Have Your Success and Eat It Too

The next value in Schwartz’s “achievement” category is successful. Internetless as I write this, I see that my macbook’s dictionary defines it usefully as “having achieved popularity, profit, or distinction.”

Like most video games, Fallout 3 is fairly eager to make you feel like a success. This is visible in the frequent rewards it gives, most notably in terms of the levelling system – the surge of music that accompanies levelling up in the game is a powerful message about your achievement, for instance. Similarly, the game rewards every little thing you do with some experience point, and not just in the background, but duly noted on screen each time. Found a new area? Here’s some XP. Killed a molerat? Here’s some XP. Picked a lock? Here’s some XP. You’re quickly embedded in a nice little behavioural system where the reward is some denotation of your success.

On the other hand, as is pointed out in the definition above, success relies to some extent on distinction, it’s a comparative quality. In Fallout 3, however, there’s not really anyone to compare yourself with. Nobody else in the game seems to be overtly going through their own set of levels (though perhaps they are, technically), nobody else seems to be charging around discovering new areas and being rewarded. And so your success-as-distiction is really measured against yourself – you become “more than you were”.

The nature of success in the game is perhaps best highlighted by the narrative aspects. You are hugely successful in a narrative sense, accomplishing great and important things (which no one else is doing). On the other hand, as a player, one realises that this is a system of dominoes designed to fall in place, telling a grand story of success.

In other words, the cake is a lie.

4 April 2010
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