I’ve already professed my undying love for Fallout (and Bethesda) in prior posts, I won’t bore you all with another testimony. Suffice to say, we’re most critical of the things we truly love which is why I’m back on my Fallout 4 kick.
The best thing about Fallout 4 is wandering around and exploring. Partly because the world is so rich and interesting. Even after you’ve killed most everybody in a region and think you’ve done it to death (literally) you can still find little treasures. Stories of the apocalypse left unheard until the Sole Survivor uncovers them. My beef today, though, isn’t with something tangential to the story but rather something painfully central. The Institute. The chief antagonists of this Fallout game. Some spoilers abound, but Fallout 4 is several years old and it’s pretty much your fault if you haven’t picked it up yet so…
The Institute originally show up as these body snatching boogey men. You just hear stories about them, rumors of people going missing, theories that they’ve been replaced by robots. The story continues in this direction for about the first half of the main narrative. Eventually, though, you go there, you meet the Institute and thus find Shaun, your son. You see, the Institute are basically a bunch of scientists who, for some reason, had digging machines and were able to build an underground utopia away from the prying eyes of civilization where they build robots that look like humans for… reasons. They can teleport to anywhere in the Commonwealth (the game’s setting) and have been using this power to capture people for… experiments. They do this because.
No, that sentence wasn’t a mistake. The reasons, despite your character’s heavy involvement in the Institute, don’t ever really become clear and where they do they’re pretty shallow. You see, the Institute’s reasoning for doing most everything is an insatiable hunger for knowledge. Because they’re scientists that are unrestrained by a governing body. They’ve got a big old underground bunker and, dang it, that’s what these science people like to do, they like to science things! Fallout is pretty madcap, it’s always had a zany streak but this faction is radically underdeveloped for one so central to the story. Especially when deep reasoning behind factions is such a staple in the Fallout universe. Even ‘Caesar’s Legion’ the apparently mindless tribal rabble ravaging the Mojave Wastes had a central ethos that governed their reasons for doing what they did (as draconic as that faction was). The contrasting factions were also complicated with NCR being slow, corrupt and ineffective the simplicity of Caesar’s vision can almost seem tempting.
I think there’s an easy fix for Fallout 4, though. Forget the Institute as a playable faction. We should never have been able to visit them. Had their reasons and explicit capabilities been left completely under wraps until you find a way to destroy them the game would’ve been that much more interesting, that much more believable. The ever present threat and series of unknowns surrounding the shadowy Institute would have left the player with compounding mysteries to solve that may never have been resolved satisfyingly. I live for this feeling when I play games or consume media. There are times where your audience doesn’t really need to know the ins and outs, just hints and clues never to be fully explained only speculated on. The level of access the players have to the Institute precludes this possibility. Instead I’m left hoping as I play the game that surely their motives become more clear, surely there is some answer to this problem, some philosophical kernel that the Institute built its ethos on, surely some explanation for how a bunch of scientists burrowed underneath Boston and created a shiny ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ looking utopia underground but all we get is “back off, man! I’m a scientist.”
Stay tuned for more writing from the WorldCraft Club as we explore worldbuilding and the crafting of fictional settings to inspire your creativity.
We’re happy to host guest blogs on here whenever we can, it gives James a break and let’s other people contribute their ideas. Let us know if you have a worldbuilding concept or strategy to get off your chest, we’d love to hear it.