Lack of Change

Dissecting Fallout’s ever present phrase

“War. War never changes.” Every Fallout game opens with this aphorism. It depicts war as unchanging by saying that it never changes. Since its inception, war’s nature has been static. But war became what it is by change. War erupts as change and it brings change. It is change followed and preceded by change.

Ron Pearlman’s delivery of this aphorism changes from take to take. Feedback from the voice director reflects to change and induces change. The voice actor’s repetition creates change.

What accompanies this aphorism changes from game to game. Different sounds and images that produce change. Hearing this aphorism induces change in us, leading to change in how we interpret the unchanging nature of war.

The aphorism recognizes change, but comes forth as negation. It aims to affirm in each game that mankind is violent. This violence leads to war. It is thus those who wage war are the ones that never change. By saying that mankind never changes, Fallout affirms that it should change, but cannot. It points towards its lack.

This lack tries to idealize time itself by stopping it in hopes to fill itself. But time always comes to a pass by the end of a turn

Fallout games offer a framework to fill this lack mankind has. Character creation is one such thing that each game starts with. It is to create an ideal self by assigning points to abstractions of human traits. But it is marked by its lack as assignable points are limited. Playing the game is to fill this lack by acquiring assignable points.

Turn-based combat plays out according to points spent on actions. These action points stem from points assigned to character traits defined by their lack. A turn consists of calculating expenditure to an ideal within confines of a lack. Time freezes for characters to carry out this idealizing calculation. This lack tries to idealize time itself by stopping it in hopes to fill itself. But time always comes to a pass by the end of a turn. This rejuvenates desire to fill in what it lacks in time within desire defined by its lack in character.

Fallout 3 abolishes turns to offer players the ability to stop time at will at cost of action points. These points refill themselves over time instead of at the end of turns. Lack of action points come into play in the refilling period of over time that exposes players to danger. Desire emerges to stop over time that stems from character’s lacking ability of stopping time. This lack points towards an ideal to fulfill, but cannot, because time refills to take another shot at filling what it lacks. The character’s inherent abilities that lack are faced and eluded as time fluctuates. The self is at once wants to change and cannot change, but in doing so, changes.

This device idealizes the changing and unchanging self

The Pip-Boy in Fallout 3 epitomizes this dynamic. It’s worn like a pocket watch that displays utilitarian body functions and accumulations. Upon opening, it covers the entire screen with a display that allows calculations about self and wealth, during which action points won’t refill and the player character’s surroundings come to a standstill. But time doesn’t stop. The character can patch themselves up, eat, drink, check the map whenever they take a look at the Pip-Boy’s screen. This device idealizes the changing and unchanging self.

In every Fallout game, characters exist in relation to one another. This changing and unchanging self comes into play during conversations since assignable traits define how the player character talks. What it lacks emerges in conversations and in relation to combat skills as assignable points are divided between them. During each conversation, the player character’s surroundings freeze, except for them and the character they engage with. Once they say their piece, the player character can take as long as they want to respond. None of them can walk away from conversations, nor can they change subjects at will, but respond according to options. After the player’s choice, characters and conversation options change while their surroundings remain unchanged. It unfolds like combat during which the self engages with characters through what it lacks to a direction to fill in this lack.

Fallout presents a fallout of civilization because of mankind’s unchanging nature while at the same time gives tools pointing towards change. Life comes to a standstill once the player opens up their Pip-Boy, when they engage in conversations and in planning violence. This gives time to fantasize about change only to return and repeat this cycle. It sits in unchange to induce change and return to unchange as time changes all the while the individual is framed as unchanging who changes. The individual defines how time unfolds and not as they calculate their self-worth in a fancy screen and through characters to face and escape what they lack. It’s the belief in the power of the exceptional individual that escapes from what it lacks only to return to it to fill in this lack that never changes.

By Zsolt David

Zsolt is a writer and critic from Hungary. You can reach him @zoltdav on Twitter.

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