One of my greatest experiences ever playing a video game happened with Fallout 3, the Post-Apocalyptic Action Role-Playing Game (RPG for short).

My game box looks like this
My game box looks like this

First I give you the stats, Fallout 3 was published and developed by Bethesda in 2008. It is an action RPG with a first and third person viewpoint. It is also a sandbox game, where you basically get to run around the entire gaming world since all parts of the world are seamlessly integrated with all other parts of the world.

The thing about Fallout is that in this universe you are basically waiting for the world to go back to normal after years and years of radiation. It is some time in the future and nuclear war wiped out all semblance of civilization. Yet humanity, and the mutant offspring of humanity, somehow struggle on. The world is dangerous, beautiful, and desolate all at the same time. Did I also mention that the game takes place in the future ruins of Washington DC?

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The ruins of the Capitol Building, and some future armor

Now I could go on and on about the great parts of this game, and I could also go on about the parts I did not like, but the point of this series is for me to talk about a unique gaming experience I had.

So the game starts, like so many games, in a tutorial/story mode. You are being railroaded through some plot points and also through some interesting training. You learn about how to maneuver, what items do what, how to fight, etc. All of this happens within the Vault, which in this post-apocalyptic world is kind of like being in a giant underground bunker. Yet strange and dangerous events conspire to push you out of the safety of your vault and into the wide, still slightly irradiated, world of mutants, monsters, and mayhem.

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The Great Big Wide Open world

I played through the tutorial, had my character named, and I then boldly exited the vault. I was armed with a pistol, about 100 rounds of ammo, some basic armor, some food, and a few stimpaks (the things in this game that you use to heal damage). Now the way that the game is set up, when you are released from the Vault (Vault 101 by the way) you are sent out alone into the world and your character is free to go anywhere and do anything. Of course the game is designed so that your character will seek out the nearest city/town/settlement. This is the town of Megaton, so named for the unexploded nuclear device at the town’s center. There you will find out more about the world, get some better equipment, and also get a base of operations. You can purchase a house to store your excess goods, food, weapons, ammunition, and clothing. You can find shops to sell you things, simple quests to boost your experience, and some nice items and even some friends and mercenaries for hire. The game does not want to throw you out into the world completely unprepared, so they have this nice town set up not too far away from where you leave your vault. Below is a map of the World, with Vault 101 right in the center and a bit to the south.

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Vault 101 is right in the middle, Megaton is a bit to the south of the Vault and Springvale is due East

I missed the town.

I walked right by it and off into the nightmarish wastes.

Part of my problem was that I exited the vault at night, and things look different in the night time. So I started wandering around and rather than head towards the nice civilized town, I went past it in the dark. I then went on to explore the burned out ruin of a town called Springvale. There was nothing in Springvale, at first. Empty houses, and burned out wrecks greeted me everywhere I went. Then I found Springvale School.

Springvale
Springvale
Springvale School
Springvale School

Springvale School at night seemed empty and inviting. It seemed like a good place for my character to sleep, maybe find some loot, and maybe meet some people. Well, the first people I met were the raiders and they greeted me with knives, clubs, and guns.

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Raiders!

I got a serious workout from my pistol, and my armor took a beating. I survived the encounter and continued to explore the big empty school, but I just kept on finding more and more of the raiders. They attacked without warning or provocation and they even sent their mutant dogs after me. I remember being crouched down in a closet, my gun shakily pointing at the door as I heard them wandering the halls looking for me. Then when it sounded like the coast was clear I slowly headed towards the door, thinking “ok I am getting out here.”

Right then this mutant dog comes out of nowhere and leaps at my throat, seriously intent on killing me. I empty 10 rounds into this thing before I can calm down enough to stop shooting.

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It’s a lot bigger at night in the dark when its coming right at you…(yeah I get it, and so do you)

After that I ran out of that ruin of a school absolutely terrified, and then checked my map to try to figure out where to head next. I remember being told, in the tutorial, that there was a settlement around here, but I began to suspect that this was some kind of clever game mechanic. What could be more brilliant than lying to the player and telling them about the existence of a nice settlement when all there really was left in the world was raiders and killer dogs? If I had gone south just then I might have accidentally run into Megaton, but I went West instead.

Over the next few weeks of game time my character wandered the world. I was a vagabond, and I was alone. I found plenty of enemies, but never any friends. I slowly accumulated better weapons, better gear, better armor, and more food and stimpaks. I had the most incredible feeling that I was utterly alone in this gaming universe. It felt exactly like what I had always imagined a futuristic post-apocalyptic world should feel like. I was in it for myself, and everyone and everything I ran into was expendable. Everything in the world had one purpose, my survival.

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Disintegrating a foe

The climax of it all finally came when I entered Fort Bannister, a fort crawling with well-armed mercenaries. I was outgunned, they had tons of men, dogs, and even a killer robot or 2. They had much better armor than me, and I slowly and methodically worked my way through their base. Whenever possible I would sneak and shoot, but whenever I had to, I resorted to running and gunning. Sometimes running for my life in order to find a more defensible position.

Fort Bannister
Fort Bannister

When I finally came face to face with the boss, a well armed mercenary sporting a missile launcher, it was seriously touch and go.His armor drank up bullets, and he never seemed to run out of ammo. I myself ran out of ammunition in my best gun, the assault rifle, and I had to resort to my trusty pistol in order to keep fighting. By the time I killed him I was almost out of stimpaks. But when he finally went down I stood up and cheered. I decided I had finally found my home in this godforsaken wasteland. I had won it and I was king of the fucking universe.

Not long after that I finally found the city of Megaton and I rediscovered the game’s plot and all of those easy little quests I was supposed to do. I oriented myself towards the game’s actual storyline and away I went.

Fallout 3 was a great game, and for me what made it great was that for the first few (real time) days of playing it I was doing it all wrong. I had turned left when I should have turned right, I had missed what was right in front of me and I had discovered a gaming experience where I was alone and desperate. I was the lone survivor struggling in a world gone mad. I never thought I had gone wrong because I had found the town of Springvale, and it was a burned out wreck. I missed the town of Megaton because I was so caught up in the spirit of this game. I thought that “this is what a Post-Apocalyptic wasteland experience is really like”. There were no quests, no tasks, no rules, and no friends. There was only exploration and survival.

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