[In this pseudo-regular section, I record some of my more memorable gaming moments, the moments that remind me why I play games. In this entry I describe the futility I felt as I took my first steps out from Vault 101 in Fallout 3.]
The cog-shaped door to Vault 101 rolls into place and grinds shut with a conclusive screech. I can hear the guards shouting and banging on the inside. I take a moment to get my breath back; they aren’t going to follow me. I turn and walk towards the light at the far end of the tunnel.
I step through the rickety gate at the other end. Outside, my eyes take long seconds to adjust to the glare. At first I can see nothing, but slowly I realise there is just nothing to see. My first sensation is one of overwhelming agoraphobia. There are no walls, no ceiling. The world just keeps going.
I stand on a ledge. Beneath me, to the east, skeletal timber frames line a crumbled road. To my right, to the south-west, uphill, sections of a raised freeway sag and lean against each other. Far to the south and east the Washington Monument protrudes from the horizon like the precarious minute-hand of an old clock atop a scrapheap.
I have no idea where I am meant to go.
Days later, I will check the notes on my PipBoy that say go to Megaton, but somehow I missed that line of dialogue in my rush to get away from the Overseer’s guards. For now, I am disorientated and aimless. I begin up the remains of road, climbing towards the crumbling freeway. I keep a wide berth between me and the burnt-out husks of cars.
I nearly drop the controller when I stumble into an old shopping trolley and accidently kick it down the road. It bangs and clatters and exaggerates the stark silence that inevitably returns. This is when the true meaning of ‘wasteland’ first hits me. Nothing here belongs to this age. Everything is a relic, rusted and forgotten.
I reconsider my current, uphill path. Surely at its crest will be another vista looking west. I don’t think I can deal with that right now; I already feel small enough. I turn around and walk back down the road into the lands I have already seen.
I come out among the ribbed cadavers of houses I saw from the cliff—the pre-war town of Springvale, I later find out. My hands tremble. It is hard to find the words that describe how I feel that first time I enter this town. I have no idea where I am; I have no idea where I am meant to go; I have no idea what I am meant to do. I have no idea what the point is. This world is dead, destroyed. I am just a leftover, shuffling through its charred remains and kicking up the ashes that, regardless of my actions, will inevitably settle once again.
The trailers did not prepare me for this. I was ready for city streets and corridors, not this endless, ruthless land. Insignificant. That is the word. Never has a world made me feel so sharply insignificant than those first steps into ruined Springvale. I take two steps into the closest house (through a wall; such conventions as doorways are meaningless now), realise I have no idea why I am in there, and step back out.
Music. Something is approaching from the road. A floating, robotic orb blasts a tinny tune. I pull my 10mm pistol but do not fire (I wasted too many bullets on radroaches and must horde what I have left). I just stare dumbly as the Enclave eyebot glides past me. It ignores me entirely. I am, after all, insignificant—a relic from a previous age. I stare dumbly as it continues out of Springvale.
I put the pistol away and look down the various roads leading out of the dead town. Eventually, I decide to head north—the exact opposite direction of Megaton. As I start up the road, Yankee Doodle is still audible through my rear speakers, carried on the post-apocalyptic breeze.