Wasteland Wonder: How Fallout 4 Promotes Old School Gaming Camaraderie
By Guest Special Agent: Nathaniel Jack Charpentier
With the release of Bethesda’s latest game, Fallout 4, I can’t help but experience a nostalgic joy that sweeps over me each time I play. While the game is massive and obviously doing well, I hypothesize it isn’t for the common reasons that people are so enamored with it.
If you’ve gone on the internet any time in the last three months, or even simply seen one of the many advertisements strewn about your city, there is no avoiding this game. It is everywhere. While this shotgun spread style of advertisement is effective, it is nothing compared to hearing about the game first hand. Fallout 4 is one of those special games that transcends our living room and pushes itself into our everyday lives. Most likely, if you are reading this article, one of three things might be true:
- You’ve seen a few ads and are curious what the big hype is.
- A friend or family member of yours is obsessed with the game and you finally want to experience it for yourself.
- You are like me and can’t put the controller down. It’s so great and you have no idea why!
Truly, I’ve been obsessed with this game. While I haven’t had endless amounts of time to play and get sucked into the post-apocalyptic world Bethesda has created, those rare opportunities of free time are spent fully immersed. But something odd occurred the other day while I was midway through a frantic battle with a posse of mutated mole rats. My roommate, who had been watching me play for a bit, asked me what I thought of the game so far. I had been playing for a decent amount of time and she wanted to know if I thought it was a good game or not. At first, my response was simple. “Yeah, it is a fun game. I’m enjoying it so far.” Then she asked me “Why is it fun?”
I paused my game, primarily because I was getting my butt kicked and needed to heal, but also because the question truly stumped me. Why was Fallout 4 so fun?
On the surface, some would simply state the obvious. The game runs well despite a few bugs, looks pretty, and builds upon the company’s preceding titles, picking and keeping the mechanics that worked while discarding those that didn’t. If you’ve played one of the other Fallout games, or even Bethesda’s Skyrim, you’ll instantly be reminded of your time in those worlds.
It is without a doubt a solid, next gen game that the developers should be proud of.
So why is it fun? In one word: Camaraderie. My first experience ever with video games was playing the original Super Mario Brothers years ago in a family friend’s house.
I was pretty young at the time and hadn’t yet acquired my amazing video game skills that serve me so well today. As such, I was very bad at the game. Terribly so. Like, laughably so. At one point, I had died so much on this one level a small crowd of adults crept into the room to watch me play. Great, an audience. More pressure. While it was frustrating, there was an inherent need I felt to get past the level. I wouldn’t be able to stop until I did so. Finally, after another failed attempt, the owner of the console knelt down and pointed out a power block I kept avoiding. “Grab that flower”, he said, “it will help a lot”. Taking his advice, I beat the level on my next attempt.
Why does this memory stick in my head so much? Because it was my first experience with camaraderie. The room wanted me to succeed, partially because it was time to eat and I refused to move until I won. But the act of the game’s owner giving me help cemented this appreciation in my mind. Sure, he could have taken the controller away and completed the level himself, but instead he gave me the tools to do it on my own. Nothing is greater than that and my current love of gaming is most definitely due to that.
On the other side of this coin, I have to mention something that we are all most likely all too familiar with: Spoilers. Back when I first started playing video games, if you couldn’t figure out how to advance in a game, you simply didn’t. There wasn’t an endless wellspring of hints and guides present like there is today. If you got stuck, you either played until you finally figured it out or sought the aid of someone who knew the secret. Today, with a few keystrokes, I can learn literally everything about a game in moments. Sadly, this does cheapen my experience knowing that my frustration is now only bound by my patience. With most games, the second I get stuck or lost, like most people I open my browser and search for a solution online. Afterwards, I resume playing, feeling no true sense of accomplishment whatsoever. I think this is a much larger problem than we realize. Surprise and discovery is such a key factor in how a game can make you feel. Knowing all the answers beforehand robs you of that.
However, Fallout 4 has caused me to do something different.
My first time playing was very brief, only getting so far as to make a character and then quit because of a graphics glitch. But the next day, I found myself leaning on my coworker’s desk, recanting her with what little I experienced and how humorous the glitch was. The next day, she sought me out on her own and questioned me about my newest play session. I made sure to leave out important details for fear of spoiling her, but our talk was filled with gunfight reenactments, suspense, and humor. This continued for a few days until I was approaching ten or so hours of game play. My coworker, having heard all about my wonderful time with the game, caved in and bought it herself.
The next day, it was me entranced with her journey. She spoke with wide eyes and an energetic smile, things I no doubt adorned in my re-tellings. It was this moment of sharing experiences that my mind drifted that initial question asked by my roommate: “Why is it fun?” Because it creates camaraderie.
It makes you want to go out and talk to all your friends about how much fun you are having.
It makes you want to discuss play styles and strategies with those who are also playing.
It makes you want to trade secrets and tips with other gamers to share the joy of discovery with another person.
There is a feeling that stems from a game like this, a sort of bond you start to feel with those you share stories with. You’re not tempted to go online and receive instant gratification because you’re having too much fun exploring and you’d much rather discover it. There is no joy in simply getting what you want. Earning it is much more satisfactory, especially with open world games. On top of that, we like to dance a delicate dance when it comes to talking about spoiler heavy games like Fallout. There is enjoyment to be found walking the fine line between wanting to discuss the amazing things we’ve encountered and not wanting to ruin it for our friends. So we tip toe, leave things out, and say just enough, vaguely enough to bait their hook. In turn, they do the same for us. When you both dance this way, you feed each others’ exhilaration and anticipation. I hang on every word my friends tell me about their games, starvingly curious as to what they encountered.
I think this is why games like Fallout 4 work so well. While the game is indeed a polished RPG set in a Post Apocalyptic wasteland, it is also a book that writes itself while you play. The world is so large and so detailed, you simply pick a direction and see what happens. Every person I’ve spoken to has had a completely unique experience, no two people have done the exact same thing even weeks after the game has been released. When I was a kid, the same thing used to happen. My friends and I spent our entire recess at school talking about what happened in Zelda the night previous. What Pokemon we’ve found and where. How to defeat Doctor Wily in Megaman.
Another reason the game does well is because it somewhat transcends its own type. Fallout 4 is a single player game. You cannot hand a second controller to your friend and play together (Although, give it a few years knowing the modding community).
That being said, everyone loves an audience and everyone loves a good show. When you enjoy something, the first thing you want to do is share it with those close to you. Most of the fun I’ve had in the game was when my roommate was excitedly watching along. I’d narrate my thought process, get her input and suggestions, and then the two of us scream in terror as a swarm of Ghouls burst from around the corner. Afterwards, we laugh and loot the bodies of my slain enemies. Even though it is just me moving the character, we both are enjoying the narrative that is woven in real time. Naturally, not everyone enjoys backseat gaming. Some prefer to experience the game in private. However, I view games more as a shared experience and less of a solo activity.
I enjoy watching my friends charge along in their solo player games. Some of the time, I’ve already beaten the game and now get to see how another person reacts differently in identical situations. Other times, it’s a scary game and I not man enough to be the one behind the wheels…
In short, games can bring us together. Bond us through story. Have us laughing out loud one moment and then on the edge of our seats the next. Fallout 4 does this well. Is it a perfect game? No. But I haven’t had this much fun talking about video games in quite some time. That must mean something.
GUEST AUTHOR BIO for NATHANIEL JACK CHARPENTIER: Unofficial X-Man Nate Charpentier is the coolest person you’ve never met. At one point, he has been called a geek, punk, lover, fighter, and dungeon master… all of which are true. Nate can’t get enough of all things nerdy and game related. When he isn’t disappointing his parents and thrashing about in a mosh pit somewhere, he is either creating fantastical worlds in one of his many Dungeons and Dragons games, setting mad high scores on your mom’s Xbox, or writing cartoons with his nose pressed against the screen. More work to come! Give his stuff a read if you’d like!