When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.
To be perfectly honest, I hit a wall with Fallout New Vegas. There was a point when the world just didn’t matter that much to me. It’s probably my fault and its probably my interest in other games that played the largest part in my dropping the game. There were, however, some pretty profound moments in the game. Perhaps the most memorable is the town of Nipton where you find that a gang called Caesar’s Legion has crucified most of the town’s inhabitants. It was a moment that illustrated human depravity in a profound way, such that I wanted to see if I could possibly save any of these people. At this point, I made an internal decision to put an end to Caesar’s Legion. But alas life proved too busy and other games seemed more interesting.
However, I have to say that I am impressed with FNV’s attention to detail. Caesar’s Legion isn’t the only example of human depravity. There are many more subtle ones. For instance when you happen upon the slums of New Vegas known as Freeside, you witness street crimes of various sorts as you wander through it. Perhaps the most interesting moment in Freeside for me happened on my first venture into the slum. I happened upon a group of three children chasing a huge rat with baseball bats. These children looked ragged and apparently were chasing down their next meal. Being better equipped for the wastes than these children, I shot the rat dead and they launched upon it. Each of the children said, “thanks mister” when I went to talk to them.
This very small interaction is not something that really played a large part in the narrative of the game but it brought the world of Freeside and greater New Vegas to life for me. This is the sort of thing you don’t really get in other mediums. Books and movies lay before us a linear set of experiences. This moment in Freeside shows how games lay before us worlds – with limits no doubt – but worlds in which we have freedom to move and observe and interact. This small interaction in FNV gave the world a very sad flavor. Its a moment that would be easy to ignore and your interaction in it is completely optional. But this moment revealed New Vegas to be a world that had driven children to prey on dirty street rodents for sustenance.
Great stories are often brought to life by attention to detail. Although I eventually ended up taking a long break from New Vegas, I greatly appreciate its attention to detail in instances such as the children of Freeside. I often wonder if games are at their best when they are able to teach us empathy. Fallout: New Vegas did this for me, if even only briefly.