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Do Unto Others…

Posted by Nick Dinicola on March 6, 2009

Two weeks ago I wrote about survivalism in Fallout 3. At that time I was still new to the Capital Wasteland: I had more ammo for my BB gun than my pistol, I checked every metal box and celebrated upon finding 3 bottle caps, I ate Squirrel-on-a-Stick to heal myself and then worried about the radiation it gave me, I purposely left my leg crippled because I wanted to save what few Stimpaks I had for dire emergencies–I struggled to survive. But now? Now I’m a walking ammo crate, I’ve got enough drugs and medication to fix a whole town, every gun I carry is in near-perfect condition, and I worry more about the health of my dog than myself. At first I was disappointed with this turn of events; I felt like I was breaking the game somehow. Living in a post-apocalyptic future shouldn’t be this easy. But as I thought back over my actions, trying to figure out how I had become so wealthy, I realized that I hadn’t actually broken the game, and that my current wealth was the direct result of my kind actions over the past 70 hours.

Megaton, a settlement built around an undetonated nuke and the first major place I discovered in the Wasteland, was of particular importance. Early in the game I was given the option of arming and detonating the nuke, since I wanted be a good person I refused the deal and even went to far as to disarm the bomb, earning a shack of my own in Megaton. That shack became my haven. I’ve since been able to horde Stimpacks because whenever I finish exploring a new location I fast-travel back to Megaton and sleep for a few hours in my bed. I’ve saved up thousands of caps because I can carry all sorts of items back with me and sell them. I’ve saved up quite a stash of extra guns, used what I could to repair my own weapons, and sold the rest for considerable profit. My shack became a hub, a place to rest, to do business, to empty my pockets and prepare for my next outing. I don’t know how I could survive in the Wasteland without my shack at Megaton.

And that’s the whole point. I helped others and I was helped in return. The shack was a reward for doing something good, if I had chosen the evil path and destroyed Megaton I wouldn’t have that place to rest and shop.  Despite a constant oppressive atmosphere, and a cast of untrusting, pessimistic, cruel, and selfish characters, Fallout 3 has a surprisingly positive message at its core: Helping others is rewarding. This uplifting theme seems to contradict the darker theme of survivalism that was so strong in the beginning of my game, but the contradiction is intentional. I imagine if I were to play as an evil person, helping myself at other’s expense, than I would be constantly fighting to survive like I was earlier. On paper these themes of survival and helping others sound horribly clichéd, but Fallout 3 never falls into cliché because of how the themes are presented, not through dialogue or even story, but experience. We’re free to make whatever choice we want, and once we make that choice we experience the consequences. We’re not just told that life will get harder if we blow up Megaton, we’re forced to live a life that’s harder. If we don’t mind that, if we love the challenge of survival with no safe haven, then the game becomes about survival, not helping others. Each morality path (well not quite, I don’t know what would fit with Neutral) is given its own pervading theme: Play good and experience the benefits of altruism, play evil and experience the cost of survival.

That’s looking at Fallout 3 from a personal level only; I think the story is as much about the rest of humanity as it is about my personal quest. Pulling back the camera and looking at these themes from a grander perspective allows us to apply them to the Capital Wasteland as a whole: If everyone focuses on their survival only, with no regard for others, what little that’s left of D.C. is doomed to a violent end–like Megaton if I had detonated the nuke. However, by helping others life becomes easier for everyone.

With all that said, the moral choices in Fallout 3 are hardly so black and white. Often times we have to choose weather to kill one person to save many, or if we should put the greater good above someone else’s wishes. It may be easy for me to act altruistic but should I force others to do the same? The choices aren’t always easy but they do carry weight, both practically and thematically. Fallout 3 isn’t just about me searching for my Dad; it’s about how people act when pushed to the ragged edge, and whether or not humanity can survive there.

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