An Investment of Imagination in the Games We Play

Hellmode has kicked up another interesting editorial, this time elaborating on how certain role-playing games have successfully captured (and fed upon) our imaginations in order to craft a more believable world and storyline. Deus Ex, Planescape: Torment, and Fallout are all referenced as good examples, though Fallout 3 is pointed to as a point of failure:
And the cast of Planescape: Torment is anything but shallow. Taking the role of the Nameless One, you wake up in the mortuary at the start of the game, and you are greeted by a floating skull named Morte. Sharp-tongued and quick-witted, he has a clever comment to make about your situation. You do not know him, and he pretends not to know you, but you have a sense that he is hiding something.

As a companion to the Nameless One, the player must earn Morte's trust as the story goes on, if you are to ever uncover the truth. Your interactions with Morte become more than just an exploration of an interesting character they are a mission of self-discovery. It is what little we know of Morte and other characters in the game which entice us to learn more about them. In each interaction, they sketch an image for us to color, never revealing the full picture. They simply become more and more brilliant as we play the game and their existences become very much tied to our perceptions of whom and what they are.

Like the characters of PS:T, Fallout's protagonist is an extension of your existence, and its place in the world is defined by the statistics you choose. As information is scarce and often unknowable, you will need (for example) a high Intelligence stat to gain any sort of insight into the environment. Unlike so many other RPGs where the player character is essentially Superman, Fallout forces a set of limitations on you, forcing you to play according to the strengths and weaknesses of your chosen character.

The world of Fallout itself is ambiguous, with much of its history incinerated by nuclear fire. The scarcity of information forces you to connect the dots on your own if you want to have any chance of finding the Water Chip for that is the quest that forces you out of Vault 13 in the first place. Your mission is one of necessity and knowledge is the greatest weapon at your disposal.

Fallout captures our imagination in ways that so many RPGs have failed. Instead of giving us ten thousand years of history in the form of a long-winded story, Fallout gives it to us in bits and pieces, enticing us to keep looking for answers, if only to complete the larger puzzle it has set before us.