Two Is The Loneliest Number

I’ve been thinking a bit about relationships in Fallout 3 a bit later, particularly in terms of the occasional people who end up being on your “team” as you play. These are the people who are kind of attached to you for some period, who fight with you, and might exchange the odd one-line if you’re lucky.

Fallout 3 is a lonely game, of course, taking place as it does in the largely barren and often hostile wastelands of a post-apocalyptic Washington DC. Somehow, though, it’s even worse when you have a companion. For one thing, they certainly don’t offer much warmth in the way of conversation or, you know, giving a shit about you. This is even true of your father when you eventually find him – he’s so impassive as to be, if anything, less interested in you than numerous other people you meet.

To add to this, these companions are frequently incompetent in the fray. They are frequently knocked unconscious or die. I had one young woman join me for a journey through some basement areas, but she lasted exactly half of a single encounter with an enemy robot. In the end, it wasn’t her lack of personality that left me feeling cold about her death, it was her lack of fight. Maybe this is telling – as I’m so fond of thinking, the only “real” form of self-expression in these kinds of games comes in hitting or shooting other people. If you’re no good at that, you’re no good at living.

The exception to these rules might be the dog you can obtain, Dogmeat. Dogmeat, too, doesn’t have much to say and is pretty awful in a fight. But then, on the other hand, he’s just a dog, and he can thus be forgiven for these shortcomings. If anything, where fragility is despicable in human(oid) companions, Dogmeat’s potential for dying makes him more precious and to be protected. It seems like this is likely because the level of simulation available in such games can do an alright dog, but not an alright human(oid). And yes, yes, we all know how everyone cried when Aeris dies in Final Fantasy VII, but it seems telling that one hears pretty much no other examples. Final Fantasy VII came out in 1997.

On the other hand, the horse Agro/Aguro from Shadow of Colossus definitely tugged at my heart strings a bit when he died. And even the Fable 2 dog left me feeling a bit sad at some level (though less so). Perhaps it’s simply the case our criteria for accepting an animal-like creature at a social level are significantly lower than they are for anything that’s meant to be like a human. Thus, Tamagotchi: yes; Princess Peach: less so.

Other than the simplistic, and thus almost paradoxically social, Dogmeat, the companions in Fallout 3 seem to offer no companionship

16 April 2010
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