Beyond The Pixels: Fallout 4

fallout-4-mushroom-clouds-header-700x389What the heck is Fallout?

So, while I  have seemingly found NO time to actually READ more than two books in the past few weeks, what I have found more than enough time for apparently has been playing (and beating) Fallout 4.  If you’re unfamiliar, Fallout 4 is the latest installment of the Fallout Series, a post-apocalyptic RPG set in the United States. I could write out the history for you, but why re-invent the wheel when there is a perfectly good wiki to do it for me?

In this particular game, you will play as a spouse who entered a vault on October 23, 2077, the day America and other countries entered nuclear war.  While you, your spouse, and infant entered what you thought was the vault’s decontamination pods, you were all cryogenically frozen against your will.   And if that wasn’t enough, you wake up to see three mysterious people open your spouse’s pod and forcefully kidnap your baby. When you finally are freed from your pod, 210 years later, your mission is to find your baby in a Boston that is vastly different from the one you knew.

Is there a benefit to Teens playing it?

So, first off, I’ll just be honest, Fallout 4 comes with its share of violence.  The entire premise is rooted in nuclear war, and as the player, you’ll have to protect yourself from factions to survive.  However, even in the midst of those themes, there are some pretty interesting moral choices and scenarios that I found can really get teens thinking while also encouraging them to see themselves as the type of person they believe they are or would choose to be.

To survive in post-apocalyptic Boston, you will have to form alliances with one of four factions.  As the game progresses, you will have to narrow down just which ones you will betray, and which one you will stay loyal to:

The Minutemen – A nod to the historical minutemen, whose mission in this game is to protect citizens and help them claim and protect their own land.  Ready at a minute’s notice,the Minutemen are always there to help those in need, and encourage you as a player to do the same.  Many of the people that the Minutemen help aren’t always able to give anything in return, and I think this is a good way for teens to think about how they feel about doing things just for the good in it.

The Brotherhood of Steel – A remnant of US military and scientific communities , the Brotherhood’s mission is to find and collect all prewar  historical and technical documents.  The Brotherhood believes that it was technology that led to war in the first place and that by blocking access to information, they can then “protect” the citizens of the Wasteland.  Freedom of Information Act, anyone?  While teens don’t always get the whole FOIA debate, they understand wholeheartedly about being blocked from information and through playing the game, get to decide how they feel about deciding what other Wastelanders “deserve” access to.  The Brotherhood is also strongly against any beings they deem to be abominations and are generally uncaring towards the “regular” people of the Wasteland. This too is an opportunity for young adults to think more carefully about how they feel about prejudice, compassion, and privilege.

The Institute – Hidden away under the remains of the Commonwealth Institute of Technology, the Institute is a technologically advanced faction that has spent the 200 years following the war developing fresh agriculture, innovation, and high-functioning synthetic humans called Synths.  The Institute hasn’t, however, decided to share any of that knowledge with the people of the Wasteland.  While playing, teens can decide how they feel about siding with a group that has the power to change the world, but refuses to do so.  Deciding when and why to take a stand is an important lesson for all ages, and teens can also think about who should be in control of rebuilding a society.

The Railroad – Similar to the “Underground Railroad”, The Railroad is a group of individuals dedicated to supporting escaped Synths and freeing them from the oppressive Institute.  The Railroad believes that using Synths for free labor is wrong, as they demonstrate feeling and free thought like humans.  As a player, teens can decide how they feel about enslaving others for their own benefit and can look closely at whether they wish to be part of the fight for Synth freedom.

Ridiculous and fictional factions? Yes.  But the moral dilemmas and choices are real.  I know for me, while playing I had a hard time carrying out some missions because emotionally, I felt guilty in real life, or I found myself making connections to real-world issues and debates.  There are good people in each faction, regardless of its overall stance, and it really helps players to see that some things aren’t black and white, making it that much harder to choose who to betray.

Aside from the moral questions, Fallout is also one of the many games that examines (and tampers with) U.S History. Examining the differences between real historical events and the game’s fictional history are great conversation starters on social studies and even foreign affairs.  On a basic level, players can learn to manage their own settlements, choosing what to sell, what to farm, and how to protect the inhabitants.  While exploring, find letters, notes, and emails that tell stories of love, loss, betrayal, and family in prewar Boston.


Daisy_(Fallout_4)Well, at least a few characters do.  In one pretty awesome side quest, your character is asked to make a seriously important trip for a ghoul named Daisy. For over 200 years, she’s been holding on to her last library books, and would greatly appreciate it if you’d clear out the Super Mutants currently inhabiting the Boston Public Library and return them for her.  Successfully finishing the mission earns you a ton of money, some pretty awesome XP, and while exploring the library, you also uncover the backstory of the brave librarians who fought out the end of the apocalypse by protecting the information found in the BPL.  It’s enough to make a librarian cry.

This Sounds Great, But My Library Can’t Play or Rent M-Rated Games. What Now?

Fallout is a fun game to “game-talk”, because it appeals to different types of people and gamers.  Those who are driven by compelling story and love books that contain epic battles and twists will love it, while it also appeals to my quiet ponderers, who just want to examine all the intricate stories to be found about the people of Boston.

Even if you aren’t able to actually play the games in your library, or circulate them, consider hosting a round-table chat about the game itself, or an ongoing series of discussions about its themes.  Game enthusiasts love to geek out with other game lovers, and having a chance to talk about their favorite game could be a great way to support gamers.  Prepare a booklist of post-apocalyptic YA for attendees to take away from the discussion.

So in summary:

  • Parallels between actual US History and Story timeline
  • Moral Dilemmas
    • The ability to see yourself differently, or as you believe you are through decisions and actions.
    • Found myself apologizing to the fictional factions I would eventually have to betray
  • Real-world-ish geography.
  • Decisions with real-world ripples:
    • Who should control information?
    • Who should be in charge of the rebuilding of a society?
    • Who is allowed to control our fates?
    • Thoughts on race, finance, profit and loss
    • Letters and storylines found in places.

I hope you try it out, or at least allow teens who love it, to tell you all about it!


Other Cool Resources:

What Fallout 4 Taught My Daughter About Marriage

6 Video Games You Can Teach With Tomorrow

The Presence of The Past In Fallout3





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