In my original playthrough, I became concerned that Dave's despotic policies might veer closer to Warren Jeffs than Nirmala Srivastava, so I rigged his already-rigged election process so that he'd be replaced by his wife. (Girl power!) This time, though, I just stab him in the neck until his head falls off, and then I steal his rather impressive unique hunting rifle, Ol' Painless. Dave's acolytes go down rather quickly, and, as usual, the children remain breathing, albeit without parents, guardians, or food.
I don't know whether it's Inon Zur's pensive soundtrack or my own innate humanity that gives me pause - at this point, it's probably the former - but I do feel a tad blue as I leave Dave's commune. Is this right? Should I really be doing this? I'm almost certain there's a 13-year-old out there who's killed everyone in his big brother's copy of Fallout 3 for somewhat different reasons - Steam was acting up, probably, so he couldn't get on Team Fortress 2 and tell people they like to rape their own bums - but I'm an adult. It's different. I went through the arduous process of actually getting this game sent to me for free from a publisher, so don't I have a responsibility to have some decorum in my play-testing? And, more pressingly, should Bethesda Softworks really be permitted to make a game where one can violently slaughter an entire family and leave the juveniles to starve?
I'm going for a tentative "yes". If anything, this experiment has given me some perspective on how rewarding and difficult it is to be a good person. Of course, in our world, unless you're in a position of high political esteem, absolute evil doesn't yield significant returns, either; you can't really go around slaughtering people for too long before you're sent off for three square meals a day and a boyfriend called Spanner. But imagine it on a smaller scale: think how hard (and creative) it is to find mutually beneficial arrangements between two squabbling parties. Recall how intensely you worked once to get something you wanted. Drift back to the nigh-on Machiavellian courtship tactics you employed in the name of romance. If you want the right results, you need to bleed for them.
Moreover, it's the work that gives life, and videogames, its meaning. The first time I played through Fallout 3, I was riveted. The find-your-Daddy plotline struck me as a little staid until the bit where he gets turned into a dog, but some of the characters I met along the way - Gob, Tenpenny, the goth girl in Big Town who looks like an ex-girlfriend of mine, even John Henry Eden McDowell himself - kept me joyously immersed in the nooks and crannies of this delightful little hellhole. Now they've all been reduced to big red target circles, though, it's impossible to care about the finely-crafted world they're inhabiting. It's all so much normal-mapped scenery: less of an experience, and more of a challenge. And whilst that might excite people who like to play obscure, impossible Japanese shmups, I'm just not comfortable in that particular basket.
On the other hand, though, by not violently deviating from the game's will as I have done, you're basically a slave to the games designer's screenwriting ambitions, but more on that later. Right now, Canterbury Commons. Yes, I finally got there, by heading due south of Davetopia. And gosh, am I happy to hear the familiar threats of the Machinist and the AntAgonizer. If Fallout 3 passed you by, I'll wax brief: they're two crazies who've decided to fight each other with armies of robots and ants and, basically, turn their miserable, humdrum lives into a comic book, inadvertently creating chaos for Canterbury's sane citizens. The second I show up in town, I'm tasked with ending their tyranny. I accept, and then murder everyone over three feet tall. Joe Porter, the guy who owns Canterbury's diner, actually figures out that hiding behind his counter might be a good idea, but a well-thrown frag grenade transforms him into a gore geyser. Having stolen all the merchant goodies in storage, I proceed up to the Machinist's factory.