The featured clip from Bethesda Game's Fallout 3 stages a convergence of the survivalist ethics frequently explored in apocalypse media and the objectivizing logic of digital games. It shows a previously unknown NPC (non-player character) approach the player and ask for help defusing a bomb strapped to his neck. What I find remarkable about this moment--which is only enhanced by the voiceover--is the way this randomly generated encounter attempts to evoke sympathy and the urgency of a moral dilemma, despite the fact that there are no apparent stakes for the player.
Apocalypse media often depicts the breakdown of civil society as a test case for humanist moral codes. Characters facing dwindling resources and mounting dangers must measure their own chance at survival against the value of another's life. Think the cannibals in Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Such harrowing dilemmas speak to the desperation of the end times; yet, similar objective-driven justifications undergird the spectacular violence enacted in numerous video games. Just moments before encountering the human bomb, our featured Fallout player attempted to assault a group of NPCs guarding the abundant resources of a grocery store.
With that as the backdrop, how do humanizing sympathies get mapped on this particular meaningless arrangement of pixels requesting our help? Are video games ideal for playing at the apocalypse because they embody utilitarian, survivalist logics? Or, does the insignificance of virtual characters subvert the game's attempt to present players with the moral dilemmas of the end times? In the featured clip, does the player's willingness to jeopardize the non-playable character's life demonstrate an affinity between the ethical propositions of fictional apocalyptic scenarios and our real mediated condition? Or does his (mild) disappointment at the death of the stranger by his own hand signal the persistence of human sympathies against such dehumanizing logics?