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Fallout 3 And The Sixth Sense Of Time

Reveling in one thing that games can do better than any other medium.

When exploring ruins of urban decay, I occasionally find myself rooted to the spot, eyes wide open, soaking in the evidence of a life long past.  The sixth sense of time is passing through me, turning mundane past into hidden spectacle, and I savor the moment until it passes. 

The dust becomes dirt, the motes lose their glow, and the scene becomes a mute stage of decay.  I stand, breathing quietly until the ghosts have fully departed, and exit without touching a thing.

It's like a drug, this sixth sense: old forests and ancient castles, forgotten hospitals and ruined factories, these pulse with energy you can feel.  Fallout 3 has it bottled up and packaged, a ready fix for those trapped in a life cycle that denies exploration of the unknown, and I've succumbed to its vapors into many an early morning at a dear cost.

Why am I compelled to speak about it, even after I've squeezed it dry?

Too often, great work of craft--for Fallout 3 can not be called a work of Art--goes without critical analysis.  Its purpose is to entertain and make money, both of which it has done well, and as a commercial product, it is touted for its features.  Violence!  Exploration!  A world after the Bomb!

But it was Time that kept me there.  Time is a humble, unappreciated aesthetic: kept on a leash by Music, courted by Film, and hinted at by Books with all the empty promise of a ballroom dance.  But Games... ah, there is a chance to merely Be Somewhere Else, and reflect on the concept of Forever.

In Fallout, you go slowly, in first person.  Your eyes wander over the mess and reconstruct a pattern against your will, resurrecting invisible lives even as you listen for the scratch and scamper of new occupants. 

You hate them instinctively because this Place is not Theirs, vermin desecrating a burned home, and you eradicate them without compunction.  When the echoes of battle fade to nothing, once again you are left alone to think, to observe.  To feel.

Some games forget the value of slow moments.  Fable--among others--treats the player like a tourist.  They craft the equivalent of Disneyland, bursting with florid detail, and push the player through as quickly as possible.  Stop to admire the view, and you're likely to get tired just taking it all in. 

The saturation is incredible in stills, but nauseating in massive doses.  You feel urged to just make it to the next destination and get your money's worth, then check the fun park map for the next spot to hit, sure that there's some themed area you have overlooked.

But down in the lost catacombs of offices stuffed with identical file cabinets and desks, where papers and debris are strewn about next to coffee cups and cigarette packs, I fill the room with presence. 

I am There, listening, feeling, thinking.  I think about the fragility of wood construction, for example, or the fate of office buildings, and the sturdy walls of my modest home suddenly seem thin. 

I explore the catacombs of devastated monuments that I saw at a young age, marvel at the strength of stone, and daydream about constructing an indestructible palace for my family.  It would be full of heat, and light, and file cabinets of our history, forgotten scraps that stitch together and weave the mandala of our lives.

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