war, but you'd see a combination of both. Even in war, I think cooperative strategies would dominate."