essay, video games

House Wins

I’ve put a great deal of time in Fallout: New Vegas of late. I’m not kidding. A huge amount of time. Over the last three days or so, I’ve managed nearly 22 hours of play total. Whenever I have been home, I’ve pretty much been playing the game. It’s consumed most of my waking hours. It’s become the default choice of entertainment.

There is a bit of irony to the idea of the game becoming my only choice as I bought and went into playing it for the express purpose of exploring the idea of role play. Yes, true, most games have you in the role of one sort or another but I wanted, maybe for the first time in a long line of playing games, to attempt to pick a play and narrative style and stick to it throughout the entire experience. From beginning to end, I was going to be a single character in the world and not someone, as is often the case, that is basically a reflection of who I am and how I act.

My idea was to act like Jayne. I would do the right thing, the noble thing, but only if the caps were good enough. I would take on any mission or quest, but would complete it in a way that was the fastest or easiest possible as well as best paying. I organized my character’s stats in a way to have a large strength but low charisma and sneak. I would charge in and take out the enemy before they could get off a shot. Purely offensive. My plan worked for a while.

Just now, as I had tried two different approaches to beating the game I thought were in line with my character, I ended up failing too many quests to my liking. After my second try to get both major groups in the game — The Legion and NCR — to like me at the same time, the game crashed. It was then that I realized I had stopped playing the way my character would act and was more trying to game the system, get the achievements (on the Xbox 360) and get out while everyone still liked me.

In reality, I avoid fights. I’m not a complete passivist, but am pretty darn close. I prefer, if possible, that people like me. If that can’t happen, I usually ignore the people or group with a low opinion of me. As I was playing the game, I morphed from acting out the role of someone who would easily take “no” as an answer or even offend certain groups or people to one who was, while trying to play all the sides, ended up losing to all of them.

The first time I played through Fallout: New Vegas, I played it as a “Good” character. That is, I sided with the NCR, governmental army, and Mr. House, the cyborg who has ruled the Vegas are for hundred of years. I set the slaves free and went out of my way to set up the end game — in this case both literally and in-world as well — to side with the army taking over and holding both the Hoover Dam and the New Vegas area. If not for a glitch in the PC version I first played, I would have had the perfect ending that I wanted of the Legion being wiped out by the army of robots. So, when I approached the game a second time, I wanted it to be different from the normal me who had reflected an ideal look of myself into the game. For the second playthrough, this time on the Xbox 360, I wanted to be mostly bad, a lazy do-gooder. As I said, like Jayne.

I started with the best intentions. Well, the intentions that I would do whatever I wanted when I wanted. I stole from the people in the town in Good Springs. I lost some Karma, sure, but I wanted some of the Sunset Sarsaparilla that was in the crates by the road. I thought I had done it with no one watching,  no one but the game’s God-Engine judging my actions even when no other NPC saw me. After the theft, I started to walk away. After several steps, one of the ranchers in town started to shoot at me. What choice did I have? I had to kill him. Having done that, I pulled his body behind a house and went off to take care of the quest I was working. After all, I had better things to do.

The process flowed like that. Each time I would try to enact something I thought my character would want to do — mostly stealing things — I would have to face up the immediate or long-term consequences of my actions. Several towns stopped liking me completely. One group vilified me. To the person playing game, this was bad. I had to fix it. So, I did. I knew that, having played through the quest before, that doing a certain series of fetch quests would make their faction like me. That in turn would present me with the chance to fix my standing with another group. Before long, I had gone from playing a role to being the greatest diplomat: promising everything to everyone with nothing left for me.

Did I mention that I was trying to get as many achievements as possible too? Not only had I been trying to get everyone to like me, I had gone out of my way again to make sure I had collected all the companions, completed certain quests certain ways and even walked all over the Mojave just to get exploration achievements. I had gone from the role of taking the easy road, to purposely climbing every mountain and taking every path to get everything there was to get. Instead of collecting and treasuring what I had, I was trying to get everything in one go.

Once I discovered I had drifted so far from my original path, I decided I would try to end the game and maybe try a different take with a differently constructed character. Using different stats from the beginning would allow me to play a different way, right? So, I went about trying to end everything, trying to bring about the battle between the Legion and NCR. However, I ran into a snag: I had a liking of Veronica and the Brotherhood of Steel.

See, Caesar, head of the Legion, wanted me to kill off the Brotherhood of Steel to make sure they would not stop him taking over New Vegas. I was not going to do that. Not only did I like having Veronica, voiced by Felicia Day, with me all the time, I also thought the Brotherhood of Steel, techno-xenophobes, was cool. When playing Fallout 3, they had helped me a great deal. Did you catch the problem there? How would my character of The Courier in Fallout: New Vegas have any knowledge of what happened to the player in another game? He wouldn’t. So, I tried a different tack: I was going to kill Mr. House instead.

It turns out, by the way, that letting a cyborg run the future of an area is actually the best idea. I don’t agree with that. Me, the player, disagrees with being held by any authority. So, I killed him. Well, not exactly. I unplugged him from the network and left him to live out his life without having control over the secrtrons that roam New Vegas, Freeside and the outer Mojave area. This the game helpfully told me was a very bad plan. I had doomed the Mojave Wasteland to a terrible fate. Also, I failed several quests. This did not sit well with either the character nor the player. How was I to get payed if I killed the person capable of paying me? How was I as the player supposed to get the achievements I wanted from the game if I failed those quests? I was stuck. Mr. House had to live. I could not side with the Legion if they wanted me to kill the Brotherhood of Steel. What was left was… the NCR.

I was right back to where I started. I had managed to land myself with the same ending that I was trying to avoid, the same ending I had gotten the first time I had played the game. Yet, I was unwilling as the player to take actions I did not like, despite the fact that character I was playing would have definitely taken those same actions. The “House”, the set of rules of the game, won. I had to play it out in a way that have the best for the people of Mojave. I had no choice but to play the hero. Actually… maybe I’m no so unlike Jayne in that choice too. When it came down to it, I sided with the noble and good, despite wanting the money and fame the other side offered.