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I Love This Game. So Why Won't I Finish It?

Have you ever played a game you really admired, but for some reason found yourself not playing it? This post takes a look at the dreary atmosphere and design of Fallout 3 and asks if a game can be too good at what it sets out to accomplish.

I remember watching Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when I was around seven years old. I would go back to that captivating film as I got older, and things would always make a little more sense with each viewing.

But one aspect of the movie stayed constant within me: Earth was a hopeless place, which wasn’t necessarily fun to watch. I would empathize with Max and the children that saved him for having to live in such bleak conditions. Any semblance of advanced civilization was non-existent.

Security, comfort, and the conventions that humans took for granted in everyday life were gone. The innocents of Mad Max had to avoid starvation, worry about the everyday cold leading to death, and maintain mental stability in the face of despair.

There were no grocery stores, no doctors, and no leisure activities to bring your family too. In a fascinating way, it was depressing to witness the results of a self-destructive society, especially when it could become a reality someday.

But I could still enjoy the film; it wasn’t me walking in Mad Max’s battered leather boots. I was simply watching his struggles from the safety of my couch. Plus, the atmosphere was so well done that it was impossible to not admire the vision of the film’s creators.

Why am I talking about Mad Max on a video game site? Because those same morose feelings that the film gave me as a child came rushing back to me as I left Vault 101 in Bethesda’s Fallout 3. Except this time, I wasn’t passively watching Mel Gibson; I was the hero.

But in this case, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be. It was a bit too downtrodden for me, almost eerily realistic. Sure, Doom 3 and Silent Hill are scary, but they’re also completely imaginary. Fallout 3 is more terrifying in a way, because history shows we will eventually be our own downfall.

And here I was, walking in a virtual wasteland where broken memories of a thriving culture remained as a depressing nightmare of what once was. Cannibalistic humans run wild and food is scarce (and the food you do find is irradiated, a really clever but disturbing game mechanic: Do I fill my HP at the expense of my long-term health? No game has ever made me think twice before hitting that potion button).

Anyway, I bring this up because I find myself in a predicament: I admire everything about Fallout 3. I love the incredible environment art (so depressing, yet somehow so beautiful), the deep dialogue choices that have an effect on the world, and the impressive hybrid RPG/FPS combat system. I will play through the entire game, eventually.

Still, I find myself hesitating to pop it in my 360. I want to play it, but on the other hand, I don’t want to experience such a downtrodden atmosphere. Am I the only jerk on earth that has this problem? Have you ever played a game you loved, but were hesitant to continue playing because its atmosphere messed with you on some level?

This article was originally published on

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