essay, video games

God of the Father: Fallout 3 – Curiously Necessary Lives

Following yesterday’s post on my exploration of the Karma system and, as I stated, trying to find the limits of the ‘god of the father’ reading of Fallout 3, I thought I would continue my one-part tale and two-parts deconstructionist take with something interesting I discovered while I was trying to murder everyone I met: you just can’t kill some people.

Well, you can kill them. Many times, in fact. They just kept getting back up though.

I first found this out after roaming from Andale westward and along the water’s edge to the south. I was trying to remember how to get back into the Metro system and, of course, killing all raiders and creatures I found when I came across some dead Super Mutants. Noting how strange this was, to find these tougher enemies dead by some other’s hands and knowing that I was the only one who was capable of doing this level of carnage, I followed a trail through the streets and around a corner. I then came face to face with The Brotherhood of Steel. (My old “friends“.)

This was the perfect test moment. If I attempted to kill them, tried to take them out early, the game would have to react in some way. The ‘god’ would have to step in and either prevent me from killing them or take an action to stop me. They are important to the end state of the game, I knew. Something was going to happen here.

I killed them.

Then I killed more of them.

Following the path around, I got ready to kill yet more. I shot down one and several more can running out of a doorway at me.

We fought. Briefly.

In seconds, they all lay dead. I was prepared then to have a moment of mourning (i.e. looting all corpses) when one of them got up. Then another one did. Before my eyes, they all resurrected and began to shoot at me again.

I killed them.

They got back up.

I had to run away. Limping on my injured leg, I found some cover behind a wall. I injected several Stimpaks and I considered my options. This obviously wasn’t going to work this way. ‘Divine’ intervention was going to stop me. If I wanted to continue this road and stick to my rule of killing all life, I needed to think of a different way around this problem. It was then, as I was looking at my map, that I realized where I was.

This was the Citadel. Serving as the central hub for all end-game events as well as the starting point for the “Broken Steel” DLC, it was, I found out the painful way, unavailable at this time. No only could I not approach the building now that I had triggered the hostile mode of these characters, I could not come within range of the people guarding it either. They were going to kill me while I was unable to do the same to them. This wasn’t fair.

It was more than just being unable to kill them now, I learned, after some wikia research afterward. These same people will die (or disappear) after “Take it Back!” (the last quest) ends. The game was completely willing to kill them then, either through combat or accidental explosions during that quest, but it would have to come at the hands of the game itself. I was unable to kill them — despite my considerable trying.

The reason why they are needed is, of course, that they, The Brotherhood of Steel and these soldiers in particular one imagines, are the same forces that liberates Project Purity from The Enclave at the end of the game. In short, the Project is all important. It is the driving plot of the game and, more importantly, it is the axial that causes the Capital Wasteland to turn and change. Without these people, Project Purity stays in the hands of The Enclave, the game does not end and, lest we forget, James’ work is never finished.

Because that what it all comes back to in Fallout 3, James, the father of the character. All plots are centered on him. His work is the central focus. Not only is rebelling or attempting to run away from him not options in the view of the game, it’s impossible to truly escape his grasp. His ethics are imprinted upon the world. The god-engine of the mechanics is based on him. He is either the manifestation of the “correct” way to play the game or the paragon lens through which the player is found wanting. All Karma judgments might as well come from him. His attitude of “life matters” is the primary ethos. Yet, and more terrifying, it is highly selective.

James may, in the few conversations with him, preach about wanting to save the Capital Wasteland with pure water and that this water is, of course, the source of life, yet the game will be selective about which life deserves this water. Some can be killed. Most people, actually, can be killed in Fallout 3. Others, those who are central to the Project Purity plot lines and linked to getting James’ work done, are immortal in ways that transcend the fiction though.

“You cannot kill these people,” is what the game says in this encounter with these few members of The Brotherhood of Steel. It sets in stone one of an increasing number of commandments about which actions are allowed and which aren’t in the game. Some deaths will give experience points. Some will change your Karma. Sometimes stealing is bad. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all. Life, in most respects, doesn’t matter outside of the player’s in the world. Doesn’t matter, that is, unless it is important and thus in connection with James, the father. Attempt to subvert those plans and the ‘god’ steps in, the game breaks its own rules.

“You can do whatever you want in this world. Well, except this. And this. And that. Oh, and these things too. Otherwise, yeah, go ahead and do whatever.”

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