Gamma World also suffered by it not being that clear what the world was supposed to be.
I remember finding this in a half price/used bookstore, a dented box with sub-par graphics on the front side, with "Gamma World" written in very crude, "Shatter" font - that made the futuristic ideal of the game wonderfully and ironically retro. The dice were shoddy and crudely printed, and it is my understanding that the dice included with this set (a TSR game) was not of the same quality afforded to the far better selling Dungeons and Dragons, as opposed to having been replaced with bad replacements.
Dungeons and Dragons was clearly meant to allow players to live out their fantasy lives as hobbits and elves from the sword and sorcery genre: though Tolkein is a huge hit these days, to my incredible surprise some research shows that this it not the first time the genre has hit it big in film. The late 1970s had quite a hippy/medieval vibe to it, "Frodo Lives" was a not-unheard of graffiti - which segued in to full bore wizards and warriors VHS tape rentals in the early 80s. Alongside visions of future-noir dystopia (The Terminator) and profuse amounts of Reagan era military porn (Delta Force, First Blood) there was no shortage of sword-weilding barbarians on film at the time TSR hit it truly big with the early 80s onslaught of role playing games. It was pretty clear that you put on your robe and wizard hat, or you sharpened your sword and put on your armor in order to slay dragons, get treasure, and bed down exotic half-elven maidens who barmaided at the Blinded Beholder.
Likewise, Boot Hill from TSR allowed one to re-live the Wild West, and Top Secret let the player live out a James Bond fantasy life of cold martinis and even colder assasins, spies who loved people and gadgets galore.
But this game, as I read it, with strage and wonderful creatures like the Hoops (basically, anthropomorphic rabbits) and Yexils (strange catlike beings), Pure Strain Humans, mutants and so forth just didn't really register with me. Though set in a post-apocalyptic post-nuclear holocaust world, it didn't have the bleak vibe of a Road Warrior milieu, which seemed to be the 1980s vision of what existed once the machines took over and the Russians finally dropped the bomb. The idea was you were some kind of weird post-future creature, living in the medieval period salted with relics from an imaginable sci-fi future. Artificial intelligences worshipped as Gods. Defective droids guarding the only remaining food in a ravaged dust bowl. Back to cooking over fires and evenings by oil lamps, but the oil was sometimes diesel.
The relative and comparative lack of modules demonstrating what you were going for didn't help. Dungeons and Dragons had modules and artwork galore, whereas you were just supposed to "get" Gamma World.
I had the game for many years and never played it. During a move, along with my copy of the Doctor Who roleplaying game, it simply disappeared. Maybe a box fell off the truck in transit, or perhaps they were inadvertently put in a trash pile. But I never saw Gamma World again, and didn't think it was that great a loss. The idea of a talking plant and a bunny rabbit with a crossbow walking around wondering what strange artifact they'd just unearthed would do just seemed extremely weird. It never "clicked" with me how in the heck you were ever supposed to role-play in this not-quite sci-fi, not-quite Tolkein world.
But it dawned on me recently when I started to get into the animated science-fantasy worlds of Ralph Bakshi, he of Cool World and the almost impossible to find 1960s Spider-man cartoon. There was a whole host of weird animated movies that came out in the early 1980s, of which Heavy Metal was the most famous. Wizards took place in a post-apocalyptic future with the evil wizard attempting to gain world domination through the reanimation of post-total-war Nazi death machines. The denizens of Heavy Metal chased - whether they were loincloth-wearing barbarians fighting wizards, or technologically advanced humans with beam weapons - a mystic orb called the Loc-Nar. The delightfully weird Rock and Rule, a Canadian movie, featured a rock band whose female backup singer is tagged by a post-apocalypse rockstar by the name of "Mok Swagger" (no relation to Mick Jagger), voiced by Lou Reed no less - who sought to control the woman's voice by synthesizer control to raise a demon. As you can see, the film's protagonist is not quite human, nor are any of the other characters. His other films, namely the Fritz the Cat series, flat out had straight up anthropomorphized animals. In fact, he wasn't the only one. The same general era produced Guardians of the Galaxy, which really did have the same vibe of roguish collections of aliens and mutants.
And it was then that it clicked what "Gamma World" was trying to accomplish. Whereas Dungeons and Dragons was Tolkein by candlelight, with lutes and bodhrans being banged by folks who would later make Ren Faires so popular - this was straight up something out of Heavy Metal the movie, with wisecracking, cigar chewing half-human half-animal something or others trying to survive in the muted primary palettes of the grubby science fantasy of its day. A van, dragged by horses, with a half-bunny half-human hybrid trying to make things work in a world where crossbows met laser blasters, all cued to the glorious sounds of Cheap Trick and Molly Hatchet. Swords and mayhem, with a pinch of Mad Max, but mostly the cartoon proto-furry softcore animation of the day, and the barmaid was a curvy half-cat with HUGE jugs.
NOW I wish I had that game back. I wasn't really alive and of age back in those days, but the media and the music were awesome, and I have to admit, there's part of me that would have taken some time off fighting demi-lichs around a card table in a rec room to spend some time with some black lights and posters and Sammy Hagar's Radar Rider while playing a half-mutant plant paired with a wisecracking mutant albino raccoon. Back in the days before computers boxed in our brains and took away our creativity and our imagination, and tethered us 24/7 to a job rather than letting us gather in basements to drink, make out, or play games. It makes me nostalgic for a time I never got to experience.