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Self-Identification in the Post-Apocalypse


Who am I?

Video games often begin with this question, and in games like Fallout: New Vegas, the question of identity goes far beyond a name.  In fact, in a way that makes the post-structuralist inside of me jump up and down with joy, my name and appearance are only important within the game insomuch as they are important to me.

But I’m a Romantic, and like my name to echo who I am, so with the first choice the player makes after deciding to start a new game–even though it has no real significance on the future of the game–I like to have a good idea what I intend to do with my life.  Obviously this presupposes that the player is familiar with the game universe; a newcomer to the universe would not know the outcome of many choices they would make in the first few minutes of this world.  However,  since my computer tells me I’ve already played this game for over four days of my life, I think it would be naive to assume otherwise.

I’d compare that assumption to the assumption of artists that deliberately reference the canon of art history in their work.  The Mona Lisa is a painting of a woman and while further knowledge is useful, it can be understood and taken in by a truly uninformed viewer to a greater extent than a print by William Hogarth, which is far more full of symbolism and subtle references than that da Vinci.

So, I know the basic implications of some choices, and know about the world to which I have awakened.  In fact, I think the developers assumed most players would too, as is evident from the first moments of the game.  Fallout: New Vegas was released in October of 2010, two years after Fallout 3 was released.  The later had received incredible critical reception, and as the first Fallout game to be developed by Bethesda, critically acclaimed developers of the Elder Scrolls games.  Two years is not much time in the video game world for the next game in a series to be released, and it seems likely that those who had purchased Fallout would be likely to then purchase the new game set in the 2200s.  Furthermore, Fallout: New Vegas is titled such (and not Fallout 4) because unlike Fallout 3, it returns to the setting of the first two Fallout games: the American southwest (and in this case, the broken beauty of a repaired Las Vegas).2012-12-09_00002

Although it used the same game engine as Fallout 3Fallout: New Vegas was far more similar to its predecessors.  Most immediately, the setting: although this may seem superficial, the setting meant not only location, but also political factions and gang rivalries.  Fallout: New Vegas is far more rich in “history” than its predecessor, whose setting in the Washington D.C. area estranged it from the other games (despite sharing a global history of nuclear war and such).

And most importantly, all Fallout games to date have emphasized complex moral choices.  What rights do the dead have?  Do I do things for profit, or simply to help others?  Can you take things from people who need it to survive?  Do you save people who are dying, if those people are murders?  What if they are just extremely powerful xenophobes?  What makes someone a human being?  And all of these questions were made overly simplistic in Fallout 3, where when someone told you their life story you could insult them for no reason, ask a reasonable question, or offer all you have in sympathy, which, while presenting moral choices, had minimal complexity to it.

So, this game makes the player make complex choices, and usually I try to sort out all my ideology from the beginning.

But that’s not how life works, and I don’t think that’s how the game is supposed to work either.

So, rather than naming my character anything special, I will go with the default name: Courier.  That’s an occupation, not a name, and in the story, the player plays as an amnesiac whose doctor was only able to inform him that he was a courier, on a mission to deliver a strange object when things took a turn for the worse.

My character Courier will have to figure out his morals as he figures out his past, and as a player, I will not use my name as a crutch to define how I act.  As a player, I will try to make actual choices, and figure out my ideology as I play, a unique move for me as a player, something I find rather special.2012-12-09_00006


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