Fallout 76 and the Lack of Creativity

The people who don’t like Fallout 76 dont’ like it for one major reason - they have to create their own story in this world. There are no characters, nobody to tell you a backstory, nobody to follow or escort on a quest where you’ll be shown the revelation of some amazing subplot or backstory.

Instead, you’ll be randomly walking through the woods and come upon a cabin with a few bottles and some gear, a corpse, maybe some scorch marks. What happened here? You and your friends discuss it. Suddenly you are attacked by a nearby creature you didn’t notice - a Yao Guai, some ghouls - and that becomes part of the story as well.

In Fallout 76, the developers gave us all the loose ends and all the starting points you could want - the responders, the Sons of Dane, the Whitespring, the Enclave - and people are upset because they have to do the creative work of putting a story together.

The goal of Vault 76 was to rebuild America, yet everyone coming out of the Vault is poorly equipped to handle that task. They want to participate in an interesting story, not write or create one.

I think that the glitches and broken promises are worth being upset about, but the rage generated by this game for a lot of people is indicative of being asked to do something that you don’t feel is your responsibility. Being given a game where you drive the primary story is not everyone’s idea of a good time. For some it feels like a rip off. To be asked to create seems like an unreasonable demand in a world where all imaginative work is colonized by ready-made entertainment, meant to be judged on its accuracy to a set of “lore” or information about a fictional world curated by people who are interested in curating such things.

Minecraft and the Fallout series couldn’t be more different, which is the genius of Fallout 76. You can build whatever you’d like, anywhere. Of course it would be great to have multiple CAMPs in different places. It seems that might have been an original idea of the developers as there are hints to it in the Atom point rewards. But this sort of game is one where you make the game what it is, the game only provides a stage or set.

The same is true for games like Eve Online and No Man’s Sky. They are both set in the vastness of space, and both have little in the way of a big story or a bunch of quests to complete. But both serve as a palette of different colors players can mess with to create a world of their own. In the case of Eve, with everyone being on the same server, there are a lot of similarities between that universe and our own, dominated by wealthy empires of traders and corporate moneymakers. In No Man’s Sky, you have a static galaxy, or galaxies, with a number of possible stories being told. The openness of No Man’s Sky has been preserved even given the very large backlash that game got from the same gamers - people who want to play as a part of a story they had no hand in designing.

I’d love to see Fallout 76 in the form that it really could have - roaming gangs of raiders looking for trouble, the rebirth of the Responders helping out those in need, creating public services for those trying to make it in the wasteland. Or even the creation of some sort of governing body to determine how resources from workshops should be distributed to the population, or perhaps an antiquer’s league always looking to trade, buy, or sell legendary weapons. There is literally no limit to what a group of creative players could make Fallout 76 into. Unfortunately, most players who hate Fallout 76 want a story they can follow, not a world to build.

No Man’s Sky had a similar path to Fallout 76 and I’m sad to think that it might follow the same path of development. Hello Games conceded a lot to the players over the last few years and although it has made the game better, things such as the Galactic Government and the organizations that sprung from a game that gave players a galaxy to play with have faded a bit. I hope Fallout 76 is able to attract a similar fan base, one willing to write what matters about the game - the lore, the missions, the point of it - based on what they would like to do in the world. Although technical issues are never fun, they are present in all games to some extent. What makes Fallout 76 a unique game is the lack of any hoops to jump through in order to advance the game. For there’s nothing to advance as you walk through the world you’ve bought into.

Not all games are for everyone. But not liking a game is different from trying to eliminate that game. This level of hatred some people have for Fallout 76 reveals how deep a nerve that has been hit here. People feel something unjust has happened because the game does not have a predictable (or really any) plot. You and your friends have to use the environment and the things you find to construct a narrative. This is really not everyone’s idea of a good time, I’ll admit it. But trying to argue that the game is a failure is something else entirely. Is creating a story with friends as a form of entertainment dead? Or is it hypercharged via technology? Perhaps we are just out of practice in the creation of narrative because all of our favorite stories get told to us too many times and too often (Spider-Man is a great example of this). If the accuracy of an original narrative is the rubric by which we judge all creativity, then games like Fallout 76 won’t make it.