*Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article, but your character’s motivations and the opening sequences are discussed in detail.*
Hi guys! it’s me, Fanta, one of the poor schmucks who writes the top tens and maintains the twitter account. However, the twitter posting has been pretty thin on the ground in the last 18 months, and the top tens even more so, which is entirely down to me gaining a baby.
Being one of the only writers for the site with a womb, the one question everyone kept asking me was: “Will you still play be able to video games around her?”, and now I tend to field a lot of the child development questions like: “will you let her play video games?”, which is often asked as though it rhymes with “why do you want her to be a school shooter?”. Interestingly enough, in the last week, since the release of Fallout 4, the number one question I’ve been asked over the last week is, “did being a new mum change the way you played Fallout 4?”.
Without having to think about it, I can easily say that it did, and quite drastically so. It is a game which casts you as a parent desperately searching for their child, after all, and that’s something that hits way harder than I ever thought it would (or should) before giving birth.
When playing Fallout, “the wanderer” (or courier, or vault dweller or chosen one, or whatever) very much encapsulates my play style, as it does a large portion of the fanbase. It’s one of those games that always let you run wild with the ol’ imagination, and play someone who you never could in real life. those of us with the charisma of a breezeblock in real life can become the smoothest motherfucker in the wasteland, and if you get tout of breath just watching sports on TV, you can wander around post-nuclear Americana while bullets ping off your bronzed, muscular physique. It’s escapism, after all For me, I guess the name of the game is immersion, and i’ll do anything to avoid finishing the game until i’ve collected every last tin can and empty Nuka cola bottle. In fact, during one playthrough of New Vegas, I drove those around me to distraction by refusing to even enter the Strip until I had explored every millimetre of the map. I will leave no stone unturned and it can take months for me to even engage with the storyline. Fallout describes itself as a post-nuclear role-playing game, so play the role I shall. Forget all about the main quests. They don’t help me make grisly, painstaking recreations of scenes from Titanic with raider corpses.
That is, until Fallout 4 came along. Which cast me firmly as a married woman in a heterosexual relationship with a newborn baby. The opening struck a chord with me, not least because my own baby was pointing at the screen shouting, “baboo baboo.” at the sight of Shaun in his crib. Then, of course, the bombs drop and my character starts running. It was at this point that I actually surpassed my character, I think. I happen to dabble in the aspects of prepping that don’t involve guns and drinking my own urine, so if the bombs ever did drop (among other nasty end-worldy scenarios) I am good to go.
The main difference between me and the sole survivor is that there is no way in hell that, in the same situation, I would not be clinging to my daughter for dear life. I wouldn’t even trust my husband to carry her (even though he’s a lot faster than I am) and my prepping plans involve a lot of babywearing. Like any other paranoid nutcase, I’ve given this a lot of thought, and it was the first time in a fallout game i’ve found myself grinding my teeth at the screen and saying “There’s no way I’d do that!” It was strange having to play through the character’s back story when I was so used to being able to think one up for myself. But then, it’s not something I can’t get over. 99% of other games drop the player into solid roles, and I don’t often find myself wondering why Lara Croft doesn’t wear sturdier clothing while raiding tombs. It just rankled a little.
The opening sequence progresses (as we’ve likely all witnessed by now) and pretty soon my husband lay (or rather, reclined) dead and my baby was gone. At this point I noticed that I wasn’t crying. For all those of us who don’t have kids, this might need some explanation. The thing about having a baby (the physical act, rather than the parenting aspect) is that it messes with your emotions big-time. And for a long-ass stretch of time after the event, which is something they don’t really tell you. Have yourself a baby and good luck ever watching any YouTube videos about tousling puppies or toddlers walking into walls or kittens or any of the other shit that would have been puerile before having a kid. Because quite frankly, you’ll find yourself bawling and mewling like an idiot. It sucks. Quite frankly, it was the one thing I was expecting to do with Fallout 4, having known a little of what was coming. unfortunately for me, the outcome was far worse. Instead of crying over it, one thought echoed through my mind:
Holy shit, I need to get my goddamned baby back!
And so began the straightest playthrough of a Fallout game I have ever, ever played. Side quests be damned, because Shaun needs his mommy. Brotherhood of what? Never mind that, he’s probably alone somewhere without his primary caregiver! Everything went by the wayside as I ploughed through the storyline, single-mindedly looking for my baby and to hell with everything else. The two side quests I did pause for only served to make me feel guilty, and as soon as they were done I was back on my way, cutting short conversations unless they directly related to the location of my baby. It wasn’t until I had advanced sufficiently in the storyline to know what was going on (see? spoiler-free!) that I could pause, take a breath (a particularly deep one, I might add) and relax into the game. At that point I’d been playing for almost twenty hours straight, stopping only to sleep (I had an excellent babysitter) and had just hit level ten with only six discovered locations.
I was actually quite annoyed with myself, now. I love exploring and I love talking to people, and the presentation of dialogue was something I really enjoyed, as it gave me a real feel for my character. I really missed the chance of becoming the wanderer, but for as long as I needed to find my baby this was simply not an option. I felt a bit cheated, actually. All my childless friends were having fun stomping around the Corvega factory in power armour and shooting the ends off of gas canisters, and here I was, trying to find the shortest route through the ravaged nuclear waste. having a better understanding of being a parent meant I could be the Sole Survivor or the Lone Wanderer or anything like that. I was cast as the Desperate Gibbering Parent.
I’m not for a moment suggesting this is the fault of the game. The friend who watched the whole thing repeatedly kept telling me that: “you don’t have to go straight after the baby, you know?”, only to be met with incredulous looks from myself and my husband. It really put up barriers between our experiences. Naturally, I know it’s just a game, but the Fallout series has always been great for immersion, and this time around it felt like the immersion cut so much deeper, and gave me motivation that I’ve not experienced before. For example, Fallout 3, which had you seek out a parent (something I’ve also had some experience of) didn’t light a fire under my ass, because you ultimately know that your parent is capable of taking care of themselves, and at least has some level of agency and understands what’s happening to them. Going after them is more an exercise in appeasing yourself than assisting them. Whereas in this instance, they’ve taken your (helpless) baby into the wasteland and you have no idea where they are or who has them.
I enjoy reading blog posts and listening to people (who again incidentally have no children) talking about how given the base building elements, they’re not going to bother with the main story, or start looking for their baby for a few IRL months yet until they’ve gotten the wasteland fed and watered. I admit that I’m actually jealous of them, in a way. I’d have loved to craft a base in sanctuary, but it wasn’t until after I completed the relevant story that I could even sit down to think about it. It’s amusing in a weird way to talk to other parents, specifically parents of babies, to discover that their Fallout 4 experience mirrored mine. They blow off side quests (because why would I waste time helping people while my baby is lost in the wasteland?), ignore any romantic involvement (because I just saw my husband and babby-daddy die!) and make a beeline for everyone who might have seen my child. Both mothers and fathers who play Fallout 4 have all shared that deep, primal protective instinct, followed by a weird kind of shame for having let it get to them so much.
As a closing point, this isn’t (and can’t be) a criticism of Bethesda for creating a game that incidentally casts me as a character I can relate to a little too closely. It only goes to show how carefully the story was constructed, and how affecting it can be. It is surprising, however, to find a character with such a set back story. In previous Fallout games you can play whoever you like, with little actual character imposed upon you. If we take the previous instalment, Fallout: New Vegas, your character was specifically crafted to avoid backstory (even if that did come with a rather silly bullet-in-head opener) They didn’t even have memories to fall back on, so you can give them whatever previous life you want (I’m currently playing a gay NCR contractor who, in my mind, used to be a Legion slaver until the bullet in his head gave him amnesia).
It’s a shame that the game removes this level of potential creation for your character, as you know that they were at some point married, had military service/career in law and had a baby. Although that’s not much to go on, anything you want to imagine for your character must include these key points.
But anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find me a same-sex lover (because my marriage was totally a sham), and pick up on all these side quests that have mounted up now that I actually know the fate of my baby.
Right after I put IRL baby down for a nap.