Curiosity Killed the NPC

Will Hindmarch | 2 Feb 2010 07:53
Anti/Hero - RSS 2.0

I knew the man centered in my crosshairs well. He was a sharply-dressed, insidious huckster who had earlier propositioned me to act against the sheriff of this one-horse shit-hole called Megaton. But instead of turning against the lawman, I warned him. I followed the sheriff back into that ramshackle gin joint, high on the shack-lined crater of the walled shantytown, and watched closely as he moved in to arrest the huckster.


By this point in Fallout 3, I was already unsure about my character. Earlier in the game, he was stained by my own impatience: In a situation that was more nuanced than I understood, I mistook some of my fellow vault-dwellers for Bad Guys and gunned them down, appalling the childhood friend I thought I was rescuing. I was desperate for some action and curious to see how the gunplay fit within the gameplay. As a result, my character had become a brutal young monster. What was for me a misunderstanding of the game's moral dynamic was, for my character, a bloody crime. This is why my characters usually end up being impossible for me to like: My curiosity leads them into actions I can't condone.

But I kept on playing without loading a prior save, sucking up the consequences of that outburst and pressing on for the sake of fairness - or what I thought was fairness, anyway. Things would be different in the outside world, I thought. When I got out into the real game, where I could shoot up mutants and robots, where I could put my character's interpersonal skills to use, I'd play him as someone more heroic, someone with a dark past trying to make amends. In my head, this character of mine became a nuanced anti-hero, struggling to do right in a nasty, unjust wasteland.

It didn't last. Back in the Megaton saloon, I watched intently as the sleazebag turned himself in. "Lead the way," he said. But something was amiss. He was too slimy, too quick to surrender and too plainly murderous. The next instant, the scene exploded into a fatal gun battle. I slew that finely dressed sociopath with point-blank pistol blasts to the head ... but not before he gunned down the sheriff and shot off nearly every one of my hit points. Now my character, wearing the very clothes and armor I'd looted from that first rash shooting, was once again splattered with blood.

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