God Is In The Details

A gentleman by the name of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe is not only responsible for the aphorism “God is in the details” but also for “less is more”. It’s rare to find such mutually applicable contradictions outside of the Bible but it has to be said that both maxims can easily apply to a number of video games in recent years, and nowhere is it more appropriate than Fallout 3. Amid the sparsity of the wastelands and destitute homesteads are priceless nuggets of history waiting to be discovered by anyone taking a precious minute to look beyond the facade of abandonment to the timeless layers within.

In burned out office buildings the popping workstations gasp their dying breath as the last days of another unfortunate worker unfold to reveal their downwards spiral from regular human to ghoul, in the form of journal entries or intranet mailings. In the beginning, the personalities of the workers shine through to offer powerful reinforcement of their hopes and aspirations, with each one being corroded from one day to the next until finally their musings overstep the unintelligible into outright gibberish… and we know immediately that the person that once was is no more.

Hacking terminals was rarely a requirement, but it brought so much depth to read personal journals.

Venturing into Vault 92 would have us follow the journals of young Zoe Hammerstein who is introduced to us as a talented violinist, invited to join other specially selected musical prodigies so that their talents could be preserved and their music may be recorded for future generations to enjoy. The journals invite the wanderer into her life to discover her passion for music, her growing attraction for another Vault 92 resident and her excitement at being classed among such talented individuals who appreciate her love for music rather than offer ridicule.

Continue reading, however, and her spelling and grammar deteriorate to the point where she can barely form a single word let alone a coherent sentence… and to where her last entry is a terrified jumble of mis-spelled words that are still a very obvious and desperate plea for help.

In the same Vault we find entries from the Overseer and Malleus which reveal that white noise being filtered through the networked speakers was designed to alter their minds, much like Project MK-Ultra, and turn the residents into super soldiers, eventually resulting in their insanity and, ultimately, death. In the locked recording studio we find the remains of Hilda Egglebrecht and Parker Livingsteen, young lovers who spent their last hours huddled together in the one place where they felt comfortable and happy as their fellow vault dwellers destroyed each other outside the door… again told to us through the journals of Parker himself. For those gamers who simply enter the vault to find the Soil Stradivarius with no interest in the lives of the dead, all of this history is lost and the vault appears to be nothing more than an empty shell with a single hidden treasure. The reality is, however, that the Soil Stradivarius is worthless compared to the other treasures below the surface – the forgotten dreams of our future composers.

When you enter a town called Minefield, keep your eyes open and expect the unexpected

In the volatile remains of a town known as Minefield, barbecues and lawnmowers sit on the dusty expanses that were once lush lawns, outlined by splintered picket fences to remind us that this was once typical American suburbia. At one point in time it would have been a town riddled with electric garage door openers, impromptu cookie deliveries, and Sunday afternoon get togethers in the square for barbecued burgers and steaks while the kids played in the swing park and laughed as the fat kid got stuck on the slide. Now, however, the swing park is strewn with mines and charred remains, and the homes are either empty or overrun with raiders. In one home, however, time has been frozen forever, although it is only apparent if you dare to piece together the scattered clues and step back to allow your imagination to take over. Across from the empty bunk bed, next to the building blocks and a toy car, hinting at the child whose laughter once echoed down the halls. In the next room, two skeletons lie on the bed, the slightly smaller of the two being cradled by the larger, and on their bedside table we see three doses of Med-X and Rad-X suggesting that they knew that their time was up even after taking such preventative steps and died in each other’s arms with their child playing in the next room, blissfully unaware of the psychological and emotional torment being experienced by its parents. To some, this home is nothing more than another building with corpses and a safe that’s ripe for looting as well as a toy car that could be used for additional bottle caps or to fashion a dart gun. To others, it is a scene that will live with them for a long time.

Not all who perished in the searing, deadly heat of the bombs’ blast radius passed in fear, alone and trembling. Some few found one another and took comfort, despite not having a reserved spot in the Vaults. Doomed and waiting only for the end, they found peace spooned against one another.  I can only pray to die so gently.
Byronofsidius, Flickr

Not far from Minefield, a burned-out car sits outside the remains of another home with the obligatory corpses dotted around. In the car is a child while at the rear of the car, next to a suitcase, are the remains of an adult. Looting the adult uncovers a letter of acceptance from Vault-Tec, asking them to make their way to the vault where they will be taken in and allowed to live a life free from radiation, but the letter arrived too late and so the family were killed on their way to a better life. The thought of life being taken away at the point where the family embark on the very journey that will preserve those lives doesn’t bear thinking about, yet it is there in plain sight for anyone who looks beyond the corrugated jungles and “all you can carry” buffets punctuating the seemingly barren vistas.

And so while, on the face of it, the post apocalyptic world of Fallout 3 may seem barren and soulless to the casual observer, leaning heavily towards the “less is more” outlook… to those daring to immerse themselves in the tarnished histories and stolen futures of those lost inhabitants of the Capital Wasteland there are more stories and details than could ever be done justice in countless cut scenes and spoon fed back story. God is, as already stated, in the details… if you look hard enough.

Last five articles by Mark R



  1. Rook says:

    I don’t think there was a computer teminal that I didn’t read. I loved the one in the Nuka-Cola factory that gave you the shipping deliveries for Nuka-Cola and with some Bottles of Quantum included. You may have found these locations throughout your travels, but without the delivery schedule you would never have realised there ws a connection to why three locations have a pleniful supply.

    Still surprises me that you never discovered the shelves of My LIttle Buttercup horses in Mothership Zeta and the quality testing room for them. There was just so much to experience in the wastelands, and only one place to be if you were called Gary.

  2. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Great article… I wish I’d written this myself, as it closely mirrors my own thoughts about seeking out the little stories within the story in games, especially RPGs.

    There are a lot of images from games like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2 that I think will probably be with me for life, so powerful that they’re burned into my frontal lobe, despite not actually being a requirement to notice to progress in the game. I believed completely in the reality of the Capital Wasteland when I played Fallout 3. It was a real world for as long as I was wandering in it. Simply reading again about some of those things throws up a mass of conflicting emotional responses from when I found them in the game myself.

    Anyone calling gaming a vacuous and shallow medium devoid of true artistry is a prat, because there’s more social, cultural, and moral commentary on the human condition hidden just below the surface of some games than in any film or painting. You have to have the will and the desire to search for it, that’s all, and to not be put off by the sometimes disturbing or depressing ideas and philosophies you find there.

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    Fantastic article, as ever, and typically I’m on the verge of tears, just like I am every time you tell me about the haunting discoveries in the wastelands. Bethesda have to be given such an ovation for the depth and detail with which they have imbued their destroyed world. As you say, not every one will find these precious, painstaking nuggets, or even care, but for those who do, the layers and sheer depth appears breathtaking.

    Preacher makes a wonderful point about games such as this challenging the all too pervasive stereotypes about gaming. For those who would levy accusations of shallowness, mindless thuggery, and childish time wasting, they should be sat in front of Fallout 3. Rather sobering.

  4. Lee says:

    good read markuz, i spent so much time reading through things like this in the game, its some real scary sh*t at times. one of the odd things about fallout is it seems to be a bit of a marmite game, I love it and I know most of the core do but every so oftern you’ll come accross somebody who hate’s most recently our very own adam – true story. he said he didnt like it. but i know he loved oblivion (which i hated) maybe its just a one of the other kind of thing, my friend tommy was the same.

  5. Adam Adam says:

    I’ll cover in more detail in the future because I think theres a lot more to be said about it, but for me Fallout was far too authetnicaly dull and desolate for me to get anything from it.

    I would never argue against MarkuZ and anything in the post about the sheer depth of the game and everything that can be found for the player that wants to find them. Bethesda are way out ahead of the rest of the pack producing title after title with that fantastic feature. It’s just that I felt absolutely no connection whatsoever to any of the events or the questlines as I played through.

    I think that it’s an ego thing. I think because you’re never treated like a hero and never made to feel like the champion of the land (earned or bestowed) -and I understand completelty that, that is the feeling Bethesda were probably going for – I just find that it seems all to insignificant to really get involved in.

    Morrowind was somewhat similiar, it was dark and sinister in places and the AI never spoke of any great hero of the land, but still you felt quietly smug whenever you wandered into Town and people greeted you with “Hail Traveller” or “Wanderer”. It carries such an air of intrigue that you can take some smug satisfaction out of it for pretending to believe that these AI would love to buy you a brandy and hear about your adventures.

    In Fallout, because you’re out wandering the Capital Wasteland, you’re made to feel dirty (which again, is probably an intentional thing for obvious reasons) but for me that’s not what I want at all! I don’t want to be ignored! I get enough of that out here! I want pats on the head, cookies, milk and ice cream. I want to revered or hated. I want the recognition for my work!

    And yes, thats me not going into detail on the subject.

    Nice Article though MarkuZ, it sounds so much nicer when you read it from someone elses perspective. I won’t be sold on the matter tho :D

  6. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I’m a loner though, through and through! Fallout 3′s desolate landscapes of vast nothingness were paradise for me, and the fact that I wasn’t being treated as a hero was also fantastic for me. In “real life” I am naturally seen as an alpha male; people gravitate towards me, expect me to take control and show me a lot of admiration… it’s a pain in the arse and I really don’t understand it or want it most of the time. I prefer to spend my time on the sidelines watching everyone else, letting them get on with their business, taking in the tiniest nuances of the people before me, exploring their psyche without ever having to speak to them and then do whatever I feel like doing without worrying about other people… and Fallout 3 lets me do this in a virtual world. I can kill things just because I want to. I can make my way into a den of vicious Death Claws and destroy them just because it made me feel good to do it and not because the quest line relies on it. All the people gifting me with weapons and armour and the occasional pointless bottle of Nuka Cola (did anyone ever drink this!?) just annoyed me because I really only used my one weapon throughout the game, and one outfit, so any thanks were lost on me. What I didn’t like, however, was when my doggie Fawkes would take all the bloody credit for MY kills. Knob. So the things that annoyed you about Fallout 3 were the very things that makes me miss the Capital Wasteland to this day.

    I’d live there in a heartbeat – life was so easy, beneath all the “avoiding radiation” and “animal attacks”. I’d rather live in Megaton than Tenpenny Towers though… it’s closer to the shops :)

  7. Adam Adam says:

    I’m a Beta Male, it’s great! Nothings expected of you ever making success all that bit sweeter :D

    [We constructed a fort at the paintball site and called it Little Megaton, remind me to send you a picture some day]

  8. [...] in the things it didn’t tell you and, instead, left you to piece together on your own – read Mark’s ‘God Is In The Details’ article for more on this topic – such as the tragic spooning skeletons laying on a bed beside packets of Rad-X, while a [...]

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