Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A Messiah Complex…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 22, 2010

Warning – Fallout 3 spoilers follow. The game is now 18 months old, which by mainstream computer game years is ancient. But a lot of folks haven’t played it but may still intend to do so unspoiled and unsullied. If you are one of them, please read no further.

I finally finished Fallout 3 last week, as my new computer could finally run the game and only crash once every hour or so instead of every three minutes. I took plenty of time, and even took the “explorer” perk so I could check out much of the additional content beyond the main storyline. I played it without any of the expansions, like Broken Steel, which I understand “corrects” the ending of Fallout 3.

But I still wanna rant. If you have played the game, too, you may already know what I want to rant about (though the title of this post probably gives it away).  IMO, it’s not a trivial thing to write a good martyrdom story.  There’s a lot more to the story of Jesus than “oh, and then this guy chose to die to save others, the end.” I didn’t like it in the Matrix movies – where the whole martyrdom thing was at least handled better than in Fallout 3, but the later movies sucked the joy out of the first movie anyway – and it really has to be handled very carefully in a game  where you are playing the would-be sacrificial victim.

Ya really gotta, you know – foreshadow and stuff. The story needs to lead inexorably to this one moment where the hero must do his thing and make his sacrifice. Or hers. It shouldn’t be sprung at random, nor should the player be railroaded arbitrarily into being a sacrificial hero or a live jerk. (Especially when alternative solutions may be apparent to the player).

The point of the heroic death story is to reinforce the whole Spock-ism about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one.  How it works in traditional media, however, is that the story is told from the perspective of someone else, so the audience can see the impact of the sacrifice from the eyes of those that it benefited. At least that’s been the way it has been handled in every movie, book, and show that I am familiar with. But in a game, if you are playing the poor bastard giving his or her all… it’s game over, pal. Maybe you get to see a nice epilogue, but that’s it. You switch discs and are playing another game five minutes later.

Really, to throw the principle of self-sacrifice into a game where the player is the sacrificee, the whole ultimate sacrifice thing is going to be very hard to pull off. The sacrifice of a couple of points of Endurance or Agility is going to be a lot more meaningful, because as a player you actually have to live – or at least play – with the consequences. And you need to see significant benefits coming to NPCs in the game that the player has already established relationships with. Having strangers run around saying, “Yay, we’ve received a 0.1% increase in our prosperity index, thanks to the hero!” isn’t going to cut it, either.

I’m not saying games should eschew stories of self-sacrifice: far from it! But making it not fall flat on its face is a lot tougher than it looks.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Robyrt said,

    Fable 2 attempted to pull off this kind of in-game sacrifice, but again it was at the end of the game. Betraying your fellow man for buckets of gold doesn’t quite have the same sting when you can only spend that gold on pointless side quests.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I have Fable 2, but I haven’t finished it. Those who had mentioned the ending choice and thought it pretty lame and arbitrary.

    Sheesh. I’ve got a choice at the end of FK too. I hope it’s not too awfully lame and arbitrary…!

  • Xenovore said,

    Yeah, although Fallout 3 is one of my favorite games, the ending is less than satisfactory. Actually, “retarded” is closer to what I’d call it. =P

    Ergo, while replaying it I’ve focused on the world, exploring the places I missed on my first playthrough, and mostly ignoring the primary plot line.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    The idea of the ending didn’t bug me. It was… the execution. It was so jarring and unsatisfying compared to the theme and flow of the rest of the game that it just seemed contrived and lame to me.

    So I guess I’m just repeating myself. They coulda gotten away with it, but they would have had to make it a different game in order to do so.

  • sascha/hdrs said,

    In my opinion the main story of FO3 is extremely bland without any depth and the ending is crowning this negative experience. Also, I find most of the side quests are very shallow. I loved some of the side quests in Oblivion but in FO3 Berthesda didn’t deliver quest-wise. What I do love Fallout 3 for is the combat and weapons which are a hell of fun to play with, in particular if you use the Construction Kit to make your own mods, e.g. like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th-htnkRqxI 😉

  • JT said,

    The most poignant and memorable of sacrifices in RPGs and games in general would probably be Aerith in FF7. Yes, it’s a JRPG, but everything leading up to that moment and the heavy character investment into the relationship between you and her made her death and sacrifice all the more stunning when it actually happened.

    Hell, to this day, people have a hard time letting guy with little urban myths of how you can resurrect her in the game, her continued side presence in Kingdom Hearts, and even the CGI movie Advent Children.

    Don’t sacrifice the main character. Sacrifice someone he loves… like Dogmeat.

    Or if you do sacrifice the main character, then do it like Tidus, again from the FF franchise. I don’t really play JRPGs anymore, but for all their linear structure, they usually did tell a very moving story.

  • Frayed Knights: A God Complex said,

    […] Comments JT on A Messiah Complex…sascha/hdrs on A Messiah Complex…Rampant Coyote on A Messiah Complex…Xenovore on A […]

  • Dan Barber said,

    Dragon Age:Origins spoilers follow, if you haven’t finished the game, you might not want to read the rest of this comment.


    I’m not sure if you’ve played DA:O to the conclusion, but if you have I wonder how you’d compare it to FO3. DA:O gives you a choice, you don’t have to be the sacrificial lamb, you can chose someone else to be that role, does that work better in your opinion?

    Also, DA:O doesn’t allow you to continue to explore after finishing the main quest, I’m not sure if that’s the case is FA3 or not, do you feel like that impacts things?

    There wasn’t a lot of foreshadowing in DA:O, in fact the whole sacrifice piece isn’t revealed until almost the end of the game, and it’s actually possible to avoid sacrificing anyone (kinda), but like most choices in that game it carries an interesting price.

    Anyway, just curious if you have any thoughts on how DA:O handled the topic vs FO3.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    You have a choice of sending Sarah in to die in FO3, but I didn’t choose that option. Again, forced – be a dead hero or a live jerk.

    I haven’t played DA:O yet. In fact, I can just about guarantee that I will NOT be playing it until after FK ships, so it may be a while. So I’ll have to defer to others to answer that one.

  • AeroGP said,

    Broken Steel gives you the option of sending one of 3 followers in there instead of you. They don’t die, either, so you’re not seen as a jerk… just “not a hero like that guy!”