The Justice in Murder: A Story About Fallout 3

Games where I am offered moral choices are always difficult for me. Not because of the difficulty of the dilemmas presented, but more for the idea that I don’t exactly have a mean streak. I really don’t like hurting fairly realistic interpretations of humans unless absolutely necessary. I always to try play the hero, and usually that’s what the game expects of me. Even when I’m playing a chaos driven game like Grand Theft Auto, I don’t set out to kill innocent pedestrians, and to an extent, I follow traffic laws. Part of that helps with the immersion of the world, and part of it is because sometimes my emotions get the best of me and I take it a little too serious. I’m not the biggest fan of open world style games for this reason. As I said before, I just don’t have the mean streak that a lot of these games expect you to have. Video games are typically designed as a god simulator of some type, where you are the all powerful deity and it is your duty to smite everything in your path for the sake of saving whatever world you are a part of. Games with moral alignment systems seem to have rewards built in depending on what your idea of “right” is. When something in there goes wrong, it gets complicated. When I played Fallout 3, it got complicated.

I only ever played through Fallout 3 once. I didn’t need to experience another ounce of that glitchy, broken world. In the time I spent there, I did nearly everything. I wandered the wasteland, found all the weird vaults and bizarre human settlements. I discovered the Republic of Dave, and I stumbled my way through the psychotropic drug trip that was Vault 106. All along I set out to play the role I was destined to play. I wanted to be the honorable, noble one. I chose not to blow up the town of Megaton, and I built quite a career for myself as a hero. I wanted to give these people something to believe in. Most of all, I just wanted to figure out where my father had gone. His departure left our vault in near anarchy, and it was never the same afterwards. In my quest to be the savior of the wasteland, I wanted to right all these wrongs that were presented in front of me. A major one that stood out though, was the case of Tenpenny Tower.

Tenpenny Tower was a gated haven for the last remnants of society’s elite. It exists as one of the few, mostly undamaged locations in the wasteland. Upon its discovery, Allistair Tenpenny set out to restore it as well as he could to a state it resembled before society died. To keep out the riffraff, a large concrete fence was built around it. In the barren ruins of the capitol wasteland, Tenpenny Tower stood tall as a monument to a world that no longer existed. For the right price, you could get in, and have access to one of the only places in the area with a regular amount of purified water. The people who could not get in, however, were the mutated ghouls of the underworld. Tenpenny had a known prejudice of the ghouls, and wasn’t about to let any of those types into his tower.

Being the hero, it was my goal to set things right.

The ghouls wanted access to Tenpenny Tower, and certain members of the rich elite that resided within the tower were perfectly fine with it. Some were even welcoming of the idea of letting new people in. Tenpenny wouldn’t have it. I set out to form a contract between the two factions, hoping to come to some sort of agreement. After a lot of work, I’d finally done it. I’d managed to convince the right people to let the ghouls move in. I had done the right thing. Another portion of the wasteland had been made slightly better because of my actions, and the game rewarded me with positive karma for doing my duties. With this in mind, I left the area to return to my primary quest at hand.

For some reason later on, I came back to Tenpenny Tower, and immediately noticed that something wasn’t right. All of the humans were now missing, and the place was a wreck. Upon asking some of the new inhabitants, I find out that the human tenants had all been killed due to a “misunderstanding.” I managed to find my way to the basement, and found the corpses of the former residents, stripped of their belongings. I’d caused this. This was all my fault. Some of them might have been prejudiced assholes, but they didn’t deserve to die. Not like this, anyway. It wasn’t fair. I did the right thing. This was my reward for being the hero? There was no justice in what had happened here. I had to do something.

Killing people was never my style when it could be avoided. It just wasn’t the example that I wanted to set. I always wanted to find the nonviolent solution to as many of my problems as possible, but this was too much. I went back up to where the head of the ghouls resided, and I killed him on the spot. The local ghouls became hostile, but it had to be done. While I didn’t believe that there was justice in murder, the head of the ghouls had to die. My character had reached a crucial turning point in my playthrough of the game, and this was his breaking point. Of course, I understood that in the wasteland, rules were subjective. Trusting anyone at all was dangerous, but sometimes you could never know this until it was too late. I played through the rest of the main story, trying as hard as I could to continue being the hero, but I now understood that sometimes that just couldn’t happen. My character knew this, and was no longer afraid to take a life if the situation came to it.

Being the hero is usually what is expected of you in most video games. An evil force needs conquering, and it’s usually your job to do it. Sometimes there’s a reward, and sometimes you just have to do it because it’s the right thing to do. This was a strange feeling for me finding out that my heroic, diplomatic actions had caused the deaths of all these people. I’d never encountered this in a video game before. I knew the wasteland was a horrible place. I knew this going in, and it made me that much eager to leave. There was only so much I could do to try and fix the problems of this broken world, but of course, war… war never changes.


One thought on “The Justice in Murder: A Story About Fallout 3

  1. I’ve tried to play Fallout 3, but I had the same problem I had with it as I did Oblivion– the whole world existed in the Uncanny Valley, I didn’t feel a connection, emotional or otherwise, to anything in the game world. But there are 2 games that have presented morality to me in a unique way, as opposed to Bioshock’s diverging but in actuality identical paths system (and that’s coming from someone who loves Bioshock).

    The first is Pikmin. You can think of this in terms of gameplay strategies, constantly sacrificing and regrowing pikmin to achieve your goals, or trying to preserve as many as possible so you don’t have to spend as much of your precious daylight planting new ones. But my decision wasn’t based on what made the game easier to play, I just couldn’t stand seeing the little guys die. I felt this weird personal attachment to each and every pikmin, and I felt awful if even a single one died. I felt responsible for them. It was my fault they were even in this position. I felt selfish, sending them to their death just so I could rebuild my ship. If I messed up big time and lost a lot of pikmin at once, I would usually turn off my Gamecube and restart the day. In some cases it upset me so much I couldn’t even play the game again for a while. I’ve only actually beaten the first Pikmin once, and it took me years, because I found myself getting stressed, agonizing over all the lost pikmin and how I had failed them. It’s a very intense emotional game for me, which is covered up by its bright, colorful exterior.

    The other game is Shadow of the Colossus. Granted in this game you don’t actually have much of a choice besides to turn the console off and stop playing, but maybe in a way that was Fumito Ueda’s intent. When you start off, you think it’s all very clear and straightforward: make a pact with the booming voice to save the pretty girl. And he wants you to kill these giant monsters. No moral dilemmas at all! And sure enough, the first Colossus comes right at you as soon as you’re in his sight, so you feel like this great hero taking him down. But then you start to notice that most of the other colossi aren’t intent on killing you. Most seem disinterested, and a few even try to avoid you. It really makes you question whether or not you’re doing the right thing. What are these colossi? Why are they are here? Why do they have to die? Why do I have to kill them? Is this all worth it? Even Wander starts to literally look darker and more exhausted as the game goes on. The first time I played it, I thought I was just seeing things, because it’s such a gradual process. But it becomes pretty obvious by the end when you realize what you’ve been working towards isn’t what you thought it was. I felt kind of used and betrayed, which isn’t something I can say about a lot of other video games. Most games don’t make you feel much of anything beyond satisfaction at accomplishing your goals.

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