Fallout 4 and my Deep, Primal Desire to Explore

Every day, I wonder to myself maybe today is the day.

I have no idea how many times I have searched “fallout 4” on google (google does, despite the USA FREEDOM Act), but I do know that finally getting an announcement, after thousands of little anticipations, has been worth it.

There are a number of thoughts going through my head about this announcement. The first is: “The amount of time I am going to spend on this game is terrifying.” The second is: “The pleasure I will have playing this game is terrifying.” The third is: “I am a slave to marketing tactics and I don’t care, because the pre-marketing for this game was outstanding.” Little tiny leaks, gestures, “accidental” comments, hundreds of rumor mill blogs.

Gamers are some of the most fiercely loyal fans in consumer culture. They will literally kill other people or themselves for their games. They will hack company blogs. They will obsess over games and rumors of games and start apocalyptic blogs predicting the signs of the times, the symbols deciphered which contain within themselves the actual release dates. There are youtube priesthoods. Gamers will study under the most revered users on Twitch. They will bring offerings to them. Some priests can even make a full-time living from their followers.

But, the main dedication of gamers is not production companies or famous users. They are dedicated to their games. And when they have looked forward to a release date and have gone through the midnight ritual, dressed up as vikings (which I observed firsthand at the Skyrim midnight release four years ago), and they go home and put in their betrothed disc late into the night, laying down with their elbows slipping off the sides of their bed, indifferent to the discomfort of laying down with your neck craned, Doritos at their side (which I have done), eyes fixed to the screen, yelling with excitement (which I have done), and the first loading screen is too long and they are play-blocked for just a minute more than they can truly stand and then the game loads and all the sudden they fall into a mountain (which happens), there is not a feeling of betrayal deeper than the one inside their hearts.

The first party they blame is the production company. Never themselves, of course, for putting their hope on delicate systems.

The betrayal can go even deeper than low graphics or superficial glitches, though. It can go as deep as the narrative, which a huge contingent of gamers are all about (some, like Call of Duty players, like video games for the mechanical skill of them).

And this is where some good fruits are reaped from gaming culture, which I am not so unjust to overlook. When Mass Effect 3 ended terribly–as in, the ending did not fulfill the game, did not satisfy it, did not bring the story to a full completion–gamers got together and petitioned for a change to the end of the game. They demanded the game be changed. And they won.

Anyways, the really important thing is Fallout 4 here. I called my brother today–and I am ashamed to share this (shame is what Christianity is all about)–and I was giggling and in tears because of this. I told him it feels like I am getting married.

Emotions are a funny thing and I am wondering why I feel so strongly about these games. Why? How did I become a gamer? And why does the Fallout 4 announcement feel like the return of King Arthur, assuming I cared?

My “how” question isn’t about origins really, but more about motivations. What draws me so intensely to the Fallout and The Elder Scrolls games?

Two things.

I grew up with them and there is this deep familiarity. I know how the worlds are made and how they work. I have memories of the worlds. They remind me of myself, of the hundreds of hours I spent in those worlds and what kinds of decisions I made at pivotal moments in the hundreds of plots. This is a similar thing to re-reading books you grew up reading. The thing is: I didn’t. The only books I grew up reading were books for school, which I enjoyed, especially the ones for the high school culture class.

Side-note: My growing up can be approximately re-created by Legos, Peter Gabriel, and single-player role-playing games. Magic Cards were a lesser avocation.

I was watching a seminar with Ray Bradbury the other day and he said that you ought to spend all your time in a library. He said he graduated from the library at 28. He also said that the best thing about libraries is tracing your finger across the spines of books and picking each one up one-by-one, then eventually coming to one which you quickly discover is you. The joy in discovering something familiar–but new.

When playing these games, I am participating in the story, the narrative written by the makers. And there is something that resonates deeply with these games, because the kind of game you experience is up to you. Games which do not give you any essential choices are, frankly, not taking advantage of the main trait video games offer: free will.

The other thing that attracts me to the games–and one that is probably a stronger pull–is the exploration of them. This is the reverse of familiarity. Familiarity gives you the comfort of the old, but exploration depends on the new. And yet, exploring a world is impossible if you are not familiar with how to proceed. The law of gravity.

Why does exploration resonate with me so much?

I don’t know. I’ll slap an answer on it that sounds roughly right, because this post is getting long: fill the earth and multiply. I think it has something to do with that.

I do predict a response: Isn’t it better to explore the world, though? The actual world?

The same complaint can be leveled against books. And to a point, it sticks. Yes, the world is very much worth exploring–or experiencing. And there is a kind of knowledge that comes from touching things which are neither controllers nor pages. I’m speaking of water and frogs.

Plus, exploring the creations of someone else is exploring this world. The worlds they make are built out of elements we ourselves could have discovered and pieced together. You know this: it is fundamental. And we should move on from the fundamental and of speak about clean and unclean video games, for it comes easy to children in the faith, but let us move on from milk to steak.

Most significantly, I think when someone explores games, it actually opens them up to the possibility that our world functions like a video game (if we are careful in remembering that video games attempt to copy the rhythms of reality). When I play an open world video game, I am learning that the possibilities of experience go as far as the system allows me. The only limits are in the programming.

The same thing is true for this world: and video games have taught me this. I can actually go anywhere I want to or experience anything I want if my desire goes far enough. In this sense, playing video games–open world RPGs specifically–cultivate curiosity in the player.

What really is in the barn on the side of the highway I drive by every day to work?

The things we eat–video games, movies, music–are best used to highlight the delights we overlook in this life. Anything that we use to replace the goodness of experience is, obviously, not going to help us. And video games do not shroud my desire for exploration, but grow it.

Coming back to an earlier point: I think exploration resonates with me so much in video games, because exploring in real life is part of what I was made for, but I often fail to take advantage of the opportunities. That’s a lot of what video games are: taking advantage of opportunities in the most fruitful way possible. If you can draw this from video games and apply it to real life, which video games intend to recreate, you will be richer for it.

And so I look forward to Fallout 4. It has been seven years.

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