Best of 2010 – God Is In The Details

First Published: April 13, 2010
Voted By: Lorna, Samuel
Reasons for Vote:
One of my favourite articles on the site for the journey through the wastelands that it offers, showing the real treasures that lie beneath the surface. I very much enjoyed how deep a look it takes at what others would consider to be irrelevant or worthless minutae, but which offer a real depth and powerful melancholy to the game and its setting. Great stuff, very touching, and superbly written. – Lorna

Whilst Schrodinger’s Clicker by Lorna is, in my opinion, the best article on the site, it was a very hard choice all the same between it and God Is In The Details, as that article is my favourite. Even though I never wrote it, and believe me I wish I had, it’s a very personal piece for me. What Mark says in it, and his descriptions of the way he looked at the game world in Fallout 3 as though everything told its own small story, is a very close reflection of my own experience with the game. I had had the same thoughts churning around in me for two years, but had never managed to put them down into words, as the emotions the game conjures up are too ephemeral. Yet still overpowering at times too. So either I would lose the thread of my thoughts, or get lost within them, re-experiencing it as the images flood into my brain. I spent most of my time in Fallout 3 feeling a strong mixture of fascination and ennui, and no other game has ever taken me in quite the same way. It’s a masterpiece; of games as art, and as philosophy. Reading that article was very cathartic, and poignant, and also it was just nice to know I wasn’t alone in looking at the game in such zoomed in perspective. – Samuel


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 in to the terminals was rarely a requirement, but it brought so much depth to the game to read personal journals. It was worth hacking every terminal possible

Venturing into Vault 92 would have us follow the journals of young Zoe Hammerstein who is introduced to us as talented a 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… to the point 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, lie the remains of 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


One Comment

  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    As poignant and touching as it was when I first read it and it cements itself as my top choice more every time that I read it. It is a shame that some people will blast through the game, not really taking the time to step back and actually think about what they are seeing; what they are looting, but that this buffet is here for those who do is fantastic.

    The level of tiny details which make up a series of emotionally charged locations and scenes is a credit to the developers and this article conveys the emotion and searing agony, along with a powerful sense of melancholy that the developers were no doubt hoping that people would pick up on. Superb work, Markuz.

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