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I'm pushing 60 and have a doctorate in the intellectual history of ancient China. What am I doing here?

Basically, I love storytelling, and by some lucky chance, some congenital malformation of my ability to sneer, that includes video games. Why shouldn't a good tale be told in interactive media? It certainly beats the passive absorption of television, a medium that I have an allergy to and haven't watched in over thirty years. (That's a personal quirk more than a Judgment From On High(TM) -- good tales are told in television too, sometimes; I'm just too antsy to sit still for them.)

But the game medium for storytelling is still young, and has many flaws. I wouldn't grant myself any special facility of discernment in this area, though I have studied game theory a little bit. Still, I tend to get irritated at avoidable errors.

Quality control slips piss me off mightily. Fallout 3, and even more Fallout: New Vegas were apparently put together by teams that were creatively mighty but as sloppy in execution as a drunk on his third bottle of cheap vodka. Anyone in a modern video game who uses invisible walls to herd the player ought never to work in the industry again. Likewise for any jackass who is too lazy to keep the clipping paths close to the world objects, so that you can actually snipe from behind and around things without having your bullets bounce off a suddenly impenetrable nothingness. And whoever was responsible for leaving numerous places on the map where the player will get stuck fast if he/she tries to traverse them should be disposed of in one of the inventive ways Caesar's Legion specializes in. Really! Was it too much to ask that, say, all the trees, rocks, walls, and so on in the map actually touch the ground? That crows not take off and fly straight into, and through, cliff faces? That cazadors, likewise, not fall through the surface of the ground and fly about underneath the map, where they can do no damage but drive your NPCs into an impotent frenzy? That when you pick up a piece of information or evidence critically important to another character, you actually have a dialog option to tell him or her about it? That you be able to ask simple questions of ordinary NPCs, such as "Take me to your leader," which would get rid of a lot of frustrating wandering around? That the characters in the game react with even approximate realism to sudden deaths in their immediate vicinity? It goes beyond stupid to surreal to, for instance, stack the front desk at Tenpenny Towers with the stripped corpses and body parts of the guard detail, and still get nothing but a cheery "Good day!" from the residents. The same with the casual way that snipers are often treated: "Oh, look there, Jones just got his head blown off! Damn, that's the fifth one this hour. Shouldn't we at least tell them to keep under cover?"

A more systemic fault is that both games fail to manage their suspension of disbelief accounts. They put the player in a world that is strange, and sometimes fantastic, and require that it be seen as credible. There are definite limits to what can be asked. Take, for instance, deathclaw vs. cazador. Both creatures of fantasy; both deadly; but the first is entirely credible and the second one seems stupid, even silly. Why? Well, take the deathclaw's durability. The damn thing is twelve feet tall and we're told -- and it's believable, qua rhino and the like -- that it has a very thick skin ("the sort of critters that just get angry when you shoot them," indeed). It scarcely comes as a surprise, though it is initially disappointing, that weapons that would disintegrate lesser foes have a diminished effect on a deathclaw. Flamethrowers, for instance. A deathclaw has the heft and the build to ignore a light sprinkling of napalm, and it has the muscles to perform believable charges. You may hate being shredded by them, but you can hardly be surprised. The only mild credibility problem is wondering what the damn things eat when you're not available for lunch. But when a cazador flies through direct hits with 40mm grenades or a stream of fire from a Heavy Incinerator and presses home its attack with a frigging stinger against a fully armored foe, suspension of disbelief takes a mighty hit. Unless those wings are titanium, they would last all of a second or two in the sort of fire a flamethrower produces (remember, napalm can melt steel). And unless their doo-doos are crusted with diamonds, a stinger is going to go nowhere against armor. And finally, it's ridiculous to have them zooming in for the kill so fast you half expect to hear a sonic boom. It's a wonder they can fly at all at the size they are. If they are going to use a jet boost, the developers could at least have the grace to make them fart flames out of their arses. (On second thought, cancel that. Flame-breathing critters are another game-breaker in terms of credibility.)

Some Fallout 3 fanfic, for your delectation, if you're a glutton for punishment.