For the past few weeks, I have been waiting in anticipation for Guild Wars 2. So while I wait, I decided to go back and play two games that always leave me with a new outlook: Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. These two games always leave me walking away with a new insight or question about myself as a human being. One thing in particular that I noticed this time is that my thought process for the moral questions had changed from what they were before. Many of the decisions I made, whether big or small, changed more story and the end result made me think more on the outcome. The game worlds themselves also help in raising some questions of simply what can be possible. I feel that these two games stand out along with other games such as Mass Effect and BioShock in terms of the moral questions they raise.
When I played Fallout 3 for the first time, I couldn’t believe how incredibly detailed the game world is. The sense of isolation, of sadness, and of moral right and wrong all had incredible weight that can be felt the moment you leave the vault for the first time. The old, half-destroyed buildings were a clear sign that a travesty had shaken the entire area. These signs of destruction made finding villages along the way all the more enjoyable and help to remind us that humans will always find a way to survive. I could go from one town to another and most the NPCs that weren’t hostile still wanted little to do with me at first. However, once NPCs began wanting me to help with their problems there comes the decision to aid them or not in various quests throughout the game. The quests are where Fallout 3’s morals and choice came into play but the ideas in quests being played with are more serious than gamers may realize at times.
One of the most memorable was the Treeminder questline where the player finds a small secluded forest in the wasteland and meets Harold, who wants to die. Harold is a person who is infected with FEV (Forced Evolution Virus). His mutation has caused a tree named Bob, who is on top of his head, to grow all around him. Eventually this caused Harold and Bob to become rooted to the ground in the D.C. wasteland. Soon Harold and Bob are discovered by a group called the Treeminders, who worship them as a god. When the player finds them and activates the questline, the choice of helping Harold die or not becomes the moral dilemma.
I played this game only a year ago and I remember not being able to come to a true decision. I think my only saving grace was that the Treeminders have their own agenda for deciding Harold’s fate that you can choose to play a part in. Before I made my final choice, I found myself pacing in my room for a good twenty minutes. I wonder if Bethesda had this level of moral decision making in mind from the start. It was a moment that made me think, “Even if Harold wants to die, what right do I have to assist him?”. When playing a game that is as open as Fallout 3, from the people you meet to the look and feel of absolute solitude, it is incredible that this intense level of moral choice exists.
With Fallout: New Vegas, the moral decision making is less about one person or group but more about the outcome of decisions on whole nations. In Fallout: New Vegas the player meets many groups and factions throughout the game and can help or hinder each faction in various ways. When I first played New Vegas, I thought I was playing the game wrong. However, I found that this is how the game was meant to be. In New Vegas the player can truly let his or her own morals sort out the factions to align with, your actions are the main way this can be decided. For example I came upon a group known as the Great Khans who were holding NCR(New California Republic) soldiers hostage and I had to play the negotiator to get the hostages back I was able to get the soldiers back and convinced the NCR to let the Great Khans go peacefully. However later on the I attacked the Great Khans because they were attacking NCR members my status the the Great Khans fell while my status with NCR rose. After a certain point in the game the player can even take New Vegas for themself. After going to each small faction and seeing their struggles with the NCR, Caesar’s Legion, and Mr. House the owner of New Vegas, it only made sense to take over New Vegas for my self.
In one quest, the player can help the Brotherhood of Steel by finding out what happened to their lost soldiers. This group wants nothing to do with the conflicts outside their home. In another quest, the player discovers that a group called the Great Khans join with Caesar’s Legion because they feel that there is no other alternative for survival. Even seeing the moral choices that the characters deal with has an impact on the player. When given a choice to lead the Great Khans down a different path, you have to wonder “Do I have the right to and what is the consequence for doing so?”
The question of morality, as presented in Fallout: New Vegas, surpasses that of Fallout 3, which has clear-cut sides that represent good and evil. New Vegas, on the other hand, lacks the black and white morality. There is just the world the groups, factions and the player’s choices. All of this lead to me convincing all of the factions to band together in my name and force the three major groups to leave New Vegas. While this felt like the right thing to do, I thought, “What if, in the end, I’m not best for these people either? What if I’m no better than NCR, Caesar’s Legion and Mr. House.” That is possibly the best thing about these games, the freedom to craft your story through choice and still end up questioning yourself.
I’m sure you think, “Well, of course these games have choices that would make someone think. That is the whole point.” Perhaps, but I can think of many gamers that blow through games and don’t pay attention to the story. They then feel like they didn’t get their money’s worth. What these people fail to realize is a game like this should make you think more about the message that goes along with the story. If you instinctively make choices your would really make in these situations, how does that reflect you as an individual? Now I’m not saying, “Games that explore decision making are the best or are some kind of evaluation of how good or bad a person is,” but merely sharing how I think games have evolved.
No longer can games be viewed as “just a game”. They can be seen as true creative works that make a player experience unexpected emotions. The Pitt DLC made me feel sick to my stomach due to the decisions that I made. By time I was done with that story arc, I didn’t want to continue playing the rest of Fallout 3. With upcoming titles like Dishonored and BioShock Infinite, I’m eager to see how else developers can have me questioning my own morals. This generation of games has seen moral choices and personalized stories become more of the norm. I hope we continue to see more stories that make us question ourselves and our world.