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I Basically Grew Up In the Post-Apocalyptic Wastelands of the Fallout Games

It's a little amazing just how many of my experiences with the role-playing series have echoed what's been happening in my real life.

by Ian Dransfield
18 December 2015, 10:55am

Imagery from 'Fallout 3'

I'm comfortably into my early 30s, yet even at this considerable age I've so far managed to avoid a full-blown nuclear apocalypse. So have you, actually. Well done, us. But while some people grew up with Nintendo's Mario games holding their hand, when I really think about it, my life's been running parallel with the irradiated, flaky-skinned adventures found in the Fallout series.

Frankly, it's a little amazing just how many of my experiences with the post-nuclear role-playing series have echoed what was happening in my real life at the time I was playing the individual games. Don't believe me? Allow me to explain.

A screenshot from 'Fallout'

'Fallout' reflected how little I knew about life, and how to cope with that

In 1997 I hadn't really played an RPG properly. I didn't understand them, or care much about them. Fallout only really fell into my lap because a friend knew I had a thing for Mad Max. As such, when I did start playing this weird, isometric, turn-based-battles-but-real-time-everything-else game, with loads of numbers and dialogue and a wall of difficulty to it, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

Similarly, aged 14, I had just as little clue as to what I was supposed to be... I don't know, about? How to just get by was the main question – one that fit both my life at the time and my sessions with Fallout – and in both areas it was answered in the same way: trial and error, make your mistakes and figure it out from there. Shoot the radscorpion a couple of times and then run away. Get a haircut, you utter scumbag.

Just as life was revealing itself to be a bit more than just Saturday morning cartoons and piss-easy schoolwork, games started showing themselves to be deeper than merely mashing B to pummel your brother's face off. They both had something beyond the superficial, it turned out. Who knew?

A screenshot from 'Fallout 2'

'Fallout 2' echoed the way in which I was learning to be a real person, albeit very slowly

By the time Fallout 2 came out in 1998 – yes, only a year passed between the first game and its sequel's release, something which the internet would have a meltdown over these days – I had gotten to grips with the game's demands, to a degree. Without the likes of Wikipedia and in-depth forum debates, I was lacking the nous when it came to things like how to tackle an army of supermutants without taking heavy losses – but the same could be said about talking to girls without shitting in my Y-fronts. I had figured these things out by myself. Just about.

That Fallout 2 was very similar to its predecessor helped me click quickly with its mechanics. I'd almost settled into a rhythm with the first, just as life had become something I was almost used to, and the familiarity I found washing over me when I started my search for Vault 13 was a welcome feeling I won't soon forget. Although, while Fallout 2 introduced the ability to push companions out of the way, I hadn't learned how to physically impose myself on anything bigger than a particularly small fly at that point.

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'Fallout 3' resonated with my discovery of a whole new way of being, living and experiencing the world around me

Ten years later, Fallout 3 arrived, and by 2008 both I, and the games around me, had done a lot of growing up. Oddly we'd both done it in the same way: by not getting any more complex, but instead just getting bigger, more predictable and a bit prettier. But when Fallout 3 did hit, it changed things up totally – yes, just as life was doing to me.

The game became a first-person, open-world epic, having moved from Black Isles Studios to the team behind the Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda. I had finished university and had to be a Real Person now. Fallout 3 took on a more sober, less whimsical view of the apocalypse. I took on a less sober, more whimsical view of life as I landed a job at in a second-hand games shop.

The iconic moment from Fallout 3 was when you emerged from Vault 101, the brightness temporarily blinding you to the world out in front of you – a world that stretches on seemingly forever. And you can go everywhere. It might not have been exactly the same for me, as I was a young British man in the north of the country and not in a US teen comedy, but there was something delightfully symbolic about that moment: the journey was just beginning, and I could go anywhere. Y'know. If I really wanted to.

A screenshot from 'Fallout: New Vegas'

'Fallout: New Vegas' seemingly confirmed that, in fact, the past was a foreign country

It only takes a couple of years to lose a fair bit of faith in your hopes and dreams, though, and by the release of Obsidian's Fallout: New Vegas in 2010 I was wandering dangerously close to the "everything was better in the past" way of thinking. Life was progressing too slowly for me; things weren't changing enough; a girlfriend wasn't the solution to all my problems as I had envisaged; and the once-upon-a-time dream job I worked in was showing its toxic roots.

New Vegas promised a return to something not seen since 1998 – more of the tabletop RPG influence, more of the whimsy, more of the choice and consequence (without prior warning that Bad Shit would go down). It delivered, and I still love it to this day. But it stood out as a product of two very different eras – the tech of the time with the ideas of the past, and it didn't go down as well with the games-playing public as I wanted it to. As I still think it should have.

Just as I was realising that daydreaming of more innocent past-times was a waste of then-times, it hit me right in the face that the Fallout series would never again be what it once was.

Related, on Motherboard: I Just Said Yes to All the Drugs in 'Fallout 4'

A screenshot from 'Fallout 4'

'Fallout 4' hammered home the feeling that I am, officially, set in my ways now

And so we hit space year 2015 and Fallout 4, which returned to the hands of Bethesda and re-established the oh-so-serious face of the third numbered game. It came as something of a shock to the system that a game I would have absolutely adored 10 years ago – something I think I literally dreamed about being able to play back then – would leave me feeling somewhat let down. But that's what Fallout 4 did to me.

It's not just the companions getting in the way again, the neutered dialogue, the lack of choice or the endless combat with little in the way of creative solutions (that's just my opinion, anyway – the VICE review feels rather differently) – it's the feeling that, after switching things up so much, trying different things and generally being an exciting series, Fallout has now decided on a formula. And so have I.

"I'll never be boring," said an idiotic younger version of me, probably as he stuffed fried chicken into his thin face. PUT DOWN THE CHICKEN, FATTY. You will be boring. We all will be, unless we're monumentally fucking weird or rich. Routine is comfortable, change is difficult, being set in your ways – even if it involves ignoring most of the strides made by a spin-off of the post-apocalyptic RPG series you invented – is the better way to do things. War, and routine, never changes.

Oh, and 'Fallout (Tactics): Brotherhood of Steel' acted as analogies for my teen sex life

Nobody played these games, nobody really liked them, and they were ultimately forgotten.


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