The Authoritative Fallout 3

Next in the Schwartzathon is the value of authority, also filed away in the “power” category. By authority I presume Schwartz is referring to commanding respect and telling other people when and how high to jump.

I’ve written about the combative side of authority before in the post You Will Respect My Authority. In that post I discussed my outrage that a particular slaver from Paradise Falls didn’t bow down before my obvious might – that he dared to demand money from me in order to go about my business in his home town. As I detailed in a couple of posts, that didn’t go well, as I was “forced” to wipe out everyone who lived there.

The issue there is a lack of respect specifically for combative prowess – at a certain point in the game it’s pretty obvious that you’re the badass-est hombre in town, but nobody ever recognises this simple fact and would rather be mowed down by your plasma rifle than act polite. This is perhaps particularly odd since, if the game was going to recognise any form of authority, you’d think it would be the fighting kind.

It’s possible to imagine other forms of authority, of course. Specifically, we might ask whether people take what we say very seriously, whether they nod grimly and do what we suggest. This isn’t the case in the game either, though – you tend to be a pawn in larger schemes, being asked, yourself, to respect someone else’s authority, whether it’s your father, the Brotherhood of Steel, or a computer pretending to be president. In Fallout 3 you don’t really make plans in any sense beyond which direction to walk – anything meaningful in the sense of narrative is decided by others.

Looking beyond the avatar, Fallout 3 involves the representation of a dissolving of authority, followed by its recreation. The old order has been destroyed and people are now figuring out how to reestablish civilization, including the question of who has authority over who. Thus, the small communities around often have one or two leaders who wield the primary authority (the overseers in the Vaults, the sherif in Megaton, etc.). It’s notable, too, that the first moments of the game position the player-avatar in opposition to an established authority (the overseer of Vault 101), escaping into the sort-of combative egalitarianism of the Wasteland.

So, while you do possess a supreme authority in terms of deciding life or death for pretty much anyone, no one appears to know this, and no one is shy about asking you to go and do their bidding. Which you then do – because it’s really the game that has the authority, not you.

24 April 2010
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