As Smart As They Come

Next in the long line of values to examine in Fallout 3 is intelligence, also in the category of “achievement”. Maybe we could most succinctly describe it as a “capacity for learning” or something (thanks, dictionary!).

Intelligence is an interesting value because it’s one of the only ones that’s explicitly denoted in the game itself – your character literally has an intelligence rating. The game presents intelligence in these terms: “Intelligence affects the Science, Repair and Medicine skills. The higher your Intelligence, the more Skill Points you’ll be able to distribute when you level up.” This fits fairly well with the “capacity to learn” definition above – the more intelligent, the more you can learn. In fact, according to some guides to the game, intelligence is the category to focus on early in order to level up more effecitvely.

Of course, all this means that intelligence is represented in a very abstract fashion. It’s not that you need to be particularly intelligent yourself as a player, only that your avatar is, technically, intelligent. The only other place I can recall this being reflected is that every now and then you get an “Intelligence” option in a dialogue tree. As far as I can tell, this just gives you the option to say something that’s meant to be insightful (often about some science-y thing). I’m not sure whether it does you any good or not, seems like more of a flexing of the simulated brain or something.

The other obvious avenue to go down is to think about other, less obvious forms of intelligence one might display during play, such as highly strategic or tactical thinking in relation to combat. A well placed grenade or a clever flanking attempt or something. There’s no question these are forms of intelligence. Ultimately, though, the world of the game treats intelligence as a bit of a side issue. People in the world are intelligent (scientists etc.), and your intelligence rating is meaningful in terms of the gameplay, but it can feel a little hollow. In particular, the game is very hands off in terms of suggesting you prioritise any of the particular character traits (e.g. intelligence over strength, say), presumably to allow the player free reign.

Intelligence, then, seems to have the odd quality of being deeply embedded in the game, chiefly at a mechanical level, but also being somehow negligible in terms of the game’s cultural or societal setting.

9 April 2010
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