Saturday, November 19, 2011

Of Vegas

When I finished Fallout: New Vegas, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my motivations were for playing. I realized, about halfway through the game, that I had subconsciously developed a narrative for my character, independent of the framework of the game proper. I started the game and set out on the main quest reluctantly; as I walked through the wasteland to the Strip, each step came down with the force of a heavy sigh. I did not want to be involved with the machinations of this man who'd shot me in the head. I wanted to be left alone, and so it seemed that in order to live my life peacefully, I'd have to do what I could to stabilize the region. To that end, I aligned myself with House. I did not want to involve myself with the NCR, as they merely wanted to reinstate the broken democracy that led the world to its current state of decay. Caesar's ideology was intensely repugnant; I cannot abide slavery. I think of the idea of owning people and something inside me recoils and snaps, hissing and spitting. I could have seized power for myself, I suppose. But no. No, I did not want the responsibility, and in the vacuum of my inevitable abdication, there would have been only more strife.

House, then. The autocrat whose motives are pure but cold. Yes, he'll do me fine.

As I wandered through the waste, righting wrongs and making the world an incrementally better place, I made it a point not to take followers with me. I did not want the company, did not want to be put in charge of anyone. I would do well enough on my own. I forsook even the company of Mr. New Vegas' voice of liquid charisma, turning the radio off altogether after the fifth time I heard Ain't That a Kick in the Head.

I did, eventually, take Lily with me, because she was a giant psychotic supermutant grandmother. Which was pretty endearing.

I approached Caesar's camp as twilight set in, killing all the guards before any of them even knew I was there. In the end, Caesar's Legate was no match for me at all. I killed him with six .50 caliber armor-piercing rounds before he could even touch me. Shortly thereafter, the NCR's General Oliver stupidly felt it would be wise to turn down House's order to withdraw from the dam and the region. He drew steel, but with a literal army of bloodthirsty robots on my side, I didn't even have to.

Lily and I parted ways. She returned to Jacobstown and, eventually, went West to California. I took my weapons and my tools, then set out into the desert. The sun was not setting; I left at night, and only the coyotes and radscorpions saw me walk away from the city, bathed in its orange, neon glow.


My goal in playing was to create a circumstance wherein the character I played could be left alone. I'm not entirely certain why things played out this way, though it's definitely something unique to New Vegas; in Fallout 3, I made it a point to participate with whatever civilization was left, attempting whenever possible to encourage people to work together. In New Vegas, though, I took only the quests that seemed to help the region as a whole—I'm sorry, madam, that some people owe you money, but I can't be bothered to help you.

The key difference, I think, was the inclusion of the Survival skill. In Fallout 3, you can only survive through participation—in trading, in work, in society. You will not survive otherwise. New Vegas, on the other hand, gives you all the tools you will need to wander off into the desert and never see another living soul ever again. Food, water, shelter—it's all out there, if you want it, if you can find it.

Fallout 3, then, represents civilization as the inevitable triumph of humanity. Despite the setting, a post-apocalyptic wasteland created by the shortcomings of mankind, it manages to paint an overly simplistic version of civilization as an unmitigated good, pitted against the savagery of near-feral slavers and tribals. Fallout 3 can end only with the victory of the Brotherhood of Steel and the inherently co-operative, militaristic society they represent.

New Vegas, much like real life, is harder, more complicated and more nuanced. None of the three main power groups in the game are perfect. None of them could categorically be called “good” in any moral sense. Even the “evil” one, Caesar's Legion, still has some qualities that make a good case for siding with them: unity, purpose, and the promise of eventual stability. The game leaves it up to the player to decide, at any given moment, which of his or her limited options is best, and while the argument can be made that this illusion of choice is the essence of the art form, New Vegas takes this idea in a unique direction. This, I think, was the fatal commercial misstep of the game: they created a situation where non-participation was a very real option.

That's all for now.

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