Loneliness in Fallout

In the early days of video games the most important thing that a game could do was be fun. Arcades and home consoles were full of games that didn’t have a complex story to them but provided copious amounts of fun for the player. Classics like Pacman, Super Mario or Pong weren’t worried about providing a deep narrative for the player to experience; they simply wanted to provide them with a fun time that they enjoy for as long as they wanted.

This experience changed as video games evolved and the gaming community demanded more from their games. Sure there were still plenty of games that delivered on fun, but there were also games that gave the player epic worlds to explore, gripping stories to experience and a plethora of different ways to enjoy their virtual worlds. Games began to tackle things that weren’t designed to be fun, and now games can make their players feel sad, angry, frustrated or even love. Games like Persona 4, Valkyria Chronicles and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons gave the player didn’t focus on making sure the player maintained a feeling of joyful fun throughout their length, but rather they provided an emotional narrative to experience and take something away from. Sure there were times that the gameplay and narrative of these games gave the player that feeling of joyful, blissful fun, but they didn’t focus on making sure that the player ONLY felt those feelings.

One of the emotions that is rarely been tackled however it the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness is something that sounds like a harsh negative emotion. It conjures up feelings of sadness and depression as you are shut out of the world around you. To be lonely is to be excluded from the experience of the rest of the world, and that is something that our constantly connected world actively fights against through the use of social media. Even in video games there is a push away from being alone through the use of things like online multiplayer, co-op and always online interconnectivity. Despite all this however there is one game that thrives off of providing the player with a feeling of complete isolation in a baron, unforgiving world, Fallout 3.

Fallout 3 is one of very few games that deliver on the unique atmosphere of loneliness without it crushing the player in its ever encompassing mass. When playing any of the Fallout games, especially Fallout 3, a large portion of the game is spent wandering wastelands. Large desert stretches with nothing in them aside from some hostile creatures or empty buildings. Wandering this wasteland is a large part of the game, meaning that a lot of your time is spent alone. For some this is a negative, but for a lot of Fallout fans this is why they want to play those games. There is an almost zen-like feeling to walking around the Wasteland at night, looking around and seeing no one for miles. You are free to do whatever you want in the vast emptiness, something relieving in today’s always connected society. Even if it is in a virtual world, sometimes it’s nice to get away from everyone and just be alone.

Promotional screenshot of the player character surveying the Wasteland

How Fallout Accomplishes This?

Bethesda understood that Fallout is a game, and there are parts of it that will break the immersion of the player. Things like the HUD or the Pip-Boy’s menu screen had the potential to break the games immersion, but the developers were very careful in how these potentially game breaking aspects were introduced to the player in such a way that it wouldn’t take the player out of the experience, allowing them to maintain a sense of immersion. As a result the player wanders the wasteland and is surrounded by the vast emptiness of the world around them, and when the game is forced to put up something that is more “video gamey” like a level up screen it doesn’t directly take the player away from the experience, allowing them to stay immersed in the world around them.

To understand this we need to look at the tutorial. In Fallout 3 players begin the game at the beginning of life, being born into the world and being immediately asked to create their character. As the tutorial continues the player is forced to upgrade their stats, learn how to fight and use the signature V.A.T.S system and learn how to interact with NPCs. Everything is taught to the character within the vault, and as players learn how to interact with the world, they learn that interacting with characters will change the world.

As an example take the tutorial quest Growing Up Fast. This quest is relatively short and very structured, but it does an amazing job at showing the player the game’s basic controls and interactions while also keeping the player in the game’s world. The quest starts at the player’s 10th birthday where people celebrate in one of the Vault’s kitchens. During the party, there are a lot of things and concepts introduced to the player that would normally break the immersion of a game. The Overseer of the vault comes to you and gives you the Pip-Boy 3000 and you are taught how to use it. When you use it, the character puts the Pip-Boy up to their face and the player learns how to properly use it. The Pip-Boy is a menu that tells you what equipment you’re carrying, what your character’s stats are and your character’s physical condition.

It isn’t very realistic for the world to pause around the player as they go through menus that show them what clothes they wear, what items they hold and what their personal status, but because it is shown to the player in a way that makes sense in the game’s world, it is accepted. As a result a thing that would normally break the immersion of the player is explained in the reality of the world which means that it no longer breaks the precious immersion necessary for the player to fully immerse themselves in the world around them.

Growing Up Fast has lots of little sections that show the player how they will play the game. Your character is given a Grognak, the Barbarian comic book, which after reading increases your melee weapons stats. The security officer Jonas teaches you how to use the VAT’s fighting system (a menu in the game that allows the player to select parts of an enemy to aim their weapon at before attacking). All of these things which could potentially pull the player away from the experience are explained immediately, giving context to their existence. This means that when they appear later in the game during moments when the developers wanted immersion, the player isn’t pulled away from the experience and they are allowed to examine the world around them as intended.

Tutorial teaching the player how to use the VATS system on a Radroach.

This is CRITICAL to Fallout 3’s tone of solitude in a vast world. To fully enjoy the loneliness that the wasteland has to offer, the player needs to be able to ignore the things that would pull them away from the experience. Things like game menus, button prompts, glowing HUDs or stats pop-ups are given context in the world around the player, so when they appear the player’s immersion isn’t broken and they can remain within their momentof play. When a player is walking through a vast, almost unending desert wasteland, they can focus on just how lonely their surroundings are rather than focus on other things. The player enters a zen-like state where they are totally surrounded by emptiness, and there is a certain calmness to it all which gives the person playing the game that feeling of loneliness that the developers desired them to feel.

Taking the Negative Out of Loneliness

What makes Fallout 3 so unique is its ability to expunge the negativity from loneliness. The game’s developers have made a world where you can truly be alone. Whether it is exploring an empty vault or wandering through a bombed out building, the player can surround themselves with the ever encompassing sense of being alone. This is key to truly experiencing loneliness, because loneliness is something that needs to surround the player and engulf them to truly be experienced. Fallout 3 provides that feeling of complete isolation, but doesn’t make it something that is forced upon the player.

The player chooses when they want to be alone. If the player wants they can take their supplies, weapons and armor and walk out into the wasteland. They can spend hours wandering the wasteland searching the bombed out ruins of the world and be completely alone, but there are very few instances that the player is forced to stay alone. The loneliness of the wasteland can become fairly engulfing, and while that is the point it can make the player feel the terrible emptiness that loneliness can bring. Any time that that feeling begins to surround the player, they have several in game options on how to step away from the loneliness. If the player still wants to stay in the empty wasteland, but doesn’t want to be alone they can enlist the aid of a companion follower. There are a multitude of followers that will join the player 2 at a time and these characters will give the player a lot of different options for interaction. They will help the player fight, carry items for them and even have their own dialogue options that the player can go through whenever they want. Going through the empty wasteland with a companion fighting alongside the player eliminates the engulfing feeling of loneliness.

Possible Companions for the player: 8 including a dog and a robot

Another option that the player has while wandering the vast emptiness of Fallout 3 is to use the radio built into the Pip-Boy. The radio has multiple different stations that can be listened too anywhere throughout the wasteland. If the player wants to listen to music they can tune into any of the temporary signals scattered throughout the wasteland, or if they need to listen to a voice they can turn to Galaxy News Radio and listen to the character of Three Dog, spouting talk about “fighting the good fight” and often recounting events that the player has gone through.

The radio doesn’t affect the sneak skill of the player while it is playing meaning two important things. First the use of the radio doesn’t limit the player; it allows players to continue playing the game their way. If they want to sneak around while listening to the radio they can, meaning that players who use sneaking tactics will not be forced to choose between playing the game the way they want and breaking the crushing loneliness. Second the radio not affecting the players sneak, from a logical stand point makes no sense. The enemies surrounding the player not being able to hear the radio blaring right behind them as someone sneaks around them isn’t very realistic, and that gaming moment takes the player out of the immersion of the experience without ruining the gameplay. This will help the player step away from the games world, thus breaking the illusion of loneliness.

If the player is completely enveloped by the loneliness of the wasteland, they have the option of warping to a town. In these towns there are NPC’s who are available to talk to, trade with and work for. Here the player can socialize with anyone and everyone, getting interesting dialogue to listen to and little pieces of the world’s lore. Sometimes it’s important to just be around some people to expunge the loneliness, and Fallout 3 provides the player with a large number of distractions in the towns of the game. To ensure that players will not miss out on an opportunity to find one of these towns Bethesda cultivated a scenario where the player would immediately find a town in the wasteland. After emerging from Vault 101, the player is shown the world of Fallout, and directly in front of the vault’s exit is the town of Megaton.

The town of Megaton has a large cast of interesting characters, from a ghoul bartender, to a cowboy sheriff to an old man talking about the glory of the Enclave (one of Fallout 3’s major factions). The player can always travel back to Megaton and talk to the interesting people in the town and do interesting tasks like repair the town’s power sources or attend a mass at the Church of Atom, making the player feel like they’re a part of the town. They can even buy a home in the town, with their own robot butler who tells jokes and takes care of the place. Megaton is one of Fallout 3’s most interesting towns, and by finding it immediately the player always has somewhere to return to when the emptiness of wasteland becomes too much for the player.

Front gates of Megaton

Why is this Important?

Why is it important that Fallout 3 can give the player a feeling of controlled loneliness? Other sources of media like books, television and movies explore human emotions in their work, but why is it important that a video game looks at this? This is important because video games look at something that those types of media can’t look at, and that is the individual’s experience with the emotion.

Using loneliness as an example, authors and directors can carefully sculpt out their experiences with loneliness. They can create a scene where they can fully explain the way they understand loneliness, however this can be lost on their audience. If the audience doesn’t feel the same way about loneliness, or can’t understand what the author is getting at in their work, the exploration of the emotion would have failed.

Video game’s interactivity allows people to figure out how they personally understand loneliness. People who try Fallout 3 learn how they feel about loneliness because they are the ones that experience it. It isn’t a character in a show feeling lonely, it’s the player themselves feeling that crushing emotion, and they can decide for themselves how they like it. Some will embrace the lonely emptiness of the wasteland, some will need small breaks and they will enjoy the loneliness in small bursts, and some will completely hate it and reject it. This all happens to each person who tries the game for themselves, and each player can experience the loneliness themselves and decide what they feel about it.

Video games provide the interactivity that is required for individuals to understand how they can handle different ideas, ideals and emotions that the game’s developers weave into the game’s narrative.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. H4zel

    Fallout as a whole does a very good job of capturing the very feeling of loneliness, and like the article states, it’s vital to the vibe that the game itself gives off. Props to all the writers, developers who managed to capture this emotion perfectly for the setting – a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland with nothing but crippling loneliness to keep you company.

  2. I got the game of the year edition with all the dlc included and it was the best video game purchase I ever made, still playing this in 2015. Can’t wait to see Fallout 4.

  3. Gotta say, I have been playing Fallout 3 differently as of late. Instead of rushing through it planning out everything that I’d do in the playthrough, I kind of just decided the cruise along around the world and really attempt to “smell the roses” so to speak. And now I really am starting to see just how wonderful this game is and why everyone loves it soo much. I dare say this game was made for me now.

  4. Lovely analysis of Fallout 3. Best 20$ i have ever spent.

  5. What a great article. Fallout 3 is an unforgettable experience. Period.

  6. I’m glad you chose Fallout 3 to represent this! I feel like there are plenty of games that play the lonliness angle though, (which is awesome) they just do it from different angles; like through stealth in mgs1234, or through ideals, like in spec ops.

  7. Visenya

    Great article! I just finished my billionth play-through of Fallout 3 in light of the Fallout 4 announcements. The lonely wandering is very therapeutic, and you captured it perfectly.

  8. Fallout has always been one of my favorite games and the theme of loneliness is something so trivial in making it different from most other games. After reading this article I will surely go back to playing the game with a whole new view of it’s characters, themes and plots.

  9. Ryan Errington

    Though a different game, Red Dead Redemption could also give you a sense of loneliness. The vast open spaces of desert, plains and forests meant you were able to wander for extended periods of time, only coming across wild animals which could attack you. This isolation could result in loneliness.

    • Cojo

      I kind of agree and while I was writing this I was trying to look into other games that do this well such as Red Dead or Journey. There’s just something about Fallout’s story of just trying to find that one person you know in your life in the vast emptiness of the world that really drives home the loneliness for me, while Red Dead I felt was more about traversing the emptiness in order to get to the next place.

  10. After over hundreds of hours im still amazed by the graphics, details and story.

  11. I have tried for several years to get into RPGs like this, and for whatever reason I just can’t do it. Games like this, Elder Scrolls, Deus Ex, and all these “go wherever you want, do whatever you wanna do” RPGs are just unbelievable STALE. Who cares about exploration when the combat is clunky and boring, and the characters are stale.

    • Cojo

      That’s completely fine. Some people really like the exploration and for them they can ignore the clunkyness of the combat for that. There are games that they wouldn’t like because despite that games great combat the world/story is to linear for them (things like Fighting games or military shooters).

    • Try stalker series at least up to half game

  12. One of the best experiences, really portrays loneliness elegantly.

  13. More Clear

    Probably the greatest game I own. The only, ONLY, thing that annoyed me even slightly was the fact that once you finish the game and want to start another character, the old one is wiped. A character, ME, that I worked on and played 100+ hrs with, gone in an instant. I understand that the game file is huge but they could have at least given some kind of WARNING as to what was about to happen. I would have been perfectly happy not playing through evil or neutral as long as I got to keep my main man.

  14. Nice dive into memory lane. Thank you.

  15. i love this game though one thing i am having issues with is that sometimes it is hard to find ammo

    • I partly agree. Some of the more exotic ammunition is hard to find. 10mm bullets, however, are as common as plates. But thats one of the things I love about this game. You need to play smart, conserve ammunition. If you see a Radroach, or a Mole rat, hit it with a melee weapon so you can save 2 or 3 shots. Having such sparse ammunition just adds to the survivalism aspect of the game in my opinion.

  16. I just beat this game. Took me 26 hours to beat. Fallout 3 is one of the best gaming experience that I had (at least the top 10). But the only thing that I didn’t like was that the game ended too quickly. Yes I mostly played the main quest but I wish that the main quest was alittle bit longer and I would have loved to see at least 2 or 3 more virtual worlds like they had in Vault 112 and I would have liked to have more of a spectacular ending like controlling that giant robot in the end (imagin getting inside the Robot near the end of the game, and then being able to use turn base shooting mechanics on more then one of many many enemies?. that would have been awesome. Ethier way the game is incredible.

    I know I have an option of still playing the side missions, but after finnishing the game, playing other parts just dont feel the same. GREAT game thou.

  17. Careless Lion

    This was a great article – you hit some great points on why it’s important for Fallout to communicate this emotion of loneliness without being too oppressive. I think that’s part of what makes Fallout great – the player learns to fend for themselves with the loneliness by their side instead of on their back.

  18. Interesting… this makes me want to play fallout. Though I think an interesting concept– whether the gameplay of loneliness is meant to combat the inherent solitude of video games or subliminally emphasize it is something I would have liked to see discussed 🙂

  19. F.Krieger

    I think its the greatest game of the generation I really fell in love it

  20. full of bugs… but, still is an impressive experience

  21. This is definitely in my 10 best games of all time, and probably one of the few that is likely to get a good sequel in the future out of the ones I have in the top 10.

  22. Great article. I feel this way in Skyrim as well, but Fallout has a way more isolated feel.

  23. CLuciantonio

    I feel that sense of loneliness so pivotal to the feel of Fallout is undercut by how powerful your character is. I found it hard to get lost in the atmosphere of the game because I never felt helpless. Any person I would come across either helped me through intimidation, or died. Hard to feel lonely when there wasn’t a threat in the ever expanding wasteland.

  24. Just bought this again… owned it when it came out back when I used a 360, I even played every expansion except Zeta but I was told I didn’t miss much with that one.

  25. I was very late for the fallout 3 bandwagon, ive never played a fallout game before and ive heard this one is legendary. I got it yesterday.

  26. Aguilar

    My top 5 franchises 1)Red Dead Redemption 2)Fallout Series 3)AC Series 4)Skyrim 5)GTA Series

    • Skyrim isn’t a franchise. It’s the 5th game in the Elder Scrolls series.

  27. I remember walking for miles in this game listening to Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” on GNR. It’s a bit like driving a car alone; the game holds your attention enough so that the loneliness isn’t intrusive on your mental well-being. As you say, “Zen-like”.

  28. Matthew Sims

    Great article. I have loved playing Fallout 3 and New Vegas and agree with most of your points and while I would recommend it to most people because of these points, the ending sort of ruined the whole experience for me and left me with a not entirely favourable perspective on the game as a whole. Still, the feeling of walking around a vault is one which I have only experienced in a couple of other games. Another game which I might recommend for isolation is Alan Wake, although it is less open for exploration.

  29. NormanReed

    This is my all time fav game had so many good memories ive beaten and done everything cant wait for fallout 4

  30. This first bit is just something that rubs me the wrong way about some of your articulation. You count aspects of a game like exploration as something that wouldn’t be considered fun, but I think if we’re talking about games we need to use the language of game design to a certain degree. In game design, exploration is considered a form a fun, one of the fourteen to sixteen forms (some exclude two from the list in this paper) forms. You can read about that here.


    I feel this is important to highlight because, the beginning of the paper comes off as a little confusing what you mean when you say fun, since otherwise, fun can mean very different things to different individuals. Regardless, I really liked a lot of the postulation you present in this piece.

    You brought up the radio as a potential aspect of the game that could break immersion, but I’ll be honest, I always just assumed it used headphones or something. In general I think there would have been value in exploring how imagination can help players strengthen immersion (and the fun that can come from a player coming up for a solution for these kind of seemingly not logical aspects of a game) and how the role-play experience is strengthened in the end.

    I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the 50’s aesthetic that the game clings to. Do you think, since the average person playing fallout wasn’t born until twenty years after the fifties (minimum), that this adds to the feeling of unease and isolation that fallout 3 attempts to provide? “It’s bad enough that this is a nuclear waste land, but it’s a form of America I’ve never seen before,” do you think this kind of thinking plays a part in the impact of fallout 3’s immersion, and if so is it good or bad?

    This was a very pedagogically s timulating read, so thank you for sharing it! ☺

    • Cojo

      I would like to preface my response by saying I’m not a game designer. I don’t professionally design games or professionally break down the design of games to see why everything is as it is inside of a game, I simply enjoy doing it while I play.
      This article that you linked me is pretty interesting, but I think the authors and I have different definitions on what fun in a game is. They have broken down different ways to get what I would call enjoyment out of a game rather than fun.
      To illustrate how I see it I’m going to use a made up senario in an MMORPG. Say you have a level 18 character and you want to do a level 25 dungeon. To get those 7 levels the player will have to do sidequest, errands, missions and instances in order to get the experience. This one particular mission is to deliver letters between 2 NPC’s in a town. A player who wants to level up would get a sense of enjoyment from the “Advancement and Completion” section of the Forms of Fun article. You are getting a sense of accomplishment as you see your experience bar rise up and get closer to that next level.
      At the same time, there’s someone out there playing the exact same passing notes mission and they are enthralled in the notes. Each note that’s being passed back and forth tells a story of 2 NPC’s who used to be best friends, but they’re families feud with one another separated them. As each letter is passed they worry that their family is going to figure out they are still trying to be friends and separate them from one another, or worse. These letters tell a story that if the player takes the time to read them will enchant them into enjoying a sense of “Discovery” with a hint of “Thrill of Danger”.
      Both these 2 players did the same thing and got a deep sense of accomplishment and enjoyment out of that quest, but when you step back and view it from a gameplay perspective that quest wasn’t fun. It isn’t fun to walk back and forth talking to 2 rooted NPC’s in a town. In my opinion earlier games wanted to make sure that the player was having fun at all times. That’s why platformers were so popular, those games are designed to be fun simply through movement. It is fun to walk forward in Mario because that is how the game is designed, everything you do in the game is for fun. There won’t really be a time in those style of games where the player is forced to do something for a later reward, they wanted the player to have fun with every little thing, not slog through a part to get a sense of enjoyment from its rewards.
      As for the 50’s aesthetic, to be completely honest I have always wondered why they chose it. I go back and forth on several different ideas, from a film standpoint of Mise-en-scene, to a juxtaposition of past and present for un-nerving the player, to understanding the desire of the old after then new destroyed everything. If you wish to discuss this further I would love to with you, but unfortunately as of typing I don’t have an answer of my own.

      • I think you’re missing my point re the use of fun. If you were to ask any of these players if they were having fun, they would probably say yes. With that in mind, fun is more like the feeling envoked, the the actions done. The more generic fun, as something you do, to me is too nebulous a concept, and isn’t consistent enough across people to really narrow down an exact definition and meaning. Too much time can be spent questioning if some action really is or isn’t fun with it. (The forms of fun are also the accepted way to interpet fun in games studies for what it’s worth).

        My gut instinct is that the 50’s is in a way, the last time the world was -really- scared of nuclear war. So, we transitioned away from the 50’s sensibilites and evnetually the cold war ended. I feel like Bethesda might have postulated that we would eventually hit a necular war if the 50’s sensibilites had of continued unhindered. It’s not just the visual asthetics, but also the cultural ones that get envoked, even in light of all the robots and laser guns after all.

        • Cojo

          I agree with your point on the 50’s being partially chosen for the fear of nuclear warfare. That was a time in history when it seemed like nuclear warfare was possible but also i like to think they choose it for the optimism of technology. Lots of inventions and products became mainstream at the time and looking back with the benefit of hindsight its easy to see some of them weren’t very safe. Transfering that mindset to the future we can see the people of fallouts universe very excited about technology we see as being obviously dangerous.

  31. Fallout 3 is the only game I’ve played that has left me feeling completely isolated even though there is someone in the other room. It truly is a haunting game.

  32. AlexPurcell

    I just bought fallout 3 recently and am very excited to dive into it. I played it here-and-there casually when it came out but have never played through it entirely. When I play video games, I prefer single player adventure and RPG style of gameplay, because I am a person who enjoys solitude and personal time. You really nailed how Fallout 3 takes that experience to another level. Not only does it take you out of the real world around us, but it puts you into a digital world that, unlike many games which brings people together online, isolates you in its fictional setting. It really is a haunting gaming experience,

  33. This was a really interesting view on Fallout 3. I’ve played it for a few years and never really thought about the enthrallment that the isolation had over me.
    I’ve never used the games companions (except Fawkes who I ditched because he is way to powerful). Though I always had Dogmeat with me. It would be interesting to cover an examination of the way the game creates an attachment to this companion, who is the only one incapable of talking to you. Would this further the sense of isolation or limit it. Not to mention the simulated sense of losing a pet if/when he dies.
    Hope this isolation isn’t lost with Fallout 4’s settlement system.

  34. I think one of the most interesting, and surprising, discussions of loneliness I’ve seen in the game is the densely populated Wolfenstein: The New Order. It produces loneliness by emphasizing the player character’s emotional isolation from the rest of the game: he is perceived as a generic First-Person-Shooter murder machine, but often meditates on his discontent with that image, and how much it alienates himself from other people.

    Ironically the game’s primary villain, who is an utter monster, implicitly cites his motivations as growing out of a childhood desire to construct an unwavering companion. It’s one of the most surprisingly well-narrated and characterized games I’ve played in a while, and I’d really recommend it if you’re interested in seeing how loneliness is portrayed from another angle in video games.

  35. Morrison

    One of the best games I’ve ever played. This and BioShock are legends in gaming arguably.

  36. thebrobster

    Interesting article. I lean more towards the overall emotional play experience of a majority of FO3 (in regards to open world gameplay) representative of solitude than loneliness. That’s just my personal take on it.

    My first playthrough (been a while) I remember aimlessly roaming the wastes while listening to old-timey radio crooning and VATS-ing bloatflies with not a care in the world. Deliberately avoiding the story mission and taking in the scenery – something you reference in your article as a key factor in illicting the feelings of loneliness.

    I always felt like it was more of solitude that it illicited. A peaceful serenity to having nothing and no one around you to bother you from what you’re engaging with. No big bad Deathclaws coming at you (for now); no Megaton to bomb; no father to scower the wastes for. Just the wasteland (and the character it brings to your screen), and the Vault Dweller. For me, it was the virtual equivalent to campfire nights on the beach or stargazing on a car hood. Peace and quiet through immersion in activity.

    Enjoyed the read. Brought back some well needed nostalgia. Would love your thoughts on solitude vs. loneliness in the context of FO3 gameplay.

    • Cojo

      I believe in the context of Fallout 3’s gameplay it depends entirely on the player’s view of what surrounds them. Solitude is the internal manifestation of the feeling that the wasteland provides for the player. Solitude is looking at yourself and the feeling that is internalized while Loneliness is looking at how you compare to the world around you. Looking at how big the wasteland is and how small you are in it manifests that loneliness in the player.
      Trying to define abstract ideas like emotions is very difficult and there is no right answer, but that is how i see it. Solitude is the satisfaction of being in an empty place and looking inward while Loneliness comes from being in an empty place and looking outward at just how small you are compared to that empty void.

  37. G Anderson Lake

    One of the most spectacular things about games is the unique way they provide escape for their players. Art always serves this purpose, but gaming has allowed us to do it on a whole new level. What Fallout does is wonderful because it shows us that players are willing to escape to a life that, for all intents and purposes, is significantly worse than their own. What Bethesda is hitting on is a core concept about escapism: escaping to a life worse than one’s own is just as satisfying as escaping to one’s that is better. Both are equally gratifying because we get to feel like gods in one world, and realize that our lives are not so bad in another.
    I love fallout and am very excited for 4. Great read!

  38. Most of us, to some degree, have grown up around video games. We tend to think of these games as passive forms of entertainment, an escape of sorts. Video games today have, as the article points out, begun to tackle deeper topics and aim to engage players on more than a simple superficial “fun” level. When video games take this route they bridge between entertainment and art. Art has always meant to evoke an emotional response in the viewer, the piece has a purpose or a goal. It gives us something to ponder about or sheds light on an idea or topic. Video games are beginning to do this in ways that are truly amazing and should begin to considered as a new form of art. The amount of time and effort that goes into these games are amazing. Entire world’s are created, new possibilities and realities are explored. These games are no longer simple time passers, they are becoming ways to engage the world around us- something art has always tried to do. Fallout 3 definitely falls into this category and should be considered not only a great game, but also a work of art. It challenges notions of ‘aloneness’ in an age of hyper-connectivity. It delivers a message, but is not dogmatic about it. It is an elegant piece of work, one that gives a promise of future gaming that is both entertaining, beautiful and intellectually stimulating.

  39. I would like to begin by saying this is a very well written and accurate depiction of the emotions a player might face while trekking the wasteland….alone. Fallout 3 was my introductory game within the franchise. When I first started playing it (and before I really knew what the game was) I was immediately turned off. I was expecting something more like Oblivion where there seemed to be life all around, even though many times it was just you exploring. However, as I began playing Fallout 3 more, I understood what the game was really trying to convey…the sense of loneliness that is mentioned in the article.

    When compared to Bethesda’s Oblivion, very similar games in nature, they are comply different in terms of emotion. In Oblivion there is music that fits the atmosphere, lush green valleys, and intact buildings scattered throughout. However, in Fallout 3 there is dead silence besides your own footsteps, barren wasteland without a plant in sight, and many of the builds, although have inhabitants, are broken and do not represent a permanent settlement. There is absolutely nothing in this game, besides Dog Meat, that shows any type of humanity or companionship (which is very ironic considering Fallout 3 is arguably a much more “plausible” scenario then the fantasy driven Oblivion).

    The loneliness that is depicted in Fallout 3 really does resemble the post-apocolypitc approach to the idea of humanity and what it means to be human. You are taking your character to achieve a very humanistic goal in a world FILLED with cannibalism, murder, torture, theft, slavery etc… It’s pretty easy to feel alone from a moral perspective in an immoral world.

  40. Excellent exploration of a major theme of the game (to be honest, though, it has been some time since I’ve played Fallout 3 as I am still exploring the richness of Skyrim and the major themes of language, literature and linguistics) that is indeed, as Ardishae points out, inherent to a game that has no co-op or multi-player feature, producing that distant feeling of solitude.
    As you point out early in the article, game devices like the V.A.T.S feature, or the Pip-Boy in general, though very ungamelike (in the sense that the urgency of what is only a few feet in front of the character can be put on hold–pausing without pausing) is more or less a realistic quality, I would say. In our current, technologically fascinated world where it might be easy to be listening to the radio and still be able to “sneak” up to someone with the ease of earbuds or freeze the world, in a subjective sense, by raising one’s cell phone screen to take up an entire field of view, the Fallout series (at lease the third installment and New Vegas, as I have played happily and in one case repeatedly) does seem to regard that the game is not too dissimilar from what is realistic to our daily goings-on in the world. More clearly, the loneliness we might create for ourselves in our plugged-in world has not been taken away from the player in our own virtual world–Three Dog’s “Postapocalyptia”–of moral choices and travels. The game is balanced between the fiction of the world’s end and the aftermath, and the realities of checking our own Pip-Boys and listening to music while out and about.
    This is a fascinating article, I must say.

  41. KingSheep

    I sent Dogmeat out to get ammunition and he never came back. It still makes me sad. I can think of no better proof of the immersive power of video games.

  42. I think one of the greatest strengths of Fallout 3’s overall game design (and one of its failings) was that the ultimate experience lied in exploring the wasteland. Not just through doing side missions, but exploring every little nook and dungeon. In other games where you would find invisible walls, Fallout 3 would have a little treat. Maybe it would be the Vault full of Gary clones, or maybe it would be the Republic of Dave. It was just disappointing that the main storyline was pretty cut and dry, hero’s journey sameness. I honestly didn’t expect to find the Dweller’s father down in the vault, and I think it would have served the ‘loneliness’ aspect better had the player never found him.

    • Cojo

      That is true however a large part of the theme of loneliness is an understanding of what its like to not be lonely. Finding and losing your father a few times kept the players desire to progress forward going despite the crushing loneliness of the terrain.
      Thats why the beginning of the game had so many small interactions between you and the members of vault 101. When you leave you are leaving behind the only people you know and even if you return, you get a brief respite from the loneliness of the wasteland before being shut out forever. You cant feel alone if its all youve ever known

  43. I think even more powerful than the feeling of loneliness was the feeling of vunerability. On the harder difficulties, things such as ammunition had to be conserved as you were no longer a harbinger of death and glory, ripping through men faster than indian food. There was a constant feeling of “holy crap, There’s a red marker on my compass, and if it’s anything other than a mutated mole, I may have to sneak away”. That feeling of realism is what added to fallout’s unique experience

  44. I will never forget the feeling of immersion I had experienced while playing fallout 1&2. I have played those games over and over again ( largely because of my crappy computer that could run much else), each time discovering something new or re-living the old experiences. But somehow, even after all these years I do not register Fallout 3, as a proper fallout game. It’s a great game and all, but perhaps I was too used to the isometric, top-down view of the original games, and first person perspective was to alien. So, I am very excited about Fallout 4, but it will never beat the nostalgia I have for the first two games.

  45. I can’t believe I never knew that about the radio when sneaking! I always just assumed the creatures around could hear when it’s on and never bothered to truly test it out. Anyway, this was a great article and it made me appreciate the Fallout games so much more.

  46. great example of how videos games can provide something that other forms of media cannot. Loneliness is I really enjoy in the fallout series as it allows me to immerse myself in the game and not be bothered by all the connectivity with other things like social media and people that are prevalent in other games.

  47. I remember stumbling upon Fallout 3 in an old Hollywood Video store back in 2008 or 2009 and decided to get it based off nothing but the game’s cover art, and I became enthralled with this game in a way I had never before. The immersion to me was second-to-none, and I never felt like I was taken away from the experience by the radio or by the Pip-boy I always felt like I was the Lone Wanderer, and I’m glad to see Fallout 4 attempting to expand on the immersion factor for players. As I’ve grown older, I have started to notice the flaws in Fallout 3’s design, but only after years of playing it. As a bit of an introvert, I found the isolation and loneliness the game invoked upon its players was fascinating, as I could truly be alone in a way I can’t be in the real world. While I do feel your article leaned a little bit on explaining the loneliness in an almost technical way, it was still a fun read. I would’ve delved more into the multiple play options the player has and how the quests and world design really show off the themes the designers had in mind with Fallout 3. I’d also like to see more articles written on the well-designed Fallout verse.

  48. Fallout is personally one of my favorite games. I was playing console at the time (Now only play PC) when my friend was talking to me about how great the game Fallout: New Vegas was and how it was so much better than other RPG’s that we would constantly play. He managed to convince me to pay the $15.00 and truth be told, I was not disappointed.

    The fallout series completely changed the way I would think of games. The post-apocalyptic warfare setting, being able to choose your own dialogue, and free roaming that almost always has a quest connected to it was baffling. I hastily fell in love with the gameplay and recently purchased Fallout 4. Yet again I was shocked with how wonderfully the game popped out to me,

    The series will continuously keep me entertained and I am completely sure that it will be one of my favorites for a long time.

  49. I’ve written a related article on fallout about story telling, and narrative. I think creating a narrative through your character that embraces being alone can be just as satisfying as playing as a character that constantly needs to see and speak to people.

  50. Emily Deibler

    Great article. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas do similar things, though New Vegas, despite having disturbing themes, had more lighthearted moments and seemingly happier endings when comparing the non-DLC versions of these games. The first time I played Fallout 3 and had no idea I could fast travel, being stuck in the DC ruins at night was one of the most frightening video game experiences for me. It excellently invokes feelings of loneliness. The amount of detail and immersion in Fallout 3 was incredible.

  51. I love your article and am a huge fan of the fallout series, Fallout 3 in particular was a favorite of mine. The solitude you can experience in such a large desolate world is something special and I love comparing it to the game-play when I wander with a companion. It’s also wonderful that there are the settlements which are small pockets where you can return to if you really crave interaction. I still remember when I first left the vault and I experienced my first night in the wasteland alone, it set the tone for the entire game for me.

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