Over the winter, I played a succession of three video games that involved characters in a parenting or protective role: Fallout 4; The Last of Us; and The Walking Dead. And if parenting in today’s world is hard, it’s even worse once the world goes to hell.
Today I’m writing about my parenting experience with Fallout 4.
Spoilers for the game follow.
Fallout 4 starts in a state of normalcy, in your home, with your partner and baby son. You’re almost immediately fleeing to the safety of a shelter as nuclear warheads start to drop from the sky. You’re then put into cryogenic sleep without much warning and woken from it moments later, in subjective time, to see your partner shot and your infant son kidnapped. Moments after that, again in subjective time, you wake to a dilapidated shelter, crawling with cat-sized, carnivorous cockroaches. And finally, you emerge into a nuclear wasteland only to find 200 years have passed. With the possibility that your son is somewhere out in that hell, you set out to find him in a world plagued by aggressive, giant mutants, cannibalistic feral zombies, extras from Mad Max, and a wide variety of radioactive monstrosities. In your quest to find your son, you get to fight loads of them all while collecting a vast armory and building a settlement.
There’s a lot of territory to explore, and there are a lot of side missions you can undertake. You can conceivably delay the main storyline, the one which concerns finding your son, for most of the game. I chose not to since it doesn’t fit the premise of the main story. As soon as my character emerged from the vault, blinking in the light of a sun I hadn’t seen in 200 years, I set out to find my son, eschewing all but the necessary missions to reach my goal. Along the way, I gained allies willing to help me, including one group, The Railroad, that could get me into The Institute once I’d found out they had him.
Tracking your son you find out that he’s no longer an infant, but a boy of 10 or so. When you finally catch up with, and meet, your son deep underground in the shadowy Institute, he’s not a boy at all, but a sixty-year-old man, and the head of an organization that’s been one of your nemeses up to this point. You have a choice then to work with or oppose this man, your son, who’s essentially a stranger despite your biological link.
As his parent, though, I would still want to get to know this lost son. I wouldn’t want to destroy what he’d built and be pushed into taking his life, not even for people who had a legitimate reason to fear The Institute. Working with him meant killing the people who had helped me find and reach him, but what were they compared to the only living link I had to my former life, a happy life before the bombs fell. So I dropped a grenade into the middle of Railroad headquarters and killed them. I felt a pang of guilt having to do it. But after all the killing the game makes you do to get to your son, what’s a bit more to secure a future with him, however, brief it ends up being.
Shaun has been dying for some time, and the destruction your son asks you to carry out for him is to secure The Institute’s future; one he believes is the best way forward for the world. I ended up agreeing with him. I wanted to carry on his work. It felt like something I owed him after missing out on most of his life. It was a way to commemorate him, and it was all that was left of him in the end.
Nonetheless, the briefness of your interaction with your son is in large part because this game is less about its story than it is about action. My connection with the characters in the story was never really that strong, which is a shame since the story had potential. As a person out of time, meeting your child when the child is by all appearances now twice your biological age could have been mined for a lot more emotion. It didn’t affect me as much as The Walking Dead or The Last of Us.
Next week, I’ll write about my time with The Last of Us.