Fallout 4: An apocalypse game that asks difficult questions about what makes us human

Fallout 4: An apocalypse game that asks difficult questions about what makes us human

There are many and varied opinions concerning Bethesda Studios latest game in Fallout series and whether or not it is a good game. Did it live up to its hype? Were the graphics underwhelming? Did it have so much more potential than what was delivered? All difficult questions because, frankly, it’s all a matter of opinion, and I won’t look into any of this today. At least not directly, as I chose to focus of the games narrative and some of the choices we must make playing the game. Warning: the following article will contain spoilers concerning the games narrative and ending.


As we exit the vault there are initially two main goals in the game: find out who took baby Shaun, and figure out how this changed post-apocalyptic society works. It may not be so surprising that the two are interconnected.

In this post-apocalyptic world, we meet all kinds of people, wealthy, poor, benevolent and ruthless people. Humanity shows its worst and best features in a world where survival is the name of the game. How we experience these elements will be entirely subjective to each player and every play through, since it is an open world game who we meet depends on where we go and how we act. So keep in mind that the following is coloured by my personal experience with the game.

The wilderness of Commonwealth (the name of the playable are in the game) is dangerous, not least because of the presence of Raiders – ruthless people who will literally kill you for a dime. There are a lot of these horrible and largely unsympathetic people. These are people who prey on the vulnerable, and thrive in strict hierarchical systems based on power and skill, or in some cases knowledge. People reverting into this basic hierarchical structure seems to be a basic premise for media that depicts a post-apocalyptic world, often seen in films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, The Book of Eli or The Hunger Games, just to mention a few.

On the other hand we do meet people throughout the game who just want to live their lives in piece, and will help those in need – these act as a nice counter-point to the Raiders, but they are typically not the most interesting characters in the game. Matters are first complicated when we begin to bump into ghouls, normally creatures of the wastelands that will attack you on sight, but in some cases just slightly mutated human beings – badly affected by radiation. These ghouls are far from nice to look at, but can be just as sympathetic, if not more at times, as any other human being you meet in the Commonwealth.

What becomes even more problematic is the notion of synthetic robots. We hear rumours of The Institute in the early parts of the game, a place that creates synthetic robots that blend into society. The Institute proves to be real, and the player even begins to encounter a number of robots. The striking thing is that these robots act entirely like human beings, and the later models even indistinguishably look like humans as well. They are, in effect, sentient beings. However, it is the player’s role to judge these beings should be regarded of the same value as other humans or not. At the beginning, one might ‘discard’ them as mere machines, but this view is challenged as we gain entrance into the institute. Here we get to see the creation process: These synths are basically made out of fibres and tissue, just like you and I, albeit synthetically, and at the end of the creation process they are even dipped into this tank of fluids, which emulates the process of being “born”.

Fallout 4_20151103152835
Nick Valentine (Synth Robot)
Vault Tec Representative (Ghoul)






If it acts like a human. If it thinks like a human. Feels like one. If it actually believes, it is indeed human. Does that make something human? What are the defining characteristics of a human being? What separates “us” from “them”? These are the difficult questions we must ask ourselves when playing Fallout 4.

These are also deeply philosophical questions, and not questions I am about to attempt to answer. Wisely enough neither does Bethesda Studios, because they leave us with a choice.

Do we side with the Brotherhood of Steel, whose mission is not only to fight and remove The Institute, but to eradicate any humanoid creature that is Not entirely human, which includes all the ghouls and all the synths that have otherwise integrated themselves into our society. In other words, do we aim for purification?

How about siding with the institute then? They see themselves as the harbingers of the future through technology. They have given up on the world above ground, seeing no future in the lives lived by those in the Commonwealth, and they will not shy away from sacrificing those above ground who would oppose them or attempt to stop their technological and scientific progress. They are also the creators of the Synthetics, and see themselves as their masters, not acknowledging the Synths as sentient beings. In short, should we protect the technology and ensure the survival of the few?

We can also side with the Railroad. An underground movement dedicated to saving the Synths, freeing them from the Institute and helping them integrate into human society. They see the Synths as sentient beings, born into slavery, because the Institute chose to give them consciousness and freedom of thought. With the Railroad we discard any ambitions of creating a controlling force, which means making no major changes to people’s daily lives, despite the misery we have encountered throughout the Commonwealth, all in order to save a few synthetically created “humans”. Should we possibly sacrifice the survival of humanity in order to save a minority of oppressed?

There is no ultimate right or wrong to all of these questions, which is exactly the point. Human existence is not black and white, but many shades of grey – at times we have to make some tough choices and then live with the consequences. Luckily, in Fallout, the consequences are kept within the realm of the game.

In the end, I personally chose to side with the Railroad, as I saw the Synths as enslaved sentient beings – for me, this was the “right” choice. But I would be more than happy to hear of any other experiences of the game, and what Your choice in the end came down to?

That is all for now, Thank you for reading.



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