Why is everyone able-bodied in The Wasteland?

You may have seen yesterday’s post on the power that the character creation process for Fallout 3 has. It is, as I now think of it, the singular moment where the father’s view of the world permanently influences the range of expressions of character identity in Fallout 3 — note, that’s expressions but not interpretations. By limiting the races and phenotype choices, as well as placing it within the point of view of James, Fallout 3 is explaining their world, providing some agency but also, in the act, limiting the possible shapes.

It’s actually those last two words that had me thinking about it today. I have, in my considerations of it, come up with something very strange: all of the people in The Wasteland are able-bodied, they are nondisabled. It’s all four legs, two arms and probably ten fingers and toes — although, with radiation, maybe more. In fact, the only humanoid differences are really between the Super Mutants and the humans with, at least for me, the Super Mutants the more interesting group. Any moment or act of individuality by a Super Mutant is a struggle against their norm. It’s why FawkesLilly and Dog/God are so fascinating. Theirs is a constant often visible struggle to maintain their identity against that which a father (e.g. the Master) set against them.

Yet, even with these changed beings, they are all able-bodied. No one, as far as I could find within the wikia and my own research was ever without an arm, leg or had some physical disability. Some, yes, might be classified as having some mental differences or even problems, but no one, as I could find, lacked in body. Even the robots, as I began to look, had their own arms and legs — in most cases treads. Everyone walked around and could handle themselves. Children too, in the rare occasions when they appear in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, are running around.

Once I began to look at this, I realized that much of this world’s verisimilitude could be called into question on this issue. Sure, yes, I am willing to go along with the F.E.V. changing creatures, plants and even people, but would not some person, somewhere have lost a leg, arm or even developed scars with their time in these worlds, The Wasteland or The Mojave? Given the amount of time I spent just in The Wasteland Survival Guide quest dodging mines, you’d think that others would be less lucky than I was to have stimpacks a plenty with me.

Where are the people who have had their arms shot off? Where are the people who had, during just normal living, developed scars of their time just trying to survive? Where are the people who might have lost a leg while walking across a minefield? Where are, to get right down to it, the genetic anomalies? For a science fiction world that depends heavily on the idea that radiation can be used to change things for the good and bad, where are the effects on humans?

Other than the Super Mutants and the occasional perk available for the player, neither game does much with what the effects radiation, spoiled food and harsh climates would have had on people. Even the enemies, like the Marked Men, still walk around, handle gear and attack on sight. Other than a surface change, nothing much was done to them. Going even farther, Ghouls, even those willing to talk, are changed only at a surface level: most still have the ability to do things. Those that have retained their intelligence go on to do anything every other humanoid can do, even become a dominatrix.

Looking back now on the character creation process, it has a profound reach across the range of not only genetic expression in race and facial construction, but also in the physical expression of the identity. The game limits not only the race selection to that of James’ worldview but also to the developer’s view on what is possible in The Wasteland and The Mojave. You cannot, no matter what you do, lose a limb. You can lose the use of a limb, yes, but not the limb itself. You are forced into the identity of an able-bodied person, you cannot be anyone else. There are a fixed range of shapes and the game, in this way, enforces it not only on the player but the entire world too.

For games that advertise on their open-world and wide agency domain, some options are locked down tight. For games that include some choices of identity expressions, they are stuck on a shape normality that covers the entire world. Not only is no entity not disabled bodily, no characters are deaf or blind either. All are able-bodied, walking around and, in nearly every case, perfectly able to communicate with the player. Even those that might be temporarily confused, like Dog/God, are highly lucid about their condition.

There is, once you consider the shape normality of these games, very little difference between humanoids. The Super Mutants have the excuse that they were reformed into shapes they did not want, that some fight against this to retain their individuality. What excuse do the humans have? They are all able-bodied and, other than knowledge differences, they are quite able to do just about anything.

What limits one character from doing the things the player does, taking on the quests the player does? In what way, really, is the The Wanderer and The Courier all that different from the rest of the world other than being player controlled? They all have the same functionality, the same general proportions. If all radiation is apparently “good”, what is stopping another character from taking care of the problems the player is forced to deal with? Put another way, why the is the player-character special?

The Wasteland and The Mojave are supposed to be vast areas of trouble. They are supposed to have dangers at every turn, have creatures big and small that can kill, maim or otherwise disrupt the life of any other creature. Where, other than the occasional dead body, is that depicted? Where are the babies born with defects? Where are the people who struggle to find their identity when changed through fate or circumstances, those scarred by war and violence? Where, essentially, is the struggle if everyone is the same? Did, while I was not looking, the Master’s plan come into effect? Are all people really the same in Fallout 3? Are all of them able-bodied, nondisabled, yet somehow unable to get anything done on their own?

2 thoughts on “Why is everyone able-bodied in The Wasteland?

  1. tangentially related, “Katawa Shoujo” has an excellent cast of disabled characters!

    I’m guessing the lack of lost limbs in FPSs is more due to saving money than a lack of desire for verisimilitude.

    1. Dan Cox

      “tangentially related, “Katawa Shoujo” has an excellent cast of disabled characters!”

      Oh? *Googles it* Ah, yes. I see. Neat. It’s for Linux too? Very cool. I’ll add it to the list of things to check out.

      “I’m guessing the lack of lost limbs in FPSs is more due to saving money than a lack of desire for verisimilitude.”

      To be sure, yes. I know that’s the real reason. It’s far easier to make a world with a handful of objects and then change their appearance only. From a programming point of view, I understand the reasoning.

      Still, once I got to thinking about it, it struck me as rather strange. Then, in light of the post before it, I got to thinking about the developer’s intended shape for players — something else I didn’t note is the lack of over- or under-weight people too. The normality of Fallout 3 is kinda extreme in that way. Everyone is basically the same, the range or genetic expressions is quite small.

      Not unlike the Desire Demon for BioWare, Bethesda could have explained this lack of diversity in a number of ways that would have contributed to the narrative of the world:

      • Infections are a constant threat. If you have a large enough wound, you will die. Supplies, since they are so limited, are not shared with those who have gangrene or other related conditions.
      • Those that survived in The Wasteland have genes that give them some regenerative powers. (Questionable, yes, but makes in-game sense.)
      • “Can’t work, don’t eat.” Those that were born with or gained some deformity slowly die off as worth is measured in what they contribute to society. Anyone not able to produce is eventually killed in this way.
      • Roman Way: Babies with deformities are left to be eaten or die on their own. (Yes, they actually did that.)
      • Omelas Syndrome: read “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” for the reference.

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