Thanks, Fallout 3, for making me think about my actions

[zombiekill13 talks about how Fallout 3 really sucked him into the experience. — CTZ]

Before I begin, there are going to be spoilers. If you haven’t finished the game, or haven’t completed a full good/neutral/evil run, be forewarned.

I finally finished Fallout 3 … again. Thanks to the DLC, I went back in multiple times. Completed Operation: Anchorage, the Pitt, and Broken Steel; explored Point Lookout; got my character up to level 30 and got all of the achievements. The last time I checked, I was at 102 hours of gameplay.

So, until the Mothership Zeta DLC is released, I figured I’d start up a new character and play through a little bit. This time around, I decided to create a character who was the opposite of my main one; where that one was male and insanely good, this one would be an evil female. And since I really should move on to other games, I figured I’d give myself a goal: blow up Megaton.

It really is a blight on the landscape, isn’t it?

While I took the “good” path with my first character, I did try out a few of the evil choices; did the “Strictly Business” quest, achieved the Evil and Neutral achievements, shot Agatha and Three-Dog dead, saw what happens when I went on a killing spree in Megaton and Big Town. But, I always reverted back to a prior save so these events didn’t stick with my character; it was kinda like seeing a “what if” comic in action, or as if he were dreaming about the events.

So, asploding Megaton seem like a good checkpoint. Figure I’ll do that, since I’ve only seen it done in YouTube videos, and then decide if I want to continue or (finally) play another game.

I started this one early; she was rude to the guests at her party and to her dad, she started swinging at Butch and his gang even before talking to them while they were harassing Amata, and during the Vault 101 escape, I shot everyone I could, even the Overseer.

I did feel a little bad when Amata chastised me for killing her dad, as well as for taking him out with a police baton. It was a stark contrast to my first game, where she seemed sad that I had to leave the vault. This time, she kept telling me she was going to call the guards, or that she wanted to make sure I left. But hey, I was keeping with my choice to be a bastard (well, bitch). I smacked her with my baseball bat and then shot her a few times with my BB gun before leaving. Give her something to remember me by.

Exiting the vault, I headed to Silver’s house. Last time around, I told her I wouldn’t tell Moriarty where she was. I think I even declined to accept caps from her, which slightly hindered my initial progress (not a lot to sell on me meant I had to scavenge a lot). As I entered her house this time around, she confronted me, and I chose whatever option causes her to become hostile immediately. She went down way too easy. With this one, I didn’t feel too bad. She’s such a minor character that I really didn’t care if she lived or died. You meet her this one time, and then, that’s it.

Sorry, toots. All you’re good for is caps … and you’re worth 400 if you’re dead.

After hitting the Raider mini-camp on the broken bridge nearby, I made my way to Megaton, intent on blowing the town sky-high.

Problem is, I started to have doubts about my decision.

Yes, it’s a videogame, but in my first play-through, this town became my (virtual) home. I saved the citizens by diffusing the bomb, ensuring that it would not go off and wipe them all off the map. I assisted Moira in creating the best Wasteland survival guide; it was so good that I’d run into people in the Wasteland who would would give me caps as thanks, and Three-Dog said it was a must-read. I’d visit Gob and sell him the alcohol I found in my travels. People would walk up to me and give me gifts for the work I was doing. I fixed up the water pipes so the town would not experience problems later on, and then kept giving Walter a steady supply of scrap metal to keep the pipes in working order. I made sure that, during a side-quest in Broken Steel, a creepy ghoul-loving cult wouldn’t steal the town’s Aqua Pura supply. I even rid the town of that creep Burke.

Choosing to set off the nuke and kill off everyone I essentially befriended in another “life” turned out to be a more difficult decision than I thought. How crazy is that? It’s a game. I know that the “people” in it are basically lines of code, with pre-determined responses and movements. A programmer sat at a computer and designed them. And honestly, they aren’t the most-life like; when engaged in a conversation, their movements are more akin to a robotic human you’d see at an amusement park … like Disney’s Hall of Presidents.

He’s either stoned, or a robot. Or both.

But here it is; I became so engrossed in this game that I began to envision them as living, breathing people. People who went about their lives while I was out exploring the world. What were they doing during my abscence. Did Moira tick anyone else off with her condescending attitude? Was Nova bedding as many of the residents as she could, or was she waiting for me to make a weekly visit? Was the sheriff taking care of a drunken Jericho who was making advances on a reluctant Lucy?

It’s insane that a game can make the player feel this way. There are plenty of games that I’ve played where I could give a rat’s ass about what happened to the character’s in it, whether it was due to a poorly written story or I just didn’t feel any attachment to the characters. Saints Row 2? Great game, not the greatest characterization. I could care less about who I mowed down with a machine gun or car, and felt nothing whatsoever between my character and their homies. They were usually just in the way of my wanton violence. Fable II? You could get anyone in Albion to kiss your butt by dancing, laughing, and farting. I’d go on a murderous spree, sleep for a week, and everyone would be back to loving me.

Sure, same thing happens in Fallout 3; kill a few people in Rivet City, escape the wrath of the security force, wait a few days, and everyone acts like nothing happened. But, I think what it comes down to is that I am able to interact with these people. I can choose what to say to them, besides watching a scripted cutscene or giving them a gift and a quick thrust of my hips. There are various ways of communicating with them, and while these selections are pre-written, it still gives me the freedom to react as I would with an actual human being.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d get so absorbed in my virtual Fallout world that I would shun family and friends, but it’s pretty impressive that a game can do this to me; I’m not just starting it up and shooting things. I’m making moral decisions that will affect the world the game inhabits.

And the one I’m wrestling over happens pretty much as soon as you exit the “home” you’ve “grown up” in for “19 years” (lots of quotes there, huh?).

I may never actually witness this, thanks to my conscience.

Anyone else experience this, either with this game or another? I could make a long list of games that have had the same sort of impact, but I figured I’d go with the most recent one.

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