My brain – which isn’t a friend to me at the best of times – has spent the last few days being a harsh, brutal son of a bitch. Much like when you lose something and your brain helpfully plants false memories of you definitely putting it somewhere in an effort to slowly drive you insane, I’ve spent the last few days distinctly remembering backing up my hard drive, copying save files to USB sticks, and uploading them to the cloud. None of these things actually happened – and I know they never happened – but such was the clarity of these (wholly false, lying) memories that I was angrily incredulous when I, for example, checked the Cloud and found there was a distinct lack of Fallout 4 save files. ‘How can that be?’, I cried, ‘I remember uploading it!’ – and there followed a colourful – and grossly unfair – tirade at Sony’s cloud department for losing a file on purpose, just to piss me off.
That’s dangerously close to paranoia, obviously, but I mention it because it leads me to my main point; namely that I’m still having real trouble accepting the fact that my first journey into Fallout 4 has prematurely ended, and that I’ve lost a unique and largely unrepeatable experience that wasn’t even close to being finished. It’s not just that I’ve lost many, many hours of “work” (that’s definitely a thing, though), but it’s more that many of those hours are, in essence, unrepeatable. Sure, the main quests etc, will still be there, and they’ll likely be in the same place, but I hadn’t actually covered many of these anyway; I was the type of Fallouter who’d spend a big chunk of their time exploring, collecting, discovering – and slowly, cautiously expanding my ‘known world’ before really cracking on with main story missions and such.
I’d discovered well over a hundred locations in the course of that, met many interesting people, and seen many one-off events. My favourite weapon, I suspect, will not be found in the same place again, nor will my awesome chest-piece which regenerated Action Points like a boss. Every lock I’d picked is safely, annoyingly re-locked, and my settlements – which I’d spent a daft amount of time building – have all ceased to exist, including the rather experimental apartment block I’d attached to a Drive-In screen, and which was held together by a combination of unlikely physics and optimism. Likewise, that entire community was mucking along quite nicely and (inspired by my neo-post-apocalyptic-utilitarian-recycled-chic style of architecture, I presume) had a fairly vibrant and efficient little set-up – producing both water and food in abundance. They’re all gone now, though. Having survived attacks by Supermutants, a couple of Deathclaws, and hundreds of raiders, they’ve now been killed by a combination of my own stupidity, laziness, and/or suspicions regarding technology and whatnot.
I appreciate nobody really gives a shit (even my immediate family don’t seem to grasp quite why I’m so bothered about this, despite me attempting to explain it many, many times), but having just read ‘Death by Video Game‘, in which the author elucidates on the attachment gamers feel to their virtual worlds, I’m perhaps overly aware of what I’ve just lost. Indeed, I had agreed with much of what Parkin had suggested, was actually thinking about it a lot – particularly in regards to the level of investment people feel with ‘Sandbox’ games – when Fortuna decided to go right ahead and hammer home the conclusions I’d already started to reach (and like (a Poor Man’s) Ignatious J. Reilly, it’s sent me into something of a pity spiral).
Games are brilliant things, for many reasons, and in a lot of respects, but where they really come into their own is the degree to which they capture our attention and inspire us to invest in their worlds and stories; in short, they offer us the chance to enter a different world, wholly and unreservedly, and most of the time, we jump at that chance. They’re largely unique in that respect, what with being an active medium (and not passive, like books and films), and because, on average, they require a more considerable investment of time on our part. Even the simplest of linear, side-scrolling games often requires us to devote more time to it than a film, and because we’re actively involved in the game – even if it’s just in order to move a character, quite literally, along – it requires a degree of attention and concentration that’s not always necessary when we’re watching a film. That’s mostly accepted now – and frequently posited in gaming’s defence – but what’s also unique about games is that, quite often, we’re forced into a particular perspective, and actually, we’re often deliberately made to feel like it’s our perspective. That almost never happens with a book, film, or TV show, and it’s a fairly simple technique that makes games feel that bit more compelling, or involving to us.
When you’re playing an FPS, you’re usually limited to fitting yourself into a pre-existing skin, screwing up your eyes, and just pretending you’re the impossibly square-jawed Hero, or biologically improbable Heroine, and inhabiting that role for the duration of the game – through pre-decided, pre-built levels where most stuff will happen in a very similar way each and every time you do so. That’s effective enough, and even though I’m a 34 year old guy (or perhaps precisely because I’m a 34 year old guy who’s getting older and slower by the minute) I’m more than happy to suspend my disbelief for however long it takes to shoot the requisite number of people in the face, or score ridiculously great goals, or whatever.
However, where games can really suck you in, when they can really become consuming and addictive, is when that world itself can be shaped and built by your character’s actions, and where your character themselves can be shaped and moulded in accordance with your own desires, or fantasies, or beliefs. Whether it’s an RPG, or nominally Sandbox game like GTA or Assassin’s Creed, there really is something inherently fascinating and compelling about moving out into an undiscovered world – a blank canvass on which to project something of ourselves, of who we’d like to be – and with a degree of freedom and choice that’s often not available to us out here in Reality Land. Yes, there are usually narrative bottlenecks, and there are often things that need to be done, but we can usually do them at our own pace, and in our own way – particularly when there is a degree to which we can customise our character. In a CoD-type game, I’ve found enemy soldiers tend to be unsympathtic towards my desire to go at my own pace for example, but with open-world games, there’s usually an option to say ‘Actually, big fuck-off Monster Dude, I’ma come back in a bit when I’m not carrying a BB gun. Laters….’, and, to be honest, I quite like that. In fact, I positively fucking love it.
And that, Dear Reader, is what I’m getting at when I say I’m grieving for my Fallout 4 world. Everybody who’s playing their own game started out with the same canvass, the same tools and paints, but each of us will likely have had a profoundly different experience; chosen a different palette, or brush, or whatever. At the risk of stretching an already strained metaphor, you might have taken a decidedly cubist approach to painting your Fallout 4 experience, or perhaps you’ve gone with the surrealist school, whereas mine was more like when they give some paintbrushes to a gorilla and they get overly-excited.
Either way, my point is that – as with art – each painting is a unique, mostly unrepeatable thing – influenced by anything from the conditions of the room, to the mood of the artist – and I’ll be fucked if I can figure out how to do my Fallout painting again. Back when I wrote a piece about Fallout games being the Bestest Games Ever, I even mentioned how I was reluctant to restart the experience for many of these reasons, and now I’m forced back into the same position – but with the added desire to do so because I hadn’t even nearly reached a conclusion to my story. That’s the kind of inner conflict that can drive you fucking crazy – and I’ve already decided not to start Fallout again, start it again immediately, and wait a bit before doing so at least a hundred times respectively.
Which approach I finally settle on is largely unimportant right now, but what is important (and really, really pathetic) is the degree to which I’m still grieving for a virtual world, and how I’m genuinely having trouble accepting that it’s gone. That my memory’s being a mischievous little shit-stick is testament to that, as is my general anger and refusal to fully commit to my Fallout 4 future. I’m not even entirely sure what my end point is here – if I even had one to start with – but, whatevs, it’s my blog, so if I want to use it to whinge and mourn, I will. I think what it does highlight though, is how I’d taken games for granted, and how I’d not fully given them credit for what they can mean to us, even if I was rationally aware of it – and I won’t be making that mistake again (I’ll also be backing everything the fuck up at fairly regular intervals now too, so, you know, live and learn….).
We all like games, and we all like playing them, but sometimes it’s difficult to really appreciate just how much they can mean to us, and how important a part they can play in our lives, and sometimes – to (loosely) paraphrase Joni Mitchell – you don’t know what’s shit-kickingly awesome about a Gaming experience until a thieving little fucker robs you of it. Some games are unique, ephemeral experiences, and it’s important to remember that, and actually appreciate it a bit more, I think. Sure, I’m probably a bit too bothered about this whole thing – so maybe don’t use me as a measuring stick – but I suspect most of us do take games for granted, and I suspect many of us don’t really appreciate just how much they may’ve meant to us at any given time – or how much they may have influenced, encouraged, or even defined us as people since forever.
Perhaps I’m just in the ‘Guilt’ stage of the grieving process, perhaps not, but either way, I’ma try really hard not to make that fucking mistake again. Ever!