If I am honest with myself, I’ll admit that in the back of my mind, I have always sort of bought into the ‘girls don’t play video games’ meme. Even though I’ve run into several exceptions to this rule throughout my life, I always sort of assume that the girls I know don’t really share my enjoyment of games.
The Girlfriend plays games sometimes. Co-op shooters always win big in our house… I had a ton of fun playing Gears of War co-op with her. That game is average quality playing solo, but she and I had endless fun teaming up in order to blast the Locust and roleplay the obvious homoerotic tension between the main characters. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed quite so hard playing a video game. We also played other, similar two-player games like Halo: Reach, and I like to include her whenever I can with these co-op games. It’s infinitely more fun to play them with a partner.
But I have had no luck trying to convince her to pick up some of my favorite single-player games. She tends to lose interest in them pretty quickly – even games that I am certain she will enjoy, like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
So I was sort of surprised when she asked me if I owned the game Fallout 3, and if I would let her play it. I don’t know what caused her sudden interest. I did own the game, and I’ve put like 60+ hours into it, but I hadn’t played F3 in years. Maybe she saw me playing New Vegas, or maybe she watched her brother playing it at some point.
When she first put the disc in, however, I made up my mind to do my absolute best to just let her get on with it. I’d watch, I’d answer questions, and I’d help her out if she deliberately asked me to, but I would do everything I could not to interfere with her experience.
Everything went better than expected. I usually don’t enjoy watching someone else play games, but this has been one hilarious ride.
Right away, she makes a female character named Phil and proceeds to cut a bloody swath of destruction through Vault 101 as she shoots, punches, and baseball-bats her way to victory. No compromise or speech checks for her – oh, no. She kills the overseer on her way out, enacts gory retribution on half the security staff, and sets off across the wasteland. Before long, all would hear the name of Phil and tremble.
She’s not really a gamer, so she wasn’t familiar with certain conventions in games like these. Also, when something extremely unexpected or frightening happens on screen, her reaction is often akin to ‘run in circles, scream, and shout.’ The combination of these two things has resulted in extreme hilarity on a number of occasions. The first time she fell into deep water was absolutely priceless.
In real life, if you don’t know how to swim and you’re plunged into deep water, you panic. Your body operates on instinct – your legs stop moving, your arms thrash about, and you do anything to keep your head above water. Even experienced swimmers will resort to this position if they get exhausted in the water. This is what tells a lifeguard that the swimmer is in distress and in danger of drowning.
When Phil first fell into the Potomac, her reaction was kind of like that. Becki didn’t know what would happen. She was still mastering the controls, and when she leaped into the river, she sank several feet below the surface right away. An O2 meter appeared on the screen and began to tick downward at an alarming rate. It didn’t take a genius to realize that once those bars ran out, Phil would soon perish unless she suddenly mutated gills. Of course, the solution is to swim to the water’s surface. Becki did not know how to do this – there was no tutorial for swimming, after all. She completely freaked out. She turned to me for help, asking questions in a shrill, panicked voice. Of course, I was useless to her then, dying from laughter as I was. “Babe? BABE!?” she screamed, mashing buttons and trying to learn how to swim. She swung the baseball bat uselessly, as if trying to beat the O2 bar into submission as she had so many raiders, mole rats, and bloatflies. But no, this was not an enemy that could be vanquished so easily. Bullets were useless underwater. The bat, she did nothing! Fortunately, my girl’s quick thinking and cool head under pressure led her to the solution: look up toward the surface, walk in that direction, and punch your dick boyfriend in the arm for laughing so hard.
Phil also turned out to be a bit of a hoarder. Becki started to pick up and carry absolutely everything she could find. Who knows? One day, Phil might need that assortment of bent tin cans, lawn gnomes, and empty Nuka-Cola bottles! That fission battery might weigh 25 pounds and be worth a measly 50 caps, but come on. It’ll come in handy at some point. Fortunately, Becki learned about the Rock-It-Launcher (a weapon that fires junk at high velocities), and it became her gun of choice for the low levels. Mostly because she always had a crapton of ammo for it. Early in the game, we had a number of conversations that went something like this:
Her: “I’m overencumbered again?”
Me: “Check out your inventory, let’s see what you’ve got. Okay, guns, bullets, a few articles of clothing, and… mutilated organs? Where did you even get these?”
Her: “SHUT UP, I MIGHT NEED THEM LATER.”
I have mostly kept faithful to my pledge not to interfere with her experience, but I must admit that I had a great time messing with her in a number of spots. For instance, at one point, she was exploring a random Vault. There was some sort of unnatural compound in the air that made her character experience strange hallucinations. When these occurred, I pretended not to see them. Because, you know… I’m an asshole. This somehow made the experience absolutely harrowing for poor Phil. Every time one of the insane survivors struck her from the darkness, she would squeal with terror and panic for several seconds while the emaciated vault-dweller tried in vain to pierce her hardened Mk. II powered armor with his nailboard, fumbling with the controls until she could gather her wits and cut him down with a hail of minigun bullets.
I regret nothing. It was absolutely hilarious. Though I should note that similar efforts have been less successful since – Becki has learned that when it comes to advice in this game, I am not to be trusted. When I say things like “Did that Ghoul just hit you? You’re infected!” or “Can’t reach that ledge? Try a rocket jump!”, it doesn’t get the same rise out of her that it used to.
Unfortunately, Phil’s myriad life stresses led her to experiment with drugs and alcohol. I suppose my scare tactics must have played some part in this, an admission which gives me no pleasure. She suffers from an addiction to beer (no other alcohol – just beer) and buffout. The desire to be able to carry just a few more pounds of stuff led her down dark roads, and at this point, there’s very little she won’t do for just another sip of sweet, delicious beer to chase down that Buffout tablet. What would Phil’s father say about his daughter’s chemical stress relief if he were still alive? It’s only a matter of time before she discovers Jet and Med-X. Poor, misguided Phil…
Phil gets called a lot of things. Many people refer to her as the Last, Best Hope for the Wasteland, but what would they say if they knew the truth? What would they say if they’d heard Phil mutter atrocious things like ‘I wonder if it’s possible to make humanity extinct in this game?’ What would they say?
They should be worried. Their savior has become… somewhat unhinged. And she has a Heavy Incinerator.
She’s still barely scratched the surface of the gameworld, and she still has all the DLC left to play, not to mention New Vegas. Good times. Plus, this has proven to be an excellent diversion as I work to finish this draft of my second novel. It makes me smile to watch her enjoy the same experiences I had all that time ago, though I am starting to become a little afraid of her. I won’t get really worried until she finds a Gatling Laser in Real Life, though.