Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Fallout 3: An Examination of Morals

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve got to admit something up front: I haven’t been able to put a lot of time into playing Fallout 3 yet. There’s still tons of content I haven’t seen yet, I’ve only explored perhaps a dozen or so markers on the game’s map, and I haven’t even started pursuing the main quest yet.

Despite all this, I’ve managed to get a juicy taste of the moral dilemmas the game presents.

Clearly, Fallout 3 isn’t the first to examine such issues or see fit to include them in gameplay, and it won’t be the last. In Bioshock,  you had the Little Sisters that you could either rescue or harvest for Adam, a precious upgrade resource in the game. In games such as KOTOR, you had a more distinct effect – you were part of either the Dark or Light side of the Force, and people treated you accordingly. Though I haven’t played it yet, I’ve heard that in the recently released Fable 2, choosing to be evil eventually results in little horns (devil’s horns, you might say) sprouting from your head.

Here are four in-game examples from Fallout 3 that I’ve particularly enjoyed:

Micky (notice the detected alert at the top and the pickpocket Micky option at the bottom. Id forgotten I was in Sneak mode

Micky (notice the 'detected' alert at the top and the 'pickpocket Micky' option at the bottom. I'd forgotten I was in Sneak mode

1. Micky

At the entrance to Megaton (the first town you are prompted to visit upon exiting Vault 101) is a beggar by the name of Micky. Long story short, the man wants water, and not just any water – Purified Water. This item, while not quite rare, certainly isn’t easy to come by. I learned early on to treat the stuff like gold. Out of curiosity and a selfish hope for reward, I parted with one of my precious bottles of Purified Water. Micky thanked me for it, but I didn’t get anything out of the deal. Disappointed, I went on my way and thought nothing of it.

The next time I returned to Megaton, Micky was dead.

Now, Micky’s death wasn’t all my fault. It couldn’t be. I told myself this even as I reminded myself that it was a game, this stuff didn’t matter at all, big deal, etc. Even so, it still bothered me. I haven’t started a new game and continued to supply him just to see what would happen, but I’ve got an idea. There *might* have been a reward in there for me if I’d stuck to it and taken on Micky as my own personal charity case, but he probably would’ve turned out to be nothing more than a resource drain. It didn’t matter. Micky’s death actually impacted me, and I couldn’t be happier. This is the kind of stuff I play games for – I want to really sink my teeth into the emotional experience. The main storyline is good, but what really makes a game is all the small touches.

Dogmeat

Dogmeat

2. Dogmeat

While on my way across the Wasteland in pursuit of something – I can’t recall what – I happened across a location called the Junkyard. My curiosity immediately piqued, and I entered in hopes of finding… well, some really good junk. What I came across instead was even better. I found Dogmeat, the dog that can accompany you as a sidekick on your various quests. I kinda liked him. While exploring the dialogue screen for him – you’ve got various interactions that can take place, although he mostly responds with either *whimpers* or *barks*. He can also help by helping you sniff out ammo, food, and chemicals. It seems that in order to keep him alive, you must use some of your Stimpaks (again, a precious resource in the Wasteland) to heal the guy. So once again, I’m faced with a dilemma: do I take on Dogmeat, who while somewhat helpful will also use up some of my precious healing items, or do I ignore him and go it alone? In the end, I decided to take him with me. I like dogs, and he reminds me both of the current dog my roommates and I have and of one of my dogs that died in August.

In the end, it didn’t matter too much, because I didn’t look out for him carefully enough. We went to the aptly named town of Minefield and he promptly stepped too close to a mine and blew up.

*Still trying to run into the NPC ghouls again. I’ll post a pic when I finally succeed.*

3. Ghouls

Ghouls are a staple of the Fallout series, having graced both Fallout and Fallout 2 before finding themselves in Bethesda Softwork’s newest offering. Essentially, they are/were humans that were exposed to massive doses of radiation, turning them from (I’m assuming) nice people into nasty crazed enemies. That’s an over-simplification, though.

First of all, there are ghouls, and there are Ghouls. What I mean by that is that there are non-violent ghouls in the game as well as the feral variety that will attack as soon as they see you. These non-violent ghouls are ugly as sin, but they mean well enough. Rejected by humans, and attacked on all sides by just about every faction imaginable, they seem to have made their own way in the world, creating several ghoul cities in the Wasteland. You’ll periodically come across them.

The kicker? There isn’t really any punishment for attacking these people. They’ve got valuable weapons, ammo, food, etc. If you need something, you might find it by killing one of these ghoul NPCs. It’s left completely up to you – take pity on them? Ignore them? Kill them? Do what you want.

Jericho

Jericho

4. Jericho

This guy can be found inside Megaton, chilling at the outside bar of the Lantern. After a bit of dialogue, he’s available to join you and help with your quests. The kicker? He’s a former Raider, and won’t help you unless your Karma (the closest thing the game gets to quantifying your moral choices) is low enough. When I originally talked to him, my Karma was too high. I believe the phrase he used to describe me was a “goody two-shoes”. I’d like to see how much having him would help in fights, so I’ll find some nefarious act to commit and try again later.

When it comes down to it, the designers of Fallout 3 seem to have taken great joy in making morally questionable situations for you to fall into. It is obvious that being either good or bad has an impact on your experience, though the result of a good/bad action won’t always be immediately discernible. In a word, I find the moral side of their product to be delicious. It really is great, and fitting for the setting (post-nuclear wasteland). Without spending a ton of time in the game, I can already tell I’m going to love this game. Bethesda partially explored this gameplay element in Oblivion, but Fallout 3 really fleshes it out. One of the biggest triumphs of the game will be the surge of guilty delight whenever you waste an innocent or the wave of warm fuzzies that comes up whenever you help another character through their difficulties.

Yeah, this is a game, but it takes on some serious thematic elements. You’d be hardpressed to make it through this without feeling either guilty or proud of what you’ve done.

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November 7, 2008 - Posted by | Gaming | , , , , , , ,

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