“I am from Vault 101. This is my story.”
Birth name: Y Istair
Born: December 27th, 2008
Died: January 17th, 2009
Just over a year ago, on my first and only play-through of action role-playing game Fallout 3, I created and assumed the role of Y Istair – a young and naive vault dweller who escapes to the Capital Wasteland in search of his father. As an experiment, I decided to broadcast the experience through Twitter.
“Fallout 3 takes place in a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. in the year 2277, 200 years after a world war over resources ends in nuclear holocaust. The game places the player in the role of an inhabitant of Vault 101, a survival shelter designed to protect a small number of humans from the nuclear fallout. When the player’s character’s father disappears under mysterious circumstances, he or she is forced to escape from the Vault and journey into the ruins of Washington D.C. to track him down.”
WARNING! The rest of this article is full of spoilers.
Any links below will most likely lead to sites that will also contain spoilers.
The Capital Wasteland. Y Istair’s first view of the outside world.
The in-game concept manufactured to explain the use of Twitter, was that Y Istair’s Pip-Boy 3000 had been customised to allow the broadcasting of text and images to whoever could receive it. Initially Y Istair believed the feature to be somewhat broken, but continued to use it anyway as a method of quickly recording and reflecting upon events as they occurred.
The intention was to use Twitter just like how I would normally use Twitter. It wouldn’t contain everything I did but when I thought something significant had occurred I would attempt to tweet it the moment it happened – in-game and in character. The intention was to play through the entirety of Fallout 3 as intensely as possible over the next couple of weeks (actually totalled 4 weeks). It was an attempt to ensure that the events of the Twitter stream occurred in a realistic time frame.
Meeting with the President.
There was always an element of acting and entertaining when tweeting. It wasn’t that tweets were entirely fabricated, rather events and emotions were embellished to reflect the persona of Y Istair. As much as I tried to feel enraged, relieved, tired, surprised – I was still playing a game. Often I would pause to consider how Y Istair would act, but over time this became much easier and quicker; a necessity as tweeting would at times break the flow of the game – and as a result, Y Istair’s actions became more naturally aligned with how I would act if I was in the same situations.
Quests such as Vault 108, Tenpenny Towers and the Dunwich Building provided great material to work with but the trickiest incidents to tweet were during major twists in the game: such as Vault 112 (simulation) and Raven Rock (meeting the president). Not only because broadcasting would have been restricted or impossible in-game, but because I wanted to play the game too – to live the moment, and embrace its sense of urgency. As such, I suppressed the strong desire to “tell the world about what crazy things were happening” and instead opted to recollect such events after they concluded (in an appropriately emotive manner).
Life in the post apocalypse is better when you can share it with strangers. Even if they are only just text on a screen.
From the onset, there wasn’t a clear plan on how I was to proceed – rather, I would adapt my behaviour depending on what was happening in-game and on Twitter. The project started as a writing experiment, so initially it was only a one way broadcast to followers or incidental observers. But over time it became apparent that other Twitter users wanted to communicate with Y Istair. After a week of gaming, I @ replied for the first time and a few days later I started using Twitpic as a method of “photographically” documenting my adventures.
Communicating with other Twitter users was awesome and surprising. Many users would tweet in character as if they were other residents of the Wasteland (from other vault dwellers to ghouls and slavers) and they would offer advice or even threaten revenge. Some replies would also break the fourth wall but I made it a point to always reply while staying in character (usually through selective “listening” and interpretation of their tweets). This social dimension enhanced the overall experience and took a little edge off the lonely and desolate nature of the game.
Credit must go to the designers of Fallout 3 for architecting a single player world/system where this was sensible and desirable. Its strong role playing elements inspired players to carry on role playing well beyond the virtual confines of the game. Though I suspected such social interaction would occur, until it started happening, I didn’t realise just how valuable, entertaining and affecting it would be.
@yistair you bastard! we will wreak our vengeance. you’ll be walking to paradise falls with a collar on before you can say “revenge”. [link]
It’s a wonder that more single player games don’t attempt this as a designed element/feature of the game (it would certainly be better than tweeting when you gain a level or an achievement). This kind of interaction isn’t quite co-op or multiplayer in the traditional sense. But imagine a game where you encounter the residuals effects of other players that had come before you. The scrawling on the walls in Portal or Left 4 Dead, left by other human players in times of desperation and elation. The destructive path left by evil players that you have to clean up and correct. An in-game random encounter with another player, but in a situation where only they knew they would be interacting with a human player. It wouldn’t suit every game but if skilfully executed, such interaction would surely enhance and deepen the experience. The mind boggles with the potential…
Where it all began.
I could keep rattling on… but a huge Thank You to Bethesda and all the Twitterers that I had the pleasure of interacting with. The Fallout 3 Twitter experiment was fun, unexpected, affecting and highly rewarding. Y Istair is no more but I doubt I’ll ever forget the experience.