“War. War never changes.”
There are very few lines in gaming that carry as much weight as the phrase above. Whenever there is a discussion on influential RPGs, Fallout is bound to be mentioned a few times. To anyone that’s actually played the first two games of the series, this is pretty much a given. To those that haven’t, the Fallout series is just an old school RPG with a post-apocalyptic setting. This is about as descriptive as saying that the Earth is a piece of rock.
The 90s were arguably the golden age for PC gaming. The format was at the forefront of innovation (more so than it is today) and games were becoming more than just a medium of entertainment. Occasionally, one could see developers (Black Isle and Obsidian being two of my favorites) that would explore themes that, up to that point, were strictly in the domain of literature, theatre and film.
Despite the humor in the games, the Fallout universe turned out to be really dark. In my quest to save the people of my Vault, I ended up having to do some pretty shitty things. I killed children, worked as a drug dealer, murdered more people that I could possibly count and generally acted like a total dick. At first these things happened by accident, but life in the wastelands was unforgiving and I’d be damned if I was going to repeat those last twenty turns just because my “companion” got his head shot off. As long as I was still standing, I had a job to do. Besides, bullets were expensive. The more corpses around, the more ammo I would find.
It’s at this time that I ran into an annoying man begging me to shoot a dog that was not allowing him to enter his home. Normally, I would have done it without a second thought. The animals I had come across so far had been hell bent on eating me. So I ate them instead. Compared to what I had been chowing down, dog flesh would be a delicacy.
I contemplated my choices. I could kill the dog. I could walk away. I could shoot the guy for wasting my time. I weighed my options, ie, thought of which of these choices used the least amount of ammo. That is how I weighed the value of a life. Bullets. In this case however, I decided to feed the mangy mutt. Why? I have no idea. Maybe I had had my fill of killing for the day. Maybe I just wanted to see what would happen. Whatever, the reason, it worked. I got my XP, the whining dude went away and the dog could provide nourishment to some other desperate bastard in this hellhole.
I didn’t even notice it following me at first.
It wasn’t long before I got into another gunfight. Alone against a gang of four with just one clip, it didn’t look good. Suddenly, or as sudden as it could get in a turn based battle, the mutt went for one of the thugs. The result of a stray shot hitting the mutt and turning it hostile perhaps? Whatever the reason, my odds of survival had just doubled. Soon, there were four bodies on the floor.
I had just made a new friend.
Dogmeat, as he was called, would become my only dependable companion from there on. Sure, I met other people that I teamed up with, but they had a habit of talking too much, or shooting me in the back. But their biggest crime was this: they would judge me. Not Dogmeat though. Never him.
As I wandered through the wastes, I lost a little bit of myself with each step. Being a good guy just wasn’t an option anymore. Trust was not something you could live on. But through it all, through all the depravity and self-initiated dickery, Dogmeat never let me down. He was always there. In a world that had lost all meaning, where all the promises of the scriptures had failed, where words like honor and honesty seemed like cruel jokes, he stood by my side. And he never judged.
But he did remind me of things. Things I had forgotten about. Things like love, loyalty and friendship. As my quest continued, Dogmeat became the only link to the part of me that was still human. A heartbreaking reminder of a life that was no longer possible. But maybe, just maybe, still worth hoping for. So I started shooting less and talking more. I would take the chance and trust the occasional stranger. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But Dogmeat made me want to try.
That is, until he was killed.
And that in many ways was the brilliance of it all. I could get so attached to muddy bunch of textures in a make believe world. A world that was pretty harsh to begin with.
At the end of game, when I finally came face to face with the villain (an abomination by the name of “The Master”) and the one ultimately responsible for my friend’s death, I had forgotten all about the Vault and its people. My sole thought as I riddled his form with a hail of hot lead was: “That was for Dogmeat you bastard.”
Often when people talk of Fallout, they talk about games as art, or Chris Avellone’s attempt at using games as social commentary, or the juxtaposition of civilization’s dark motives versus the freedom of barbarism. Fallout was like that. Only, while you were contemplating human nature, you could also play chess with a giant radioactive scorpion.
I was 17 when I played it and I doubt that I understood what half of all that even meant. When I think of Fallout, I think of but one name.