This article was originally posted on my Liberty.me blog, here.
Last year, I bought my husband a copy of Fallout: New Vegas knowing nothing about the game - I just did a little research, and thought he'd like it. What I didn't expect would happen was that I would get into the game - so much so that I would learn how to play it myself.
I wasn't much of a gamer. When I did play, I'd play things like Rapala Fishing Frenzy - games without fighting or shooting. I didn't know how my husband coped with the constant action on-screen. He played a lot of Grand Theft Auto - something that I would watch, but not participate in. It looked fun, but chaotic - and it seems like all he did was blow things up and steal cars. The storyline didn't intrigue me at all - just criminals doing criminal things to be a bigger criminal, or exact revenge, etc. A notable exception was Grand Theft Auto San Andreas where CJ met the crazy-ass hippy dude The Truth and his trippy psychedelic van, named The Mothership. The series of quests with Truth was so entertaining that I asked my husband not to do them when I wasn't around, because I didn't want to miss any of the nutty anti-government conspiracy rants that passed for conversation when it came to this guy.
I had significant frustration with the way my husband played the game - primarily for asking me "What do I do?" and then doing whatever he wanted to do in the first place, completely ignoring my advice. When this situation repeated itself during Fallout, I told him not to ask me what to do if he was going to ignore me anyway. I then said that I should learn how to play the game, so I can do things the way I like.
So I did.
It took me a while to get used to the controls - using two joysticks, a directional pad, two triggers, two bumper buttons, and four colored "face" buttons is a tough skill to learn, especially for someone who didn't play a lot of games before.
NOTE: This will likely be the first of a series of articles about Fallout, so if you have little interest in video games, I suggest you tune out now. I'll make sure to post an update when I return to my regularly scheduled programming.
The Fallout Universe
Fallout New Vegas begins in the year 2281. The Fallout universe diverges from ours in what appears to be a futuristic version of the early 60's nuclear scare (complete with cars, art, and music evocative of the era). In 2077, there was a major worldwide nuclear war, with the primary aggressors being the U.S. and China. The lucky people rushed to their pre-reserved spots in vaults, large underground fallout shelters built by a company named Vault-Tec - those who weren't so lucky either died, scratched out a meager existence in the ruins of a dead civilization, or were transformed into irradiated zombies (either feral or friendly). The game is littered with Vault-Tec ads, featuring their mascot, Vault Boy. In the Wasteland, you find irradiated EVERYTHING - food, water, and sometimes whole areas are irradiated and dangerous to enter without taking proper precautions. Your animal enemies are usually much larger, irradiated versions of common wildlife - Mole Rats, Radscorpions, Cazadores, Mantises, Bloatflies, Lakelurks, Geckos - and of course, Deathclaws.
Meanwhile, in the Vaults
To put it bluntly, few of the vaults functioned as advertised. The Vaults were bankrolled by government contracts with a secret agenda. The U.S. Government planned to move a selected portion of humanity to other worlds if Earth proved uninhabitable after the nuclear holocaust. Most of these vaults were social experiments designed by the U.S. Government to see how a carefully chosen population would react to certain circumstances that may occur should space travel or the resettlement of a devastated Earth be deemed necessary - prolonged isolation, moral fortitude, lack of genetic diversity, etc. Some of these vaults are in the lore only, others can be explored in-game. To my surprise, I found that I could navigate these vaults fairly easily. It was (and still is) puzzling, because I have a hard time with maps and directions in general, but when it comes to navigation of vaults, I could have been born down there! My husband, a truck driver with a grasp of city streets that I've likened to witchcraft will sometimes get frustrated and hand me the controller with a curt "Get me the hell outta here!"
A few examples of vault experiments:
Vault 12 - this vault's door didn't close properly by design, the better to study the effect of radiation on a pre-selected populace. This resulted in a large population of ghouls, both the intelligent and feral varieties.
Vault 22 - this vault studied advanced agricultural techniques. An experiment in Pest Control went awry, resulting in death or mutation of many of the residents into hostile plant/human abominations.
Vault 34 - this vault was overstocked with weapons and ammunition, and not provided with a lock. This, of course, resulted in chaos. A group of dissenting vault dwellers grabbed large weapons and abandoned the vault, finally settling at Nellis Air Force Base. They are known in the game as "The Boomers" because these fiercely xenophobic tribals use heavy artillery to dissuade other Wastelanders from approaching the base.
Vault 77 - in lore only, this vault contained only one man and a crate of puppets, to test the psychological consequences of forced isolation. This vault was featured in a comic by Penny Arcade, and there is a reference to it in Fallout 3 - a Vault 77 vault suit with a recording telling whoever had the suit to burn it.
Vault 101 - Featured in Fallout 3, this vault was never intended to be opened. It was intended to test the results of a dictatorial Overseer (vault leader) on a population with limited genetic diversity. How's that joke go? "If your family tree doesn't fork, you might be...from Vault 101!"
The most horrifying vault, in my opinion, is Vault 11 - it was an experiment intended to test human nature - notably, the ability to sacrifice oneself for others, and to place ideals over one's life. Democratic elections were held every year to elect a vault Overseer who was then sacrificed because the residents believed that their lives depended on it - that if they didn't follow the founding guidelines, the vault's systems were wired to fail, killing them all. This resulted in the creation of voting blocs and the proliferation of election propaganda. Corruption inevitably ensued (Yay, democracy!), and resulted in an armed conflict. The five survivors of this conflict finally informed the vault computer that they refused to sacrifice any more members - which initiated a cruel, gut-wrenching recording:
Congratulations, citizens of Vault 11! You have made the decision not to sacrifice one of your own. You can walk with your head held high knowing that your commitment to human life is a shining example to us all. And to make that feeling of pride even sweeter, I have some exciting news. Despite what you were led to believe, the population of Vault 11 is not going to be exterminated for its disobedience. Instead, the mechanism to open the main vault door has now been enabled, and you can come and go at your leisure. But not so fast! Be sure to check with your overseer to find out if it's safe to leave. Here at Vault-Tec, your safety is our number one priority.
Four of the five survivors, unable to live with what their community had done, committed suicide. One left the vault. His fate is unknown.
Deep moral and ethical dilemmas are pretty common in Fallout, which is what led me to learn how to play the game for myself. I'll discuss some of those next week, in Part 2. To tide you over, enjoy this Fallout New Vegas Music Playlist on Youtube.
See you next week!