essay, video games

Sharing the journey

A video game made me sad.

This was, you have to understand, quite an accomplishment. Especially because it was unintended.

Emotional responses to video games are not a new things to me. I have been mad quite a few times. Just yesterday, in fact, I was questioning my console’s mating practices. When I was younger, I would twist the controller in my hand or yell guttural syllables at the television for responses that were, let’s be clear, not fair. So, yeah, I’ve been mad. I’ve been happy too. When the hero saves the day at the last moment or I scored just enough points to get the new high score. That rush of adrenaline right before the endorphin release of an accomplishment: fantastic. I’ve felt all kinds of responses to playing a video game. That is, except feeling sad.

I’ve been back to spending time in New Vegas after finishing up Oblivion a couple weeks ago. I thought I would go back to the game because there were achievements to unlock and because there was more content. I had not yet tried any of the downloadable content and I wanted to see if it was good. My opinion, having finished the current three, is that there is good there. It’s not always easy to get to or worth the hassle in a few places, but I was entertained. And that is what is important, the entertainment value. The fact that after several hours in a row of playing the last of them and finishing it caused me to suddenly become sad is quite another thing entirely.

I had started them in reverse order. I picked up Old World Blues first. Then Honest Hearts.  And then Dead Money. I played through and got all the achievements before moving to the next one, so my experiences were shaded a bit by wanting to make sure I explored every path and choice. And while I will definitely say that Old World Blues is my favorite of the three,  Dead Money, which I just finished this morning,  produced the strangest response I’d had so far.

You start each of them alone. If you have any companions, you must order them away. Only The Courier, the titular character of all the New Vegas adventures, can go into any of the downloadable content. You have to leave your friends and allies at the door. In Honest Hearts, this hardly bothered me. I was a high-level character and got through the content without much trouble. Then same with Old World Blues. But Dead Money gives you temporary companions, temporary allies.

Those last two words are important for later plot developments, but I want to concentrate on the previous phrase, “temporary companions”. In order to navigate the area that Dead Money is placed in, you must work with different people. You work with one at a time in areas that are — surprise, surprise — suited for that person’s talents. One companion helps with stealth, so sneaking is advised in their segment. Another is good at helping you with the environment, so their help, when the area is potentially lethal, is welcomed. s you travel with each though you can come to learn more about them, as you can do with any other normal companion.

Having them talk to you allows you to learn more about their stories before they came to the Sierra Madre Casino, the primary location of Dead Money. You learn about why they came, what they are hoping to get and what drives them. While I could take time to talk about one of the more interesting characters I’ve run across in a game (Dog), I will instead turn to one of the hardest to communicate with: Christine Royce.

She was sent to the Casino in order to stop Father Elijah from making any more mistakes and leaving a trail of blood behind him. Depending on how close you pay attention to the text in both the main game and Old World Blues, you will learn that Christine has been following Elijah for a long time, maybe ever since he split off from The Brotherhood of Steel and left Veronica behind. Christine wants to stop him from taking even more lives in his pursuit of Old World technologies. For her perseverance, and the outcome of her time in The Big Empty, she has been left without the ability to write or type. She can speak however. Or could before her vocal cords were removed as part of a scheme to gain entrance to the Casino and its treasures.

Once you find her, and for a large portion of the content, she can only communicate with you via hand signals and head movements, which the game helpfully transcribes. Upon talking with her, assuming you have the skills high enough to understand her, you come to learn that Father Elijah was her mentor for some time. That she was forced to leave behind a scribe in The Brotherhood she loved at one time. And that this scribe was female.

If you have spent as much as I have talking to Veronica in the main game, you would come to learn that she too had to give up a relationship with a girl she loved and that Father Elijah left her too. Putting the two thoughts together, I assumed that these two must be talking about each other! Excellent, I thought. I have the ability to reunite two lost lovers.

It wasn’t to be.

I’m not going to spoil how you can deal with Father Elijah in Dead Money but all of the options have a finality. Christine too, assuming she is saved towards the end, only has two options, both, in my opinion, bad. Either she loses her faith in her mission or she stays at the Casino forever. I tried several outcomes with Father Elijah. With Christine, however, I only wanted just one: she must be saved. I can’t wait to tell Veronica about this!

I got through Dead Money and made my way to where Veronica was. I was imagining different ways the game might allow me to tell Veronica things. I found your lost love. Or maybe Father Elijah, your father figure, I found him! Even I have some bad news to give you. All of those would have been good choices. I would have understood several of them, liked more others.

Of all the choices available to the developers, they went with one simple sentence. Basically, I met Father Elijah. No Let me tell you about him. No That dude is Crazy McCrazy, mayor of Crazy Town. Not one word about Christine. Even if they were both talking about different people, it might have been nice to get them together. They have much in common. But no, it was all about Father Elijah, all about meeting him once.

When it all done and over, when I had the chance to see what the developers had done with Veronica’s dialogue, I was sad. Here was a great chance to have an emotional moment, a great chance for the player to bond with the character over either gaining a potential love one or of reminiscing about a lost flame. Here was a great chance to talk about father figures and the harshness of the Fallout universe. It felt wasted, a moment let past.

All I want to say to Veronica was this: I wish you could have been there with me.