At its root, Fallout 3 is about cleansing the world of life, stealing and hoarding. This makes it a real innovator in the world of role-playing gaming. The last innate human drive unfulfilled was simple raw power, and as the video game evolves, it evolves to look like the kind of power that was adaptable to the evolving human species. Whether it’s Nazis or Lovecraftian horrors, you can safely de-humanize tribes of enemies, then annihilate and profit from them. Our modern civilization is such a bland purgatory in contrast to what our savage desires really lust for, that we have no option but to invent gaming worlds where this behavior seems plausible.
Fallout 3’s world is the long-nuked and obliterated, irradiated husk of Washington, DC, re-named “The Capital Wasteland.” Square miles of urban wreckage and barrenness lay wide open from the start. Scavenging, hustling, questing, stealing and butchering, you can visit the corroded but still standing Washington Monument, the blasted capital dome, the crater where the White House was. They’re all infested with grotesque, mutated vermin as loathsome as the politicians that used to roam the same streets. Buildings are totally destroyed, food and water is contaminated with radiation, cannibals and mutants roam the hills and ruins. You can murder anyone and plunder anything. Scattered inhabited settlements still remain, but they’re only there for you to wipe them out — which you can, and should. Even as a “good” player, there are several mass slaughters available to increase your karma rating, including a slaver camp and a fortified tower headed by the world’s last rich asshole, who shoots people from the top with a sniper’s rifle in something he calls “wasteland safari.” I exploded his head with a single shotgun blast at close range, and took his Hugh Hefner robe and rifle for myself.
Maybe the writerly nitpicking is irrelevant, though, as what you primarily do is Fallout 3 is kill, kill, kill, with a huge variety of powerful weaponry, including a minigun, flamethrower, and mini-nuke launcher. You can blow limbs off, decapitate cleanly at the neck with high-caliber weapons and awesomely detonate heads and bodies into clouds of incredibly gratifying, slow-motion blood. The monsters are really gross, too, from enlarged cockroaches, to something called a “mole rat,” to something else entirely called a “centaur,” which has these sick grasping tentacles. This sort of death porn makes this thing a boys-mainly kind of violence-wank, but women have always been manifestly inferior in their comprehension of raw pornography, a failing of their sex.
Barring intermittent narrative brilliancies along the way—including a cult that believes each atom is a distinct universe, thereby making atom-splitting, atomic explosions a creative, life-bringing force—some of the writers for Fallout 3 didn’t bother creating stories as great as the setting. There’s laughable post-apocalyptic gender equality, even amongst the cannibals. But even the idiotic and stock residents start to make sense after a while. The boring shanty-town dwellers you meet everywhere — who are without perspective, consciousness or self-awareness — just serve to remind you of the intellectual paucity of human beings, how absolutely and thoughtlessly survivors would actually adapt to their circumstances as post-apocalyptic hunter-gatherers. As you wander through the vast and comfortingly dead landscape, occasional sublime sensations creep up on you. It’s not the expansive Old West, but a deteriorating, ever-degrading world, plummeting from the ideal. It is the cosmology that the medieval priests of old probably once whacked off to in their monk dormitories. It is a reality that Karachi kids will be enjoying in 2070 as their personal secret adventure.
Considering how embarrassingly lifeless American novels, art films essays and music are, it’s disappointing that a game like Fallout 3 does not go the extra mile to be able to grab the praise it deserves. The ideas innovators of science fiction brought into existence are still in circulation here, but the obsessions with anthropology and human nature that birthed the notions are safe in the library. It’s a distinction that ultimately prevents Fallout 3 from carrying out a decisive coup in America’s literary scene.
Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.
Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.
Twitter twerps can follow us at twitter.com/exiledonline