Birth of a role

This will likely be my last Fallout 3 post for a while. I want to share a series of impressions, then enjoy and chew on the game, to return when a more fruitful discussion can develop. Spoilers are not really existent.

White light glaring at you, harsh and clinical. Pieces of fleshly blood spattered in your vision. A strange man in a mask comes up to you while you stare, disoriented and having no idea where you are, what is happening, and can barely understand who you are. While this could easily describe the scene of an interrogation of a less than kind nature, for anyone who has followed Fallout 3 for the last few months, it’s the start of the game.

Instead of playing an assumed sheltered adult thrust out in the harsh, destroyed landscape of the DC wasteland, this is a character you build from cradle on to many graves. Without having to deal with what life has gone before you, you are given glimpses of that life, influencing it, and determining how you will emerge and grow as a human. No amnesia allowed. No shady past on your part. Nothing. A blank slate, perhaps?

Actually, if anything, this character is not a perfect exemplar of tabula rasa, but a window of your own gaming habits. You are controlling this person’s actions, and that guides what knowledge the character has. In metagame terms, you know that pressing the WASD keys will move you, the mouse will change where you look (though the game is sure to remind you, in case you have forgotten, or this is your first game), and the click of the mouse button will have an appreciable effect in reacting to your world. The moment you make your first decision, selecting male or female as your sex, you are basing it on your own desires and expectations.

How will this game play if I have a vagina versus a penis? With whom can I have sex? Will there be sexist attitudes? Then you choose a name, and since it is purely cosmetic, it can range from Aeazel to Denis to Nutella. Though, perhaps you actually aspire to infuse the name with meaning–is it the name of a friend, a character you know, a relative, someone completely new? There are no guidelines and restricted names, no moderators to kindly suggest an alternative or banning. Next, choose what you will look like, selecting first from a template of four races who are all human, and then choosing certain templates within that frame. This is purely cosmetic, as you can select Hispanic and still make an albino, or someone of African descent and there is no bonus to skills or attributes. Race is truly just a construction of words. This continues and you start growing up, which is where I will stop pushing forward with the character creation stage of this game.

I think it bears repeating that there is no amnesia allowed. The game is set up quite well so that even the first time Fallout player is not expected to know everything the moment the game begins. Don’t know who the Enclave is in the face of an American jingoist (like cockroaches, they can survive even nuclear devastation, though they don’t grow in size and ferocity)? Fine. Ask about it. You’ve been secluded your entire life, how could you possibly know? Your ignorance is not because you forgot something, or need to inform someone else who may not know, but because you simply were never made aware of this fact.

Currently, I’m also playing The World Ends With You. While there is a subtle shift from the hero who was bumped on the head or had a traumatic experience and cannot remember, the trope remains. This was also curious when playing any of the Elder Scrolls games. Who was I beforehand? Why am I always a prisoner or slave escaping? If I’m supposedly good, does this mean that I was framed? If I’m evil, am I really stupid or unlucky enough to get caught? Time to find out.

This is something Fallout 3 does not ask as much, though I find myself asking questions anyway. Why is this character so rude to her peers? Does she not connect with her gently toned father? Does the tone of the Overseer provide that stifling an environment in which children grow up? Considering there is a gang called the Tunnelsnakes, everything can’t be peachy keen down here, can it? Then the reverse, why is my character so optimistic? Can he not see the corruption and tyrannical ways of the Overseer that have led to an answering rebellious faction in the youth? Instead of asking what occurred in my past, I am asking what happened in my past that has shaped my actions.

One last occurrence that struck me in this creation phase was the ability to see myself. With the gene projector, I was able to determine how I would look as an adult, but I never saw myself as a baby. Likewise, when I was taking my first steps in game as a toddler, there was no mirror, no scrolling out with the mouse wheel to see myself. Instead, when I’m ten I can finally wheel about, examining the character I created, scrutinizing what child Redgren looks like. Reading perhaps too much into it, it introduces thinking back on philosophy and child development in terms of when we learn that the reflection in the mirror is actually ourselves. If our characters cannot visualize themselves, can we? Should we? Also, rather important is to note my shift in about whom I was speaking in this paragraph: from myself to the character as I was finally shifted out of the perspective of first person.

Whether we can or should feeds into what the design and intent of the game is meant to be. Is this character I am creating supposed to be an extension of myself, or an element in the world over whom I have direct control? The way the game is feeding itself to me, I feel somewhat at odds. I don’t empathize with my character, looking at him from a distance (yes, playing in third person), so this then makes me question the camera. For me, the camera in this game is functioning as a physical camera, following the story of this character in this world. Blood splatters on it, lens flare blinds me momentarily when cresting that hill with the sun on the other side, and when I score those killing blows in VATS, there is a slow motion effect and I see the bullet travel into the target.

This may require much more experimentation in the form of playing the game. Good thing I enjoy it.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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