I said in my Portal 2 game critique corner thing last week that New Vegas is my second favourite game of forever. I posted it a few places and some people started getting a little angry at the fact I had an opinion, although most were just confused at my choice. I think there’s something to the game beyond this story, something that just feels right and in many ways if it were that little bit better then it would be the greatest video-game ever made. I have no doubt about that statement, what I do have doubts about though is whether or not this was intentional on Obsidian’s part.
This story obviously contains giant spoilers both for New Vegas‘ narrative and for the character of Boone. If you don’t know who Boone is or you don’t care about him, then you might just be about to. I’m a horrible prose writer so I’ll just keep this within the realms of journalistic writing I usually do. It’s an essay, yes, but it’s in many ways a lot like one found in Up, Down, Left, Right because it has something important to say beyond just its questions, answers and the hell of it all. I want you to think about this, please do, and whether or not you think I was just a mad, mad guy who went ‘too far’.
Now then, let’s begin with a little tale of my New Vegas playthrough. I began playing the game on release day and took all the necessary stats and bits that I wanted to, I nailed all of the Goodsprings quests down and I even ran around a bit to gain some levels. I decided I was ready for the main quest so I got some quick info and so started probably one of the most memorable video-game journeys I’ve ever encountered. It’s rather odd the way the game works in its exploration bits, given Fallout 3 felt like a city but New Vegas feels like a big empty.
I travelled down south, gaining levels and knowledge and relishing in the atmosphere. New Vegas makes you feel damn good just being in the world. Whenever I hopped into a small settlement or town, one being not that far away from Goodsprings, it would take me a few in-game days in order to solve anything. It was a true journey then, given the timing of it all I was actually going to sleep in real life to wake up into this world after weeks of hopping around a road. I went to Primm and settled a few scores, I hopped around the wasteland and did some odd job quests too.
I remember coming into the Ranger outpost and doing those wasteland quests and other bits, before heading into the bar to try and sell off some junk. I came across Cass, lovable Cass, who I knew I could recruit but decided to head on given I wanted to be a “Lone Ranger” for a while. I headed out down the southern road for hours, spotting the odd monster and trapped wasterlander. I rescued damsels in distress and just sank deeper and deeper into this gameworld. I was in love already, more in love than with Fallout 3.
Eventually in my quest I came across this tiny little village called Novac. I wandered around for a bit and felt some chills, like something important was going to happen here. I talked to some of the townsfolk and met a musician, where my player character decided to be all amazing and insert some past-Fallout (before 3) little trivia that made me squee. Walking around I noticed the giant dino shop, it was a general store so I was able to offload some bits and steal Deckard’s gun (from Blade Runner duh). I looked up a staircase after talking with the shopkeeper, a staircase to the dinosaur’s mouth.
I went up and talked to a guy named Manny.
Guy was nice to me.
He talked about a history of the town and laid down some of his job deets. We talked for a while and he mentioned that he takes the day watch while another guy takes the night watch. Some guy called Boone.
I didn’t care one bit.
Manny gave me a little quest too, talked about a nearby abandoned missile facility and some weird goings on. I smelled adventure.
I travelled away from Novac for days trying to solve the quest. There were Nightkin involved so everything got a bit hairy, to the point where I for once sunk some points into Stealth and spent hours tip-toeing around the facility. The quest was long, boring at times but the pay-off was watch brainmad ghouls explode in rockets as they betrayed the only human who ever cared about them. It was spectacular and it was my first real New Vegas quest. Felt good. I travelled back to Novac carrying some spoils, it was day again, I sold them off in the dino shop and walked up the stairs to talk to Manny.
We talked some more, I shared the story of what had gone on and he looked pleased. I think he gave me some little rewards but the best reward was a rise in reputation. This little, insignificant town liked me and it felt all the more than any of Fallout 3‘s “GOOD OR EVIL?” morality metric based choices. Karma is still present in New Vegas, but there’s more of an emphasis on the grey reputation mechanic. It’s wondrous actually, to think that you can’t please everyone. No matter how many good deeds you do, you’re gonna miss some poverty stricken family out somewhere.
I was walking out of Novac when I got this slight itch about things. The questing itch. It felt weird, really weird, this hadn’t happened since my Oblivion days. I wandered back into town, poked a few of the townsfolk and I just wanted more. So much more in fact that I wandered into the Dino shop, figurally tipped my hat at the shop-guy and walked up the stairs. I hadn’t even noticed it was day-time.
This face greeted me.
From the first instance we talked I knew something interesting was going to happen. Not just from the fact he asked me to help him shoot someone in the head, but the fact he looked so disclosed. I prodded him about his history and interesting back-story, I got nothing out of him at this point, choosing to accept this quest. He started talking about how he and his wife settled down here, that they were happy and finally ready to move on from a live of hardship. Boone was in the NCR, a 1st Recon Sniper in fact, who still carried a hunting rifle.
Apparently his wife was sold to some slavers a long while ago and he’s lost pretty much everything worthwhile. Someone in the town must have kidnapped his wife and sold her to the slavers, so he tasks me with finding out just who. He can’t move away from his sniper-spot and he’s afraid of hurting some innocent people if he even starts asking questions.
I accept the quest.
It’s called One For My Baby.
That last word would become incredibly important later on in my story with Boone.
We walked around town, prodded the folk with questions and they all thought it was tragic. The Dino-shop owner guy was acting a little too insensitive to it all so I was ready to pop his head open. Boone said to lead them out at night and talk to them wearing his 1st Recon beret, then he’d cap their heads in from the Dino. Good plan.
I wandered about town some more, looked into the hotel reception and looked an old woman in the eye. We talked about Boone and his reclusive nature, about the tragedy of it all. She had a nice safe, looked like it had some valuables in it. I felt a bit assholey and just by fate I happened upon something special.
We, the representatives of the Consul Officiorum, have this day bargained and purchased from Jeannie May Crawford of the township of Novac the exclusive rights to ownership and sale of the slave Carla Boone for the sum of one thousand bottle caps, and those of her unborn child for the sum of five hundred bottle caps, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged. We warrant the slave and her young to be sound, healthy, and slaves for life. We covenant with the said, Jeannie May Crawford, that we have full power to bargain and sell said slave and her offspring. Payment of an additional five hundred bottle caps will be due pending successful maturation of the fetus, the claim to which shall be guaranteed by possession of this document.
M. Scribonius Libo Drusus et al.Administrators of M. Licinius Crassus, Consul Officiorum ab Famulatus
I read everything in New Vegas. Something leapt out at me while I was reading this evidence.
We, the representatives of the Consul Officiorum, have this day bargained and purchased from Jeannie May Crawford of the township of Novac the exclusive rights to ownership and sale of the slave Carla Boone for the sum of one thousand bottle caps, and those of her unborn child for the sum of five hundred bottle caps, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged. We warrant the slave and her young to be sound, healthy, and slaves for life. We covenant with the said, Jeannie May Crawford, that we have full power to bargain and sell said slave and her offspring. Payment of an additional five hundred bottle caps will be due pending successful maturation of the fetus, the claim to which shall be guaranteed by possession of this document.M. Scribonius Libo Drusus et al.Administrators of M. Licinius Crassus, Consul Officiorum ab Famulatus
I’m no saint, I’ll admit that, but I do care about people. In any context I try to care and to control my rage… but I looked at this “Jeannie” and saw her contempt eyes. That she just let an unborn little one get taken with her mummy into a life of absolute tragic misery. She was so contempt, so… inhuman… or human as it was in this apocalyptic wonderland. To her this was just normal behaviour, it was at this very moment I realised just how far removed I was from the laws of reality. Whatever I defined as “normal” here in my normal life felt alien to these folks.
I asked her to come see something, I fitted Boone’s cap on my head and we walked in front of the dino.
Her head’s a bloody mess now. All in pieces, all across some battered wasteland dirty, all been eaten and chewed by some cockroaches. The moment Boone blew her head off I was so jealous I couldn’t do it myself.
I wandered up to the Dino-shop mouth again, tipping my hat once more, I talked with Boone about some reward and got some little bits. I then asked him about his history, about his unborn child, he said nothing. Not even a name, he didn’t want to say anything. He was a soldier, right? He didn’t need to get showered on by all of this ’emotion’ that us citizens so lovingly accept. Pfftt. We talked some more about where he was headed next, that he had no idea… I suggested he come with me. He refused at first but, seen as there was nothing else going for him, he eventually accepted.
We headed out to the wastes, Hardisty and Boone, partners in crimes. We walked and we walked on that same journey I was still taken, for Boone’s story was a ‘distraction’. We happened upon some slaver camps and Legion bits, I let Boone murder them all. His wife had been sold not to slaver, but to Legion slavers. I didn’t blame him at all for taking pleasure in murdering them all to death. I relished in it too, revenge was sweet. Right? It felt good? It gave him catharsis didn’t it? Sooner I would find out that it didn’t.
We journeyed for weeks, me and Boone, finally having to take the long road into New Vegas and seeing it all open up like the gates to El Dorado. By “open up” I mean that we had to do some quests to get in, some involving some Elvis look-alikes, a robotic dog and a civil war. It felt good, by this time I was climbing levels like there was no tomorrow. It felt damn good, real good. We finally headed into Vegas itself one day. I remember those doors opening and me looking around at this neon fever dream of a place. We were wandering around and talking to folk when I got ushered into the Lucky 38.
Then a bunch of shit went down.
New Vegas’ story isn’t about choosing the right choice or the good choice, it’s about choosing what you want. The NCR have good intentions but are relatively incompetent, Mr House offers peaceful neutrality and a laissez faire approach to the business world. The Legion also have good points given they’re heavily dictatorial but offer sustainability. There’s also another choice, to refuse all of this and go out on your own. All of the factions, including “your own” have something in common, they want the Hoover Dam. It’s the big pile of energy, a nestegg from which you can carve an empire.
There’s a thematic of escalation at play throughout New Vegas‘ main narrative, as you constantly entire new areas and solve quests and do odd things like protecting/killing the ‘technical’ President of the United States of America. There’s a rhythm to it all to, as you get closer the beats get louder. That final battle won’t fight itself and soon enough you’re having to slice up the Mojave wasteland and bring them into corresponding factions or crush them completely. There’s one particular small faction that can eventually possess the ability to drop bombs from the sky. There’s eve…
As I’m growing closer and closer to this final battle and empowering my own faction, I feel so wonderful. I start acquiring companions, even going back and getting Cass. Boone stays with me, never let him go, I even hand him the Brotherhood’s power armour after I deal with them. As we all get closer to the final struggle, I decide one last journey is in order. Me and Boone go across the Mojave solving quests and having a good time defending the hell out of each other. There comes a time however, when I have to… learn something.
One day I decide to talk to Boone, like any other day, and he starts to open up about something. He wants to go somewhere, another quest?
I Forgot To Remember To Forget it’s called.
We go to Bitter Springs, an old spot where Boone used to hang out. By ‘hang out’ I mean hold his sniper and murder people. Not just any people, but something which… hurt him. Boone was ordered to murder the residents. His higher powers thought it would be military resistance in the area, not women and children. The 1st Recon squad had to carry out these orders and Boone was forced to murder innocent civilians all in the name of some silly dispute with the Khans tribe or something. Something. It… changed him. He made him who he is. Bitter, honest, brutal.
I could see the hell of it all in his eyes.
He suggested we spend the night nearby, a ridge where he was stationed. I watch him as he shuffles about his words in the request, tries to not make eye contact. We sleep.
The day comes and he tells me there’s a group of Legion recruits coming towards us.
We pop their heads off.
Except… there’s something else in his eyes. The thought of having to murder women and children, not by your own choice, that would kill anyone. What else was inside that mind, I wondered. There was something else, something I missed.
What happened to his wife?
We travel for a while, I don’t want to talk to him. He looks happy and contempt, even gaining some special armour (which is useless compared to power armour), I don’t want to nudge him though. We go about solving quests and gaining items ready for the Hoover Dam battle. I decide to sell off everything I don’t need and start stocking up, taking inventory and talking with the factions I’ve slowly developed relations with. All the while I see into this eyes, behind those glasses, he’s hiding something in that gravelly voice and I can feel it.
We head to Goodsprings, my point of beginning the game. The sky is out, the sun is beaming and he’s ready to tell me something. Something he has never told anyone.
After Boone’s wife was taken, he tracked her down for a long while. He chased after whispers, hunted rumours and went through torture of thought. His world was taken from him, he wanted her back. He tracked her down to a slaver camp, not a small encampment, but a large one… hundreds of Legion slavers.
I looked at him, I wondered about all that rage at the slavers. Where did it come from… no one man is that… driven to kill others out of ‘mindless revenge’.
His pregnant Carla was being auctioned off in a massive crowd of Legion. There was no way he could rescue her, the moment he wandered into camp they would murder her. I asked him about what he had; distance and a rifle between them. I asked him what he did.
Rather than subject his wife and child to the horrors of Legion slavery, he took her life. In that instance he wasn’t Craig Boone, he wasn’t human. With one shot of euthanasia, he obtained a suicidal drive through life. He forgot to remember… to forget. The world he once had was finally gone, he had no catharsis to find, he was dead to himself. All that rage, all that anger and the hellish look in his eyes was all at that guilt. All guilt out of that stupid, stupid act of that stupid, stupid thing we all call love. Love, devotion and emotion. These are not the badges that soldiers earn.
Boone wasn’t a soldier, he was once, but he died a long time ago. He was a husk of what he once was. He starts relaying all this to me and it’s hard to take in.
It’s at this point I’m taken back to Fallout 3 and how odd a lot of games try and push their stories. Pre-determined stories make me angry, but in this case, I almost feel insulted by all of them. Here I am being all sad over a video-game character I’ve learned to care for, learned who he was and what he wanted in life. What he had lost. Fallout 3 has you spend twenty minutes with the Dad character and then he supposedly serves as the main motivation for the rest of the game. Here I am in some virtual world caring for a character I’ve spend tens of hours with… like a friend.
We wander up to Goodsprings cemetery, and I look amongst the sunset. There’s a new day brewing behind me, behind the Horizon, another day for Boone. Tomorrow’s another day, the words are like acid to his ears. Another day of nightmare and torture, of being a husk. He’s searching for a solace he knows he won’t find, I can see it on his face. I’ve dealt with some of the trauma, but this is something that can’t be cured… I look Boone in the eyes and I swear for one moment there’s a connection like no other. For once, New Vegas leaps straight into the greatest work of interactivity.
The mechanics at play here allow me to do something with the character. Most players will be happy with the pre-determined relationship of the Dad character in Fallout 3, a damn lot of them prefer the story. Most players will see Boone’s second side-quest as a way for making him happy. When Obsidian designed Boone’s face and chin and eyes, I doubt they would’ve placed that… hell inside his mind. I could see it, I could feel it in his language, I could see how tormented he was. If your best friend in the world was torturing himself and there was absolutely no way out what would you do?
I have strong expectations a lot of you will laugh at this, that I over-reacted. That I’m in some ways a psychopath, that I really really didn’t have to do this.
I look at Boone again, I talk to him and say that same “Goodbye.”
I take out my trusty revolver and shoot him in the head.
His body falls to the floor and blood is everywhere.
What have I done?
The right thing.
This tormented creature, this shade of what was once a man has been granted peace. My friend has obtained his catharsis, his real peace and all it took was death. The absolver of pain, the only true way to be happy with this world is to leave your troubles behind. Boone understood that, he tried and I helped and he tried harder. I remember our quests, our journeys, our laughs at the gaming bugs… except he wasn’t laughing. He was there, he was a character and he was shooting bad guys in the head. I remember being on a sliver of health and him jumping out of nowhere and battering a Nightkin to death with his bare hands.
I look at his corpse, this bruised man is free. There’s almost a smile on his face, a note of thank you.
I look at something I find in his corpse, it’s a note called For Carla.
If you’re reading this, then you know. Sorry. Wanted to make it back home to you.
The pension won’t be much but it should help you and the baby get by. Want you to remarry when you meet the right person. Don’t want you to have to be on your own.
Not sure the right way to say how I feel about you. Think you know already, though. Always seemed like you knew what I meant, maybe better than I did. Wish I was there with you now.
There are things I couldn’t tell you. Tried. Whatever you learn over time about my service in the NCR, hope you can forgive me.
Lastly, know you were against it, but if it’s a girl, want her to be named after her mother. Know it’s playing dirty to win the argument this way, but too bad. It’s worth it.
For another time in my life, a video-game has pushed me to tears. I’m at the line, when your eyes just feel fuzzy, except Boone doesn’t need to be cried over. He’s at peace now, if I cried they would be tears of happiness. It’s time to… to move on. This broken soldier couldn’t be mended, but I fixed him somehow. His lost soul is now just many in this wasteland, except now he’s free. To where that may be, I do not know, but now he won’t live a life of pain.
Fallout New Vegas let me euthanize my best friend.
A video-game has let me learn about a character, feel sorry for them and then go beyond just feeling sorry. It let me go beyond doing a simple side-quest or seeing a look of happiness on their faces, it let me take that step beyond. I haven’t heard a story like mine so either I’m completely insane in my action or most gamers feel like they don’t have as much as control as they actually do. Maybe they feel all this ‘cinematic gameplay’ and ‘moral choice’ has led into this sub-concious trend that we’re not players, we’re just actors and all we do is read from a film script.
From a simple little scripted story about a broken soldier, a dialogue choice mechanic and that age-old ‘shoot people’ mechanic I have made myself a story of heartbreak, redemption and peace. For once, a work of interactivity has allowed me to experience what it is like to watch someone with a tortured soul and allow me to place my hand on their shoulder. This is why New Vegas is the second greatest video-game of all time. It does something with interactivity, not just wallow in its typical showing off, in a sense it pulls a Shadow of the Colossus.
I can understand if you don’t feel touched at all, I can understand if you think I over-reacted and I can understand if you feel I went ‘too far’. All I want you to know is that I shot my best friend in the head. I’m studying Of Mice and Men in school at the moment and… well… the powers of interactivity are going to get me a damn good grade. I’m going to remember this and it’s going to shape my view on this euthanasia debate (which is going to happen again sometime) forever.
And that is art in all of its glory.