By Evan Ortiz
There was one moment in my experience with video games that opened my eyes to a new way of playing those games. As soon as I take your first steps outside Vault 101, my perspective on my life changed. The opening of Fallout 3 has been criticized as being too long and filled with too many tutorials. While I agree with those statements, all of the trouble the opening puts you through is worth it. In the first 30 minutes of gameplay blue and silver walls surround you in a claustrophobic environment. Everything changes when you take the first step outside of your home.
As you move yourself into the unknown landscape, the initial shock of a new source of light temporarily blinds you. The glare fades, and the world becomes clearer. By your side is a rusted sign that reads “Scenic Overlook”, and, naturally, you look over the scenery. Your mouth falls slightly agape as you witness this impossible panoramic: Everything you see is in decrepit ruin, from the abandoned settlement below the cliff you stand atop to the crumbling and collapsing city that rests silently to the far south. The world around you has either collapsed or is in the process of falling apart: You realize that nowhere out there is truly safe.
The Scenic Overlook sets the stage for the entire game. If the player looks around, they see an immense, pale tower on the southeastern horizon surrounded by ruined buildings and broken skyscrapers. To the west, there lies a vast desert pitted with black and dead trees, evidence of an ancient forest. Directly below, a dilapidated town sits as quiet as a graveyard. The cracked pavement of the streets is littered with demolished cars, broken glass, and great amounts of unidentifiable old-world refuse.
We have established that the moment is amazing aesthetically, yet the main question remains unanswered: Why is it important to me? Well, before that moment, before Fallout 3, the only games I played avidly were Halo and Pokemon. Sure, there were some other games littered in there, but open-world and/or story-driven RPGs were never my thing. The opening of Fallout 3 and the subsequent game itself floored me. More importantly, it made me realize something: There are entire worlds as beautiful as this one to explore. After Fallout 3 I went back to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and again found perfection in the world. I found peace, and I understood that I am the kind of person who finds relaxation, comfort and respite in exploring unknown worlds. These games opened the door to the point where I cannot imagine my life without Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, or Dragon Age. They changed me as a gamer.
One last thing I want to mention. The opening scene of Fallout 3 is perfect but its true significance comes into play much later in the game. After exploring the entire wasteland, completing every quest, finishing every job, and befriending other survivors, I got a sudden urge to return to where it all began: the Scenic Overlook. After trudging across the treacherous landscape, climbing mountain after mountain, traversing ruin after ruin, I found myself once again in front of the Vault. The sun was setting, and the looming sky was a burnt orange. As expected, it was truly captivating as the firelight gleamed through the broken buildings and onto the cracked landscape. That day, I learned that video games could be art.