I realized while playing Fallout: New Vegas that I was bored. Savvy gamer that I am, I quickly pin-pointed the source of boredom to some of the game’s more monotonous features. Don’t get me wrong, there were aspects of the game that I found great—namely interactions with the competing factions and the cheesy plotlines that remind me of westerns I used to watch with my grandpa (I mean that as a compliment). These elements, however, were not enjoyable enough to make me overlook a particular gameplay feature that was boring me to death. After all games are supposed to be fun. I like to think that I am a decent game critic, so if I wasn’t having fun playing FNV it had to be the game’s fault. However, as I began thinking critically about my complaints, I realized I wasn’t having fun and it was my fault.
The gameplay element that was irritating me was FNV’s inventory system. There was nothing particularly interesting about the inventory system, save for the giving weight to the ammunition you carry around the wasteland (in hardcore mode), but I found it irritating. If you have played Fallout 3 or any number of similar RPGs you know that you have a limited inventory—there is only so much weight you can carry and consequently you have to decide what to pick up and what to leave behind—if you try to carry more weight that you can bear you become over-encumbered and move unbearably slow.
There are houses or rooms in certain towns where you can store your extra possessions so as not to lose them while simultaneously avoiding over-encumberment. Add to this the option of fashioning weapons and supplies out of various scrap parts found throughout the wasteland and I ended up with an inordinate amount of traveling between quests and my storage house. All of this inventory management and unnecessary traveling was annoying. Why didn’t Obsidian learn from the Mass Effect franchise and streamline the inventory system so I could just step out and enjoy exploring the wastes?
You may think I am weird for blaming this on Obsidian but my guess is that you probably sympathize with my frustration because we gamers are trained to champion fun and blame the developers when we are bored. Additionally RPGs have trained us to be thorough scavengers and encouraged us to crave more and more digital possessions. However, as I was slamming FNV in my imaginary game review, I realized that I was turning life in the wastes into monotonous inventory management. I didn’t have to keep harvesting scrap metal or wasteland settler outfits to sell for 3 caps. I could actually pass up on things! When I made this discovery, I immediately loaded the game back up and started tackling quests refusing to pick up anything that wasn’t necessary and avoiding the temptation to travel back to my storage room in the middle of quests. When I met a couple companions who nearly tripled the amount stuff I could pick up, I relapsed back into my old ways and started hoarding every virtual possession I could find. Realizing this, I drank some coffee, woke up and redoubled my attempts to streamline my FNV experience.
The result of my amended game strategy and my refusal to blame Obsidian was that I began to appreciate FNV’s design and learned a valuable lesson about myself. I was exhibiting one of the most annoying traits of survivors of nuclear apocalypse, I discovered I am a hoarder. I don’t think I am in danger of having an A&E film crew come to my house but I am not a good manager of my possessions. I have two file cabinets in my home office full of notes on various lessons I taught or classes I took that I will probably never read again. I have a massive stack of papers waiting to be filed in those same cabinets full of unnecessary papers. I have two boxes full of old CDs that I will never listen to again. I have a road bike and a mountain bike in my garage that haven’t been used in years. When my wife threatens to throw away various food items I usually offer to immediately eat said food item whether I am hungry or not. I have strategy guides for video games whose consoles I don’t even own any more let alone the games, and I don’t even like strategy guides anymore. There is no logical reason my night stand should be full of them!
It turns out FNV served to do more than entertain me—it was a catalyst to reveal my own shortcomings. I suspect many American gamers could learn something similar from any number of loot games. We are a country full of possessions and our relationship to our possessions is often telling. Games are a unique medium because of the ways they allow us to interact with their world and their story. The easy thing to do when we are not enjoying a game is to blame its developers but this is not fair to the game or ourselves. Before we criticize a game’s makers let’s take responsibility for the way we’ve been playing. It could be that our frustration is born out of our own flaws. I love games, mostly because they take me to new worlds, but I want to grow to appreciate how game worlds can illuminate my own. You will have to excuse me now, I need to get to work on organizing my office.
This article was adapted from an article that was originally written for CaPC.