Being Baddie Badderson

I interrupt my slew of posts of the presence or absence of basic human values in Fallout 3 to briefly consider my experiences so far playing as a “bad” character in the game. I’ve only been at it for a short time, but today was particularly interesting because it broke some of my tenuous assumptions about the experience.

First of all, until today, it had been my experience that being “bad” didn’t really make much of a difference except in conversation. That is, you end up being an asshole to people verbally, but not much else. I escaped the Vault and took out a bunch of Raiders and headed for Megaton, the first major city, in much the same state as when I’d played as “good” (or rather, as “not-a-conversational-dickhead”).

But when I walked into Megaton I ran into the sheriff. And, both of us being hard-asses, he and I had words. It got to a point where I told him, menacingly, that I wanted his hat. Words turned to more and, well… I shot the sheriff. But I didn’t shoot the deputy, because there wasn’t one, although I did have to take out an onlooker who got frisky with a knife. I was, on the balance, quite pleased – being “bad” in conversation had led to real world hostility and fightin’.

Odd, though, was that nobody seemed to care much that I’d killed the sheriff of their town. No one ran to the sound of gunfire, no one challenged me, the newcomer, to any duels, and no one even tidied up the bodies of the sheriff and the self-deputizing civilian. I went to the local supply store and, bent on being a hard-ass, stole something. The mercenary guarding the store took issue and we had a bit of a scrape, ending with his death. The store owner cowered and ran away upstairs. After stealing a few more things, I went to check on her, figuring she’d have to die too. I found her crouched in a corner covering her head with her hands. I talked to her and she said… “Oh, hi there!” and proceeded to yak on about the town, its inhabitants, a book project of hers, and the kinds of things she had on sale. All while cowering. She was sending quite mixed messages and I became confused and left.

Turns out the game has generally mixed feelings about the “problem of evil”. It’s quite great that it pushes you to “bad” conflict if you use words hurtfully – people are quick to take offense and are prepared to die rather than be insulted. I like that a bad personality leads directly to bad behaviour. On the other hand, that bad behaviour is then incredibly bounded in terms of societal norms. I murdered several inhabitants of Megaton, but nobody in the town seemed bothered by it, even some people who saw me do it in cold blood. Sure, some of the townspeople seemed to fear me a bit, but not in any grandiose way, and they were still more than prepared to serve me drinks and sell me iguana-on-a-stick. A forgetful lot.

Being bad in Fallout 3, then, is a bit of a contradiction. The game actively participates in letting you push verbal confrontations to the brink and beyond, leading to deadly conflict. But then it suddenly forgets anything happened, leaving the actions you dramatically took feeling empty and inconsequential.

I stood for a while with the unmourned corpse of the sherif as I was leaving town. I let him keep the hat.

8 April 2010
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