Lazy Heroes


Vault 101 was boring, but the decor was better.


I’m running through the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is Washington D.C. My heart thuds its way up my throat. My feet feel like lead. I can feel the urgency; the need to find my father. Years of isolation without him have driven me to hunt him down. What I’ll do when I find him, I’m not sure anymore. I sprint blindly around the next corner, stopping only to take the head off of a rampaging Super Mutant with my hunting rifle. But all of a sudden, I see a small boy. He tells me his father has died, thanks to a new type of six-foot long ant that breathes fire, and he wants me to clear the scuttling little things out of his town. I could play the hero, and clear them out. Or I could take the key to his dad’s stash of weapons, ammo and stimpaks, and "remove" the child.

Or I could just keep grinding bears until I get the level 8 achievement and ignore the damn side-quest. Why should I care? This is just a distraction, isn’t it? Or is it story?

The interesting thing about games like Fallout 3 is that by and large, you’re required to make your own storyline. Sure, the backbone of one is there; your father has gone and you need to find him. But along the way, anything and everything that happens is entirely up to you, the player. But what drives us, in this particular world, to seek out different experiences, characters and situations, and turn them into plot developments on our save game?

The answer is simple; immersion. Show someone a universe contained in a game that is comprised of enough storyline, well-written dialogue and bits of back-story lying around in books, journals, and databanks and they’ll take to it like a starving man to a loaf of bread. But in order to find a world the average gamer can connect to and explore, it seems the developers have to repeatedly blow up or recreate real-life locations such as New York, Washington, or for some reason recently, Africa.

Speaking for a moment as someone who obsesses over every minute detail in games where the story is accessible to you, but only in the bare bones unless you go info-hunting, games like Mass Effect contain the greatest appeal. To slowly fill up its repertoire of knowledge on different races, weapons, planets, and vehicles, we must first talk to people, analyse databanks, and prod things on our ship. But we do this because if we see an empty space, like the Galactic Codex we are issued with, we want to fill it up, even if it means reading for hours in what is supposedly touted as an action-RPG. It’s materialism in its most base format; just with sci-fi yarns, and not the latest clothes or DVDs.

The problem stems, however, from characters that really have no innate personality. For John Shepherd, we know who he/she is; he’s a captain of a ship, he’s a SPECTRE agent, and he’s either a gentleman or a bit of a rogue, depending on your choices. But with Fallout 3, and Fable 2 for that matter, it seems that we can’t move without tripping over random aspects of the game placed in front of us to make us forget one crucial thing; our character has no personality whatsoever. What’s the point in choosing good over evil if my character’s never even going to reflect that in his speech?

As you progress through the latest Fallout universe, you’ll notice something interesting about the dialogue, much like Mass Effect; everything has good, neutral, and evil answers, regardless of whether you’ve been choosing evil answers for the whole game or not. There’s no taint to the tone of your responses, and the actions you’ve undertaken have no impact on your character’s dialogue whatsoever, when it comes to morality.

Say for example, I head out into the wasteland of Washington, and proceed to do a side-quest that involves either dismantling a bomb in the middle of a fledgling township, or detonate it for a large pay-check. In my play-through, I dismantled the bomb, and then told the sheriff about the nasty man who’d propositioned me with the horrific idea of detonating the same device that got me born in Vault 101 in the first place. So I told the sheriff, and he runs into the bar to confront the deviously minded miscreant. Said miscreant then proceeds to kill the sheriff, and the game auto-saves, permanently killing off the one character I’d taken to in the game so far.

I was horrified. Not only was it my fault he was shot, I then had to go to his house and explain this to his ten year-old son. I felt like a despicable character who had cost a good man and father his life simply to grass up the local troublemaker. The kid took it hard, and I visited him every day since. Does my character reflect on it? No, but I do, and that saddens me even further. To just have my character stop outside that boy’s empty house, and weep a little, even utter a few profanities in shock of what’s taken place, would have sufficed.

It’s not that we’re trying to create our own lives as we would live them in these worlds, it’s simply that there’s no motivation to clear ten side-quests when they have no lasting impact on your avatar, but the main storyline does. Once I found my father, my dialogue changed, and the world began to change, albeit slightly. But I went back and killed those ants, and do you know what happened? Nothing. My character wasn’t even upset at the loss of ammo.

I like science fiction and all, but I wanted to play a human, not a robot. Even the Sims cry when they’re tired. My Fallout toon has been awake for over a month and he’s not even irritable.


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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