Fallout 3 Cultural Analysis


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A cultural analysis of Fallout 3

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Fallout 3 Cultural Analysis

  1. 1. Fallout 3 A cultural analysis by Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet
  2. 2. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 Table of Contents Introduction..........................................................................................................................................3 About Fallout 3.....................................................................................................................................4 Our culture in Fallout 3........................................................................................................................4 Cultural rhetorics..................................................................................................................................5 Fallout 3 and the rhetorics of gender....................................................................................................7 Culture as part of meaningful play.......................................................................................................8 Open culture and replay value..............................................................................................................8 Conclusion............................................................................................................................................9 References...........................................................................................................................................11 2
  3. 3. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 Introduction The purpose of this analysis is to examine the cultural aspects of Fallout 3. What parts of our own culture, it's norms and ideals are represented in the game and what cultural rhetorics can we recognize? And does the recognition of our culture increase the interest and motivation of the player and the overall replay-value of the game? When analyzing Fallout 3 it is needed to compare certain aspects, not only to it’s predecessors but to the developers earlier games aswell, since they too affect the final game design. 3
  4. 4. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 About Fallout 3 Fallout 3 is a “post-nuclear” role-playing game set in a not so distant future, taking place in the year 2277, 200 years after a nuclear war between the US and China. The game is developed by Bethesda Softworks , creators of the popular Elder Scrolls series(Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion to name a few) and is the sequel to Interplay's Fallout 1 & 2. Fallout 3 is a bit different compared to it’s predecessors. The UI(User Interface) has changed and point-of-view is different. As it's predecessors had an isometric view, Bethesda has chosen to do a 3D first person view, basing it on the same engine as their flag ship, Oblivion. If one has played Oblivion, the resemblances are very clear. Many of the in-game characters (NPCs, Non-Player Character) are very much similarto the Oblivion characters and the way the camera zooms in, front- view on the NPC’s face during dialogue is exactly the same. The game mechanics, such as the main attributes of the character, or S.P.E.C.I.A.L(Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck), are the same as the earlier Fallouts, but some skills have been merged together or removed completely. As Fallout 1 and 2 was turn-based, Fallout 3 is real-time, with the ability to pause and enter V.A.T.S(Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) in order to target specific body-parts.(Fallout Wikia, 2009) Our culture in Fallout 3 The symbolism and cultural representation in Fallout 3 is very strong, both when it comes to the environment and the quests you can undertake. The game takes place in the ruins of Washington D.C, set 200 years into the future, after “The Great War” between communist China and The US. This setting is very classic and intentionally so aswell, since the culture and environment of Fallout is inspired by the future-optimistic post-war era of the 1950's America and its idea of the future, with it's fusion cars, monorails and slender lined sky-scrapes. And with that, the Communist paranoia typical of that era is included aswell. Fallout 3 is somewhat of a lesson in American history, where the surviving inhabitants of the Capital Wasteland, as the surrounding area is called, try to rebuild a life, just like settlers in the Wild West. An example of how the American culture is represented is The Mall of Washington D.C., with the Lincoln Memorial and the war-torn Washington Monument. One of the quests is to rid the Lincoln Memorial from slavers or, if you play an evil character, join the slavers. The historical American Civil-War takes place yet again, right on the footsteps of the memorial. Overall, you get a very Western feeling when you roam the country side, with the small shacks and temporary habitats among the ruins of the elevated high-ways. There are burned down farm houses and amongst the ruins, Brahmin (a two-headed, mutated cow) roams around in the settlements. The name Brahmin by the way, is a cultural reference in itself. Brahmin is the Indian caste of lecturers, scholars and preachers. It means “a person who knows Brahman”, where Brahman is the Absolute Reality, of which everything is based upon.(Brahmin, wikipedia, 2009) And since cows are treated as holy in the Hindu society of India, it gives a new meaning to the phrase “Holy Cow!”. 4
  5. 5. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 Cultural representations like these virtually “litter” Fallout 3, just like it's predecessors. In almost every quest, in every area, you can find some trivial information linking it, often in an amusing and ironic way, to our society. Here are a few examples: • In the Galaxy News Radio building, there's a computer terminal making reference to the metal band Fear Factory, by using a line from one of their songs in a log entry. An entry made by B.Bell. Burton Bell was the lead singer of that said group. (Fallout Wikia, 2009) • In the quest Blood Ties, where a settlement is attacked by what seems to be Vampires, you have to go search for a missing person. In Bethesda’s Morrowind, there's a quest with the same name where you have to search for a missing son of a Vampire. The “vampires” of Fallout 3 calls themselves The Family, which one can suspect is inspired from the movie “The Omega Man”(1971), or the more recent movie “I Am Legend”(2007), who are based on the book “I Am Legend”(1954) by Richard Matheson. Also, a password in one of the computers at The Family is “Vespertilio“, which is a strain of bats.(Fallout Wikia, 2009) • In the DLC(Downloadable Content) The Pitt, the player travels to the remnants of Pittsburgh, who have a problem with a disease that turns people into flesh eating ghouls. Even here, “I am Legend” is present, which also contains the story of a disease turning people to a vampiric behavior. In one of the quests, “Mill Worker”, you are asked to aquire Steel Ingots littered around the Steel Yard of a factory. The foreman, Everett calls you “...one hell of a steeler...”, where steeler is a common name for a worker in a steel yard, and also the name of the American Football team, Pittsburgh Steelers. Another reference is when the Everett mentions Monroeville in a dialogue. Monroeville, Pennsylvania is the place where the horror-film “Dawn of the Dead”(1978) was filmed by George A. Romero, who just happens to be native to Pittsburgh.(Fallout Wikia, 2009) All these references show that cultural phenomenons all over the world are a great inspiration to the contents of the game. And by implementing these cultural references, even though they are modified to fit in to the context of the game, we get a more plausible and immersive universe that possible attracts players attention. It gives a player a sort of “aha” feeling and sense of recognition. And the references are not only to real-life culture but to the developers previous games aswell. Another aspect that can be derived from the characteristics of the references is that many of the references requires a deeper knowledge of the subject in order to recognize it. As with the example of Monroeville, it is not common knowledge that “Dawn of the Dead” was filmed on that location. We can suspect that these references are targeted towards an audience more delved in these topics. And that is the case in most of these sublime references. It requires a pre-knowledge to be recognized and enjoyed. So one target audience of this game are the enthusiasts in the different sub- cultures within our own culture. Cultural rhetorics Throughout the game, we are reminded about the threat from the Chinese communists. We can sense an underlying rhetoric of American culture, with the classic conflict between capitalism and communism. In the final moments of the game, the giant U.S. made robot, Liberty Prime, lashes out patriotic propaganda, often using the word “democracy” while crushing the enemy. Something we can relate to our real life current events, where as with the war in Iraq often being motivated by 5
  6. 6. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 “bringing democracy”. Even though these in-game cultural references are a parody of historical and contemporary phenomenons of American culture, one can still ask the question if the developers opinions are embedded within these references. In the DLC Broken Steel, the story continues where the main story ends, thus prolonging the game play(the game ended when the main quest was finished). As the main quest basically revolved around how to create clean water, the Brotherhood of Steel(the “good” faction of the game) are now in charge of the water supply, handing it out in a fair but bureaucratic way to the people of Capital Wasteland. As the story goes on, the player are handed dialogue options, that are questioning the way of distribution and asks why the water isn't sold on the market instead. Here we can see a reference to the American culture and the privatization of basic resources. One can suspect which the developers point of view are, as you can only choose to question the current state and only offer the market solution in the dialogue options as the only solution. Further politically colored cultural rhetorics emerge if we look where the story begins. The narrative character creation process starts when you enter the world as a baby, raised inside an advanced bomb shelter called a Vault. All of the Vaults you encounter have a hidden agenda where the Vault inhabitants are lab-rats basically, commanded by an Overseer. The inhabitants themselves don’t know about this of course, as they are being deluded by misinformation and warnings about the dangerous environment and it’s inhabitants outside the Vault. The cultural rhetorics are there and we can even sense a ideological criticism in them, which may well be a representation of our own culture's current debate about security and surveillance as well as xenophobia. When you determine your skills during the narrative character creation, you take a GOAT test (General Occupational Aptitude Test) which suggests a very elitist and class separated society. Later in the game, you can enter several factories, from which several tells, through notes and detailed surroundings, about harsh working conditions, being watched constantly or replaced by robots etc. The opposing faction, The Enclave that you eventually fight, are the remnants of the old government, and is directed by, as it turns out, an Artificial Intelligence. Is it a critique towards the current government? Cultural rhetorics can be traced around the topic of racism aswell, where the conflict between ghouls and “smoothskins”, non-mutated humans, are the two sides of the conflict. For example, as part of the main quest you are confronted with the option to plant a virus in the water processing plant which will eventually kill all mutated creatures. Needless to say, doing this will have a negative impact on your Karma, which also shows the ethic values of the developers. During game play, you often get to make choices in how to react towards ghouls, as they are accused of being violent and unreliable. The quests revolving around Tenpenny Tower (Fallout Wikia, 2009) not only brings up questions about racism and prejudices but also about class, often playing on the classic upper-class stereotypes. The player gets to choose whether to help a group of ghouls into the Tenpenny Tower, helping them to a new home. This can be done either by persuading the current inhabitants to let them in, or by simply killing the inhabitants. Or you can join side with the tower people and just kill the ghouls. Also social problems like drug abuse, is not only represented by addicted in game characters but embedded in the game mechanics as well, just like Fallout 3's predecessors. When the character is using stimulants, there' a chance of becoming addicted resulting in lower attributes when not under 6
  7. 7. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 the influence of the drug. In Rivet City, a small city situated on a hangar ship there's even an addicted character whom the player have the option to help acquire more drugs. By doing this the player receives negative Karma, and eventually the character dies. (Fallout Wikia, 2009) Yet another example on the moral views of the developers. Fallout 3 and the rhetorics of gender It's hard to determine if Fallout 3 is directed towards men or women or both. To make any such assumption we have to admit the difference between men and women in our own culture and the difference between the games we choose based on gender. But that would also mean relying on gender stereotypes as rulers. Traditionally, action games have been considered boys games while relationship games has been considered girl games. However, does this mean that boys and girls wouldn't cross the line that distinct girl games from boy games? And who have created this distinction if not our own ideas and prejudices regarding gender related interests. In Rules of Play, the authors refer to gender researchers like Judith Butler, who claims gender to be a social construct. If that is the case, making an distinction between the games girls and boys play, would further cement the stereotypes, as we are then reconstructing them yet again through our distinction. However, since these distinctions do exist, because of the current stereotypes in our culture, and the developers are part of the same culture, one can assume the game will follow the unwritten rules that follows such a culture. But even if we would recognize the difference, Fallout 3 is not very gender specific. It is an action game, so if we would rely on the stereotypes, it would tell us it's for boys. However, would we ignore these stereotypes, there's not much that tells us what target group the developers had in mind. If we take a look on how characters are depicted, the bodies are slim but within reason. They also have very natural proportions, in comparison with other popular game titles like World of Warcraft for instance. The women in Fallout 3 are depicted as brutal and dirty like the men are. They carry Mini-Guns and deliver nasty one-liners, without playing on the sexual stereotypes that exists. There's hardly any objectification of the sex at all. Bethesda’s earlier games have more or less the same characteristics. It seems they try not to emphasize on difference between gender. Armor and clothes are adapted to the sex however, but in a plausible way. In Fallout 3, the Power Armor is the same, no matter which gender you play, lighter armor is a bit modified to follow the curves of the body. When it comes to regular clothing the entire clothing can be exchanged sometime. For instance, the cloth Sexy Sleepwear is totally different from each other depending on which sex you are playing, which makes cross dressing not possible. The plot is gender neutral as well. Many games tells the tale of the men (The Witcher and the Grand Theft Auto games are good example on that), with women as bystanders. By analyzing the depicted sexuality, we can see how our own cultural norms and prejudices affects the level of emergence in a game. In the start of the game you have the option of choosing gender. The choice doesn’t affect the attributes. The difference comes later in dialogues and NPC approaches, though only in minor changes. The only perk that is gender specific is the Black Widow/Lady Killer perk that creates unique dialogue options with some NPCs with the opposite sex. The dialogue options are often of a sexual nature which leads to the assumption that any relationships in the game are of a heterosexual nature. In fact, the only place where a homosexual relationship is possible is in the town of Megaton at Moriartys Bar where you can talk a girl named 7
  8. 8. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 Nova into go to bed with you, regardless the sex you’re playing. I have yet to see any male counterpart in the game doing this. There are little to none games where you can play openly gay or transsexual since it is, at least in the United States, where Bethesda Softworks are located, still controversial. So the controversy gets embedded within the game. However, since Fallout 3, with the G.E.C.K editor, opens up for an open culture, such “controversial” content can easily be made by the players themselves, which may well stretch the rigid cultural context, making sexuality less controversial. The editor opens up for a transformative play (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004) Culture as part of meaningful play So does the presence of our culture increase the players will to play the game? A successful game design creates an experience that have meaning. (Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman, 2004) To follow the evaluative definition of meaningful play stated in the book, action and outcome have to be both discernable (i.e. an action yields a response which is perceivable by the player) and integrated(the action affects the larger context of the game). In Fallout 3, almost every dialogue or action you do yields a response, either immediate or later on in the game. So, by this definition, Fallout 3 has a meaningful play design. So, how can we connect this with the culture that resides in the game? Salen and Zimmerman writes that a game designers purpose of a cultural game analysis is to create a meaningful play. We can assume that if we find a representation of our culture in a game, it creates an emotional connection, thus increasing a meaningful play. It don't necessary have to be a good side of our culture. Using the topic of slavery creates a distinct good and bad side situation. And together with the Karma system, you can successfully play either side. If we recognize bits of our culture within the game, aren't we more inclined to take a deeper look at them? If we take map exploring as an example, much of the motivation lies in curiosity. What lies around that corner? If we can see the pillar of the Washington Monument against the horizon, that would probably motivate us into taking a closer look on how it and it's surrounding area would look like after the third world war. Also action and violence, being part of our culture, is being used as a key game mechanic and we can recognize many of the weapons that are being represented. For example, if we find a striking- bat on a field, we immediately know it can be used as a weapon. If we see a green truck with a white star painted on it, we know it's a military vehicle, probably containing weapons and supplies. This gives us a goal. Had it been a more anonymous truck, we might have overseen it as scenery and missed it. We can wonder if, had Fallout 3's world been anonymous, with fictive cities and locations, had it been as immersive? Open culture and replay value Which are the factors in Fallout 3 that increases the replayability? Fallout 3 is like its predecessors filled with multiple choices in each quest and have multiple endings. This is not new for Bethesda who have had the same outline for their earlier games, though this time it’s a definite increase in options. And the choices also have a more dramatic effect on the game world. It gives the player a sense of control over the game world. And at each level gained, you are allowed to choose a perk. The number of perks are more than the number of levels available, which encourage the player to 8
  9. 9. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 replay the game, in order to try out new combinations. Another important attribute is Karma, which not only increase the immersion and role-play capabilities. You can either have Good, Neutral or Evil karma, which dramatically affects the dialogue options and NPC reactions towards you, aswell as the plot in the game. Since the combinations are many and the game gives a concrete feedback of your choices, it gives a motivation for the player to try out the different paths, thus increasing the replay value. But what if this isn't enough? What if the options and the contents of the game doesn't suit the player? Releasing the “construction kit” for Fallout 3, the G.E.C.K (Garden of Eden Creation Kit, also an important in-game item in the main quest), opens up for players to add their own content and modify the game. It gives the game an open culture (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004), allowing people to express themselves through the game by uploading and sharing their mods on communities, which adds further to the expanded game experience. Not only can people discuss and share their experience from the game, but also materialize their ideas on how the game should be like. This increases the longevity of the game. By downloading new content to the game you have yet another reason to continue playing. There is also a practical reason. By releasing a construction kit, resourceful players can fix many bugs that was overlooked by the developers. As in the case of Oblivion, it had many critical bugs which the player community repaired long before the official patches was released. One can suspect that Bethesda found this very useful. Conclusion There are cultural references in abundance throughout the game. As the world of Fallout 3 is a future world of our own, references to art, literature, film, history, social issues, politics, gender and sexuality occurs frequently. Cultural references in Fallout 3 is crucial for the game, in order to maintain the humour, and the satiric world that was created by it's predecessors. A role-playing game needs to have a culture, fictive or real, in order to be immersive and as with Fallout 3, without our culture being represented in it, the game may not have been as immersive as it is now. By using a culture we can recognize, it raises the motivation of exploring the game world in a deeper extent, perhaps just to see how our world might look in a post-apocalyptic state. Not only are the cultural phenomenons of the American culture being represented, but its values and norms as well. Intentionally or unintentionally. Racism and prejudice is depicted in the conflict between the humans and the ghouls. Patriotism in the aftermath of war between US and Communist China. Class distinction and social problems are being represented in several places, like the Tenpenny Tower and Rivet City. In regards of gender representation, it is more neutral than other games. The character models are very plausible, without the sexist stereotypes so often being used in other games. However, as the 1950's era in America stands as a base of inspiration, it's ideas of sexuality follows accordingly. There's no room for sexual expression other than the heterosexual one. It would be interesting to see if anyone makes use of the Construction Kit for more gender bending mods. Bethesda has with Fallout 3 done a good job, taking the stereotypes of American culture and putting them in a post-nuclear war context. Both the good and bad sides of the culture are represented, as 9
  10. 10. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 well as the rhetoric's around them. Now, if all of the rhetoric's are there intentionally or unintentionally we can only ask the developers about. 10
  11. 11. Jimmy Sahlin Introduction to Game Design Luleå Tekniska Universitet 09-05-24 References Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play (2004) Interview with Emil Pagliarulo, NowGamer.com, 2009, http://www.nowgamer.com/features/262/fallout-3-retrospective?o=0#listing (2009) Wikipedia, Replay value, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replay_value, (2009) Wikipedia, Fallout (series), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallout_(series) ( 2009) Wikipedia, Brahmin, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmin (2009) Fallout Wikia, Galaxy News Radio, http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Galaxy_News_Radio_(quest) (2009) Fallout Wikia, Blood Ties, http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Blood_Ties (2009) Fallout Wikia, Mill Worker, http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Mill_Worker (2009) Fallout Wikia, Tenpenny Tower, http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Tenpenny_Tower_(quest) (2009) Fallout Wikia, Overdose, http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Overdose_(quest) (2009) 11