4 Awful Realities Of Binge-Playing All The Fallout Games
I had fallen in love with Fallout 4 long before I had ever played it or any other Fallout game. Up until three months before its release, I knew next to nothing about the series, yet I was hopelessly devoted after the first trailer. Friends, even my girlfriend, had played, loved, and canonized the previous Fallout games. I eventually bought two games in the series, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, but I never played them, since buying a game for dirt cheap on Steam is nearly as satisfying as playing the game itself. That was good enough, for a time -- but I couldn't ignore the itch caused by owning those games: I needed to play them before Fallout 4 came out.
But what -- am I supposed to play Fallout 3, then jump into Fallout: New Vegas, and then cap it all off with Fallout 4, all of which are 80 to 100 hour commitments, and all in the span of four or five months of my life filled with responsibilities that, as a fully-fledged adult, I must attend to or suffer the harsh, potentially ruinous consequences?
Yes. Here's what happens when you do that:
Watching The Rest Of The World Move Without You
I felt like I was stuck in time. Every day at some point or another I would do this one thing, and that would be the only thing I would do from that moment until I went to bed. All of my favorite TV shows were pushed to the side. All the movies that came out were put to the side. Friends were pushed aside. Every other experience that didn't involve me roaming a thrashed wasteland of mutants and murderous raiders was pushed aside, which meant I could still shop at Ross Dress For Less.
Ross: Where you can save a few bucks if you survive.
Everything and everyone around me kept going on. People hung out together. They interacted with other humans made of meat and bone and real brains -- and not ones and zeros. They had fun together, and I wasn't there for it. I stopped reading the news; not because I didn't want to read it, but because I couldn't think of a way it would help my character level up so I could get the Bloody Mess perk and watch people FUCKING EXPLODE when I killed them. Sorry, The New York Times -- reading you wouldn't give me a skill point that I could use to upgrade my Sneak so I could blow a raider's limbs clear off his body with one shot to the back of the head. (Thank you, Bloody Mess).
I was trying to play catch-up, but ended up jogging in place with a conveyor belt spinning the same terribly drawn scenic view over and over in the background. I was a man willfully stranded on a deserted island of Bethesda Game Studios' design.
I Went From Zero To Superfan In Days
A person can go from possessing zero knowledge of something to being a superfan of it faster than ever before. I love old sitcoms, but somehow missed out on Cheers growing up. Then, they put Cheers on Netflix. I went from not knowing a thing about Cheers other than Frasier spun off from it to, a couple months later, having memorized the names of everyone listed in the opening credits.
Within three months of experiencing almost nothing but Fallout, I went from zero to this:
That's wrong. That level of superfandom shouldn't be so easily achieved. That made me think: With so much entertainment so readily available, does it really matter if fandom is earned over a few years or over a few days? Is one form more valid than the other?
For a long time, I felt like being a part of something in real time was more valid. That somehow, by being there in the moment, side-by-side with every new release, through the good times and the bad, you were gaining a much more genuine appreciation.
But, what I am feeling with Fallout feels just as genuine to me as all the other times I've fallen in love with some other pop culture thingy: that I was right there since the beginning and at every step of the way. Thinking there was anything flawed with bingeing yourself into superfandom was itself flawed.
Think back to when you were a kid and you discovered a band that was hugely popular 10, 20, 30 years before you were even born. Did you have a period of obsession where you couldn't stop listening to them? Part of what made that obsession magical was having a huge catalog of material to pull from. You like that one song? Here's 800 more spread over 35 years of studio work that resulted in 17 albums, three live albums, and dozens of unreleased demos. Have fun. Don't forget to bathe once in a while.
Or just die on the couch and your dog will eat you.
Compare your experience bingeing every last note of that band's discography to someone who had to wait for those albums, the great ones and the shitty ones, in real time. You're both huge fans of the same band, but does being born in a different era disqualify you from being a truer fan than someone else? If not, does the same apply for not being aware of that band if you were around for all of their releases?
Where fans had to wait two years between Fallout 3 and New Vegas, I waited a day and half. I stepped out of my house for one day just to remember that the world didn't have an obnoxious green tint laid over it. After I got annoyed that I couldn't use my speech skill to convince the lady at the CVS checkout lane that I shouldn't have to pay for a Butterfinger, I made my way back indoors and started the whole process over again.
I Couldn't Remember Anything I Had Recently Done In The Games
Bingeing reminds me of the time I tried to learn to speed-read. I tried to learn speed-reading because my life is one failed attempt at efficiency after another. I want to do everything, so sometimes I'll try to fast-forward all of it, and I'll convince myself it's better when I know goddamn well I'm too dumb to keep up. It never works, just as it didn't with speed-reading. I could never understand what the fuck was happening. Character names would flash by, and then plot-sounding buzzwords would float though my brain, and my brain would be too busy trying to catch all the previous shit to catch the plot, and then another name and ... wait -- the chapter's over? B-b-but, I didn't, I mean, goddamn it. Fuck it. NEXT CHAPTER.
And so it is with bingeing. All of Fallout 3 and most of New Vegas are faint memories in my mind, and I'm writing this only a handful of weeks removed from having played them. I moved through at such a hurried pace that my memories of them are like staring at trees on a road trip. I can't remember individual trees. Hundreds of miles of them have blended into one continuous blur of green.
Like this, but with more body chunks soaring through
the air, as if prechopped and launched from a cannon.
Entire plot lines vanished from my mind within an hour of completing them. Characters would shift from one game to another. In my head, the world maps would bleed into each other, creating the odd sense of traversing three separate fictional lands at once. When I put the controller down at the end of the day, I would soon have the world's smallest panic attack trying to remember what I had just done. I couldn't, sometimes. It had become the worst thing it could have turned into: an unmemorable routine. This was supposed to be the escape from the routine. Shit. I had done it. I had played too many hours too fast and ...
I Barely Got To Enjoy The Games
About halfway through Fallout 3 is when binge madness struck. Binge madness usually sets in once the fun of the very childish experience of soaking in a distraction for an unhealthy amount of time begins to fade. It happens around when I realize how much I've already done and how much more I have to go -- when a fun binge has become work.
It lingered for a while, but then kicked into overdrive about 60 hours into Fallout: New Vegas. The 60 hours had been spread over three weeks densely packed with playtime, and I didn't feel like I was anywhere near completing the game. I've already played the equivalent of about 12 other games, and, when I was done, I would have to do it all one more time. I was starting to ask myself a question I was afraid would creep up. Was I starting to hate all this? I was demoralized. I had been the gluttonous Roman emperor, laying back on my virgin pubic hair blanket as my slave boys fed me roasted hog legs until I died after the release of a fart so slappy that it rattled my heart to a stop. I had overdone it, and the fun had gone beyond feeling like work. It was feeling shameful. Like binge eating-shameful.
Every bite fills you with just a little bit more self-hate.
I took the buffet approach to an incredible game series. I loaded up my plate with whatever I could find then sat down to eat my disgusting food mound and was shocked -- SHOCKED! -- to discover that after a couple of forkfuls of macaroni and cheese, ice cream sundae, and popcorn shrimp, I was full and had 2 pounds of food to go.
Still, I think I have enough memory of the experience to say that my Fallout binge was immensely satisfying. It was also extremely stupid. But, through it, I learned a valuable lesson about bingeing, and I think I've identified its biggest problem: We've been given all the tools we need to binge ourselves into oblivion, but no one has found an easy and convenient way for us to purge.
Look, I'm not asking for much -- just a way to make my brain vomit.