Monday, December 1, 2008

Interlude I

Ever since I began this project, I've been asked several times the same question: why? If I disliked the game so much (and clearly it is the case), why did I chose to bother writing a series of articles on the subject, totalling 4,000 words and counting, rather than do something better and/or more productive with my time? The answer is surprisingly complex and multi-layered but I will try to address the main two reasons here.

1. Philosophical Investigations

In 1953, a book called “Philosophical Investigations” was published for the first time. The author, a German philosopher named Ludwig Wittgenstein, died two years earlier. His manuscript, and subsequently the book, remained an important contribution to modern philosophy. Among several of the ideas expressed within, there was a question of whether or not it is possible to Know something and not to be able to express it. Even with 'knowledge' and 'expression' clearly defined, this question can have multiple answers. The answers themselves are not relevant, or rather not as relevant as the question. What matters is the close correlation between the two concepts. Generally speaking, we are defined by the limits of our language when it comes to expressing ideas. Some extremely talented artists manage to transcend linguistic barriers, but those are very rare. The point I am trying to make is that whether or not Wittgenstein was right, the importance of expressing an idea into language cannot be denied. Ideas are short-lived, ephemeral things that exist only for a moment unless they are immortalized in art or language. This project is, therefore, a form of mental exercise as well as a way of sharing these concepts with other like-minded individuals.

2. Industrial Strength Mediocrity

While I have never identified myself with the gamer sub-culture, (in fact, is there really a sub-culture or is this merely a marketing ploy by clever businessmen?) I've been playing video games ever since I was introduced to computers in the early 90's. I learned English by playing Baldur's Gate and spent countless hours playing the original Fallout. This said, I've become embittered by the stagnant state of the industry. Video games are a relatively new medium, with a lot to prove. The media, and therefore the public opinion towards it is currently ambivalent at best. For every institution that praises the medium's ability to cure vertigo and improve reflexes, there is a Florida-state attorney, ready to pounce, claw and bite. I am disappointed that the industry is unable to grow and mature along with me. When I was 11, Duke Nukem 3D was the height of comedy. Today, the attempts at comedy in Fallout 3 make me yawn. While there is technological innovation to be found within modern video games, there isn't much else. When compared with every single medium in existence, video games appear as crude and dull. Perhaps the reason for the lack of growth is linked to their historical origin? The medium is a new-comer to this world, originating in an already capitalistic, mass-market society of globalization, monopolies, mega-corps and avarice taken to entirely new levels. It should not be surprising, in retrospect, that the industry is being kept in check by its powerful sponsors, with no ambitions other than personal gain. There is no place for individuality in the medium and creativity is frowned upon rather than rewarded. Hence, disgruntled with the current state of things, I am able to vent my frustration with this project.

Fallout 3 is as good a pretext as any. Almost every single so-called AAA title can be thrown in the same garbage bin of mediocrity and lack of significant innovation.
These are two main reasons why I continue to write these texts. Of course, there is a third reason, one that can be summed up along the lines “I do whatever the bloody hell I want to do; if you don't like it, don't read it”. It is however pretty self-explanatory and does not have to be expressed explicitly.

I Was A Vault 101 Survivor! [Part 3]

I was roused by Amata, the overseer’s daughter who seemed to fancy me. Perhaps it had something to do with the piercing shrieks of the Vault’s alarm system and the deathly screams from down the corridor, but she seemed agitated and concerned. She painted me a grizzly picture. My father has opened the Door. “To Oblivion?” I was about to interject but she interrupted me. Apparently her father, the much-beloved Overseer (and I still will not forgive him for making me sweat on the final question of the G.O.A.T. test) ordered a full lockdown, had a large percentage of the Vault 101 population shot and is now looking for me. She gave me a pistol which I gleefully accepted and directed me to an escape tunnel in her father’s office. Amata left while I was gathering the little belongings I had. I packed my trusty baseball glove, ball and bat, a spare Vault suit and my old BB gun. Chaos erupted the moment I opened the door. A security guard was locked in battle with a full platoon of Radroaches. Being a good Samaritan, I decided to help the man fight off the bugs and emptied my magazine into the brown pests. The security guard was so happy that he decided to thank me by smashing my nose with his baton in a jovial and friendly manner. After expanding another two rounds of ammunition and being careful not to step into the cranial fluids of the ex-security guard-turned-security-risk-and-Radroach-magnet, I proceeded further towards the Overseer’s office.
Little did I expect to find my old childhood foe. Butch was distressed. His mother was locked in the room with several Radroaches gnawing on her ankles. The poor woman was probably fully and utterly drunk as she did not pay much attention to the bloodthirsty mutated insects about to vivisect her. Fortunately I arrived in time and downed the three critters. Butch was so pleased that he gave me his gang jacket, something he surely regretted a few seconds later when I was gone. It’s not like him to display such gestures of generosity, a word he no doubt would be unable to spell out, even at a gun-point. Anyhow, dressed to kill and armed to the teeth, our hero, and that would be me, stepped forth towards his destiny.
A little further I observed a blood-curdling episode: a pair of Vault-dwellers, presumably man and wife, attempted to run past the guards. The man was gunned down without any warnings and then the mopping woman. Faced with such extreme cruelty I had no choice but to retaliate by dealing red-hot justice to the two bastards. After looting the four corpses and restocking on ammunition, I proceeded forward.
Down the corridor I had to stop as I heard voices coming from a nearby room. Peering through a dusty window I observed two adult males (both of them with their backs turned to me) interrogating Amata. Like a knight in shining armour or a silver-screen action hero, I burst into the room firing my gun wildly. The two men shouted out in surprise, Amata screamed and I roared like a wild animal. Raaaaagh! When the chaos died out a little I was staring down at two corpses with smoke still coming out of my weapon. The room was a mess; bullet holes everywhere; in fact the walls appeared to be made of Swiss cheese. Old, brown-grey, rusting Swiss cheese but cheese nonetheless: you cannot afford to be picky in this violent, post-apocalyptic world, I soon learned. As I looked closer at the bodies, I realized that only one of them was a guard. The other one was the Overseer. That would explain why Amata was shouting something, biting my knuckles and flailing her arms wildly in front of my face. Well shit.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Was A Vault 101 Survivor! [Part 2]

When I turned 10, I got my own Pip-Boy 3000. There was a party thrown in my name, with cake, funny hats and everything. Because of my long-term memory problems I did not recognize any of the children who attended, however. I’ve quickly realized that I did not have many friends. Other than Amata, the overseer’s daughter, the other invitees under the legal age of drinking were unfriendly if not downright hostile. I got into a fight because of a sweetroll with some bully. The fight would’ve escalated further if not for the intervention of a friendly officer. In retrospect, I do not recall eating the sweetroll so I suppose the fight was superficial and meaningless in the greater scheme of things. Anyway, as I was saying earlier, 10 is the age when I got my arm-computer which will remain to be my faithful companion until the rest of my life. That said, the bulky monstrosity quickly became the bane of my very existence. Whoever designed that horror had probably never heard of Occam’s Razor and was highly anti-social. This alone could explain the design of the machine. Unfortunately I rapidly became highly dependent on the gadget and could not even dress myself properly without its assistance. There was another major event that marked my 10th birthday (other than an angsty poem given to me by some skanky woman named ‘Beatrice’ whose premature termination inspired countless wasteland-dwellers to imitate her hairstyle). Shortly after my fight with the bully, my father called me to present me his present: my own BB gun. It was given to me in total secrecy, on the lower levels of the vault, and I got to shoot some makeshift targets full of hard-balled vengeance. An inquisitive Radroach came out to investigate the racket and was promptly assassinated with my newfound marksmanship skills. My father, noticeably proud of my talents requested a photograph to be taken. I do not remember much beyond that point as the photographic flash seemed to trigger an relapse of amnesia.

After wandering around Vault 101, I soon discovered an obvious flaw in the designs of my home. There wasn’t a single bathroom to be found in the entire underground shelter. At first it was difficult to cope with this unusual feature until I realized that the problem can be solved by simply not eating. I’ve yet to feel the after effects of this decision, many years later, and therefore I will continue avoiding food and water.

At sixteen I was required to take the G.O.A.T. test, like the other sixteen-year olds in the community. The experience was harrowing. After rushing to class and shuffling to my desk, I was asked a series of multiple-choice questions. No doubt some of these questions were supposed to be funny, but the variation of sub-categories of humour, combined with the reader’s monotonous tone of voice made it almost unbearable. Whoever compiled the exam had clearly only a basic grasp of comedy. I was in cold sweat when I finished answering the questions, having just decided which one of the identical four choices for the last question was the right answer. To my greatest surprise, I was assigned to be an apprentice Pip-Boy technician, which allowed me to expand my knowledge of science and repairs as well as unarmed combat. Do not ask me about the last skill. Perhaps the life of a fledgling mechanic in Vault 101 turned out to be a violent one and I often had to wrestle Radroaches while repairing some unfathomable piece of pre-war technology... Anyway, after the exam amnesia took over again.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Was A Vault 101 Survivor! [Part 1]

My name matters little since nobody would ever call me by it. Even my father would come up with the weirdest nick-names to make up for the fact that he forgot my bloody name again! Let’s start from the beginning. The first thing I remember, after opening my eyes and having my mother’s blood wiped from my forehead is my father’s face. Or rather the medical mask he wore. He jovially welcomed me into this world. “Is that a boy or a girl?” he promptly inquired. It appears that my father wasn’t nearly the doctor everybody believed him to be, for if he were a true professional, he’d probably know the answer months before my day of birth. In a much more bizarre turn of events, I was able to chose, on the spot, which sex I will turn out to be, essentially nullifying the results of nine months of natural cell-division. “My son,” exclaimed the medical mask with excitement in his voice, “your mother and I have thought of a name for you. What do you think of…”. He didn’t finish. Sixteen years later I’ve come to believe that he simply forgot. My name was definitely not important enough to him to remember it. Fortunately, when he stopped, some kind of a green box appeared in my field of view and allowed me to telepathically input my own name, one I chose on the spot. It wasn’t necessarily a good one but dad was somehow able to sense my thoughts and happily assured me that it was a wonderful name. From that moment I realized that I was indeed special. I came into this world not as a tabula rasa but with the entire English alphabet pre-encoded into my brain. A year from now I will discover more innate talents but for now I was left to contemplate my existence.
And then my mom died.

When I was one year old, my father had to leave me alone while he was summoned to the medical lab. This is where I discovered another of my talents. Left to my own, I promptly crawled towards the trunk of toys. The main object of interest for me turned out to be a book. This is where I realized that I could not only read words like “Strength” and “Perception” (while only being able to properly enunciate words like ‘ya-ya-ya’ and ‘pffut’, go figure) but I also possessed basic math skills. While the skills were mostly limited to addition and subtraction, you have to admit that it is quite a feat for a 1-year old bed-wetter. When I was done with the book, my father walked back in. Even a year later he had trouble recalling my name but I forgive him. Anyway, then the whole world turned white.

Many years later, I am still having trouble piecing things together. How is it possible for me to remember the very moment of my birth but not the events in-between? Was I born with a defective cerebellum? Did the choice of my sex at birth affect my long-term memory? I will never know. I remember the miscellaneous events of sixteen years of my life but they feel incomplete. Those fragments seem to span an hour or two in total, definitely not sixteen years. I realize now that amnesia is a common psychological occurrence in the irradiated wastelands that surround me, but for amnesia to be that selective? Surely there must be another element at work here. Sometimes I feel like it is all a dream, a simulation. That one day I will wake up an entirely different person, have breakfast that is for once not a radroach soup, and go about my daily business.

I fucking hate it here.


It is customary to begin such projects as mine with a disclaimer, something along the lines of “actually I find myself greatly enjoying [product name] but it is not without issues.” It is not the case for this particular project. I find Fallout 3 to be a despicable, ham-fisted attempt to capitalize on a legendary franchise, while pushing to the fans an inferior product with the combined shortcomings of both Elder Scrolls and Fallout games. In short, Fallout 3 is a poster boy of everything that is currently wrong with the gaming industry. I am not claiming that the game is the root of all evils, far from it. I am certain that Bethesda Softworks were not actively looking to butcher their title but no matter what their intentions were, I cannot find a single aspect of the game that is appealing to me.
This collection of texts is aimed not only to satirize my experience with the game, but also to bring to light some ridiculous elements that are unfortunately present in a lot of modern computer Role Playing Games. They are published mainly for your entertainment and if you happen to adore Fallout 3, please do not take offence. This is a wholly subjective experience, with no claims to be otherwise, and I cannot stress it enough. I've also taken some small liberties in order to improve the flow of the narrative, however my misadventures in the Wasteland are generally accurately transcribed.