In Fallout 3, we play the role of a character raised in an underground nuclear survival shelter called a "Vault." The overarching storyline involves following our father out of Vault 101 into the Capital Wasteland that surrounds the ruins of Washington, D.C., to discover why he left. Our character finds a society clinging to existence in shantytowns, fighting against mutated monsters and scavenging for supplies. It's a society that our character can choose to save, menace, or ignore.
Our character is equipped with a device called a Pip-Boy through which we manage our inventory items, read maps of the area and, among other things, listen to the radio. There's a station named "Galaxy News Radio" run by a D.J. named Three Dog in the middle of the ruined capital. As our character travels the Wasteland, Three Dog breaks into the 1950's-era music programming to tell the audience about the good (or evil) deeds of our character, who he refers to as "Vault 101."
My character in Fallout 3 is named Aeryn, but after listening to Three Dog prattle on with these news reports for a while I began referring to my character as Vault Girl, and the appellation stuck. Vault Girl started to come alive for me shortly thereafter, in the same way a character might come alive for an author of fiction. Maybe it was because I'd found her true name, but soon I was wondering "What would Vault Girl do?" when faced with decisions.
When I was a screenwriting student in college, I was taught that if we knew our characters well enough, they would speak to us. When we wrote the stories for our screenplays, we would know how our characters would handle the challenges we threw at them. We would create characters that felt real by knowing them intimately. Vault Girl taught me what my screenwriting professors had tried and failed to. The longer I played Fallout 3 the better I knew what Vault Girl would do, and those decisions reinforced who Vault Girl was.
She gave water to the needy, fresh water being one of the rarest and most precious of substances in the Capital Wasteland. She tried to help a town deal with a pack of raiders who were killing the town's cattle. She discovered that the raiders thought they were vampires, and were killing the cattle for the blood, which they believed to be their only sustenance. Vault Girl chose to offer them a deal wherein she would give the raiders blood packs in exchange for them leaving the town alone.
When Vault Girl discovered a community of survivors who had escaped from the clutches of the giant, green, man-eating Super Mutants who wandered the Wastes, whether or not she would help them fend off the next attack of their former captors wasn't even a choice. I knew by that point that Vault Girl considered life sacred. When Vault Girl discovered the center of the Capital Wasteland's human trafficking trade set up in an old strip mall, of course she refused the offer to sign up with them for profit. I knew Vault Girl also had no choice but to free the slaves they held in captivity, even if it meant killing every slaver to the last man. To make sure the deaths had been worth it, Vault Girl escorted some of the freed slaves all the way home.
I got into the habit of saving Vault Girl's game only when she was sitting in the living room of her house in the city of Megaton, to always make sure she was safe, because like the best characters in fiction Vault Girl lived on even when I wasn't "reading her story." She came to life because Fallout 3 was a world that changed based on her actions. Playing a role means drawing on aspects of who we are, and as a kid raised Catholic I was taught to sacrifice on the behalf of others. I stopped practicing that faith when I was sixteen but I still believe in helping people when I can. The little differences I make in the real world are important, but they're still little differences. Vault Girl made huge differences. She is the embodiment of all that is best in me, and what I aspire to be.