Over my many years of gaming, I have had a large number of memorable moments. Some of these come from scripted sequences that hold so much power that they are burned into my memory, some come from the crazy things that tend to happen to me in games, and most of them are made in the presence of others to encourage the craziness. These memories are some of the reasons for my love of video games. So every week, I will be sharing one of these memories.
Fallout 3 is one of my favorite games of all times. It captured my imagination with its post-apocalyptic world. I spend hours just exploring the world and completely ignoring the storyline, which was also gripping. Exploring the vaults was both horrifying and captivating. It taught me the psychological differences between a first-person and a third-person game. Most importantly, it introduced me to a level of freedom in games that I had not known.
It is this freedom that is the very basis of one of my favorite gaming memories of all time. For those of you unfortunate to have not played Fallout 3, you start playing your character from birth. The game takes you through your youth in a fairly rapid fashion, introducing you to the story as well as the controls and mechanics of the game. Basically, your character grew up in a vault underground (kept away from the radiation of the post-apocalyptic world), never leaving its safe confines. Your character is constantly told that no one gets into the vault and no one leaves it. This is never really questioned much … until your dad leaves the vault. What follows is your character’s quest to find their dad. The first step is leaving the vault.
After some struggles, you come to the vault door. The gravity of leaving the vault is imposed on you by the awe of your companion, the way to door shrieks and drags open, and the long cave entrance to the vault door that awaits behind it. You quickly make your way to the rickety wood door that hides the vault entrance from discovery and make your way outside. What awaits beyond that run-down door is powerful.
At first you see nothing. Your eyes that have never seen natural light take a few seconds to adjust to the bright light of the sun. Features come into focus–a ruined tree here, a sign there. But most of what you see is an open expanse. Off in the distance is the familiar shape of the Washington monument. City ruins shape the horizon. A vast world awaits you, full of secrets and dangers.
This was a staggering moment for me. Being given a single goal with no sure direction, I sat motionless for a few seconds. The I took my first step.
Given no marker to follow nor any real indication of the right direction, you are left to wander. As I played, each step filled me more with the realization that I could do anything I wanted to. Of course, I also felt the sense of unease that comes from being ill-prepared to face the dangers of a world I hadn’t a clue about. But my feet would wander throughout the world, from my humble beginnings in Megaton, to the mighty Republic of Dave, to the haunting halls of the various failed vaults in the DC area.
This is one of my favorite, if not my outright favorite, gaming moment. The feeling of freedom as you exit the vault has never been matched in such a grand manner. While many games (a good portion of them being Bethsesda games) feature a level of freedom on par or even deeper than Fallout 3, they have never been able to match this feeling. Exiting the sewers after a prison escape in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, didn’t really hold any significance. Running from Helgen in Skyrim was exhilarating, but still felt uneventful in terms of liberating the player from linearity. Fallout 3 managed to pack so much feeling into this single moment, it is a moment that will likely never leave my favorite moments.