Fallout is a franchise many people adore. I’m not a fan myself, primarily thanks to the oversaturation of news and blog posts around the time of the latest release, but I know a number of gamers and bloggers who feel it’s one of the best created.
I think the first time my stepson heard of it was when he found my other-half playing something on his laptop in late 2015. He asked his dad what it was and Pete informed him it was Fallout 4; and in usual Ethan fashion, he then asked hundreds of questions for the next hour. This is a normal occurrence with our kid when it comes to video games. He may not care about the title itself or even want to see it but if you’re playing it, he’ll want to know the ins-and-outs of the world, the characters within it and their stories.
Despite not playing the game and only viewing a brief and carefully-controlled section on Pete’s screen back then, Ethan has been obsessed with the Fallout series since – and this isn’t an exaggeration. He might have been in love with Minecraft when he was younger, subjecting us to tantrums we eventually came to refer to as ‘Minecraft behaviour’ after less than an hour at a time with it, but that crush was nothing compared to his continuous three-year infatuation with Bethesda’s project.
He’s read every book on the series that he can get his hands on. He spends his pocket-money on framed posters and bobbleheads, showing them all proudly around his bedroom. The line of Funko Pop! Vinyl figures featured on a shelf is set in a specific order, and his prized possession is a Pip Boy we found at the London Gaming Market. And if he’s not wearing a too-big Tunnel Snake hoodie I got him from Loot Crate, you’ll find him in a festive Fallout 76 jumper that my brother gave him at Christmas. Yes, even in June.
It’s several things that attracts my stepson to Fallout. First is the apocalyptic setting; after all, what 11-year old doesn’t enjoy an end-of-the-world scenario with the potential for zombies? Next is the fact that he’s a bit of a lone-wolf who enjoys his own company, and this has caused him to identify with the protagonists. Then finally it’s the soundtrack. He’s always enjoyed an incredibly varied range of music, often preferring far older stuff than the usual pop other kids his age are into, so the 1940s songs get him singing along and his feet tapping.
In the paragraph above I mentioned Ethan’s relationship with the protagonists, and it’s worth pointing out here that this isn’t necessarily the character who appears on-screen. The majority of everything he knows about the Fallout series comes from things he believes to be true. Most of his knowledge started off as a point of interest picked up from a book or discussion with his dad; then evolved with leaps logic and a touch of imagination into my stepson’s very own version of the Fallout world.
His obsession hasn’t caused any major issues so far but we can see the start of some possible frustrations since he joined secondary school last year. He doesn’t seem to understand why nobody else there is interested in the franchise, even when we try to explain that Fallout 4 is almost four years old and everybody has moved from the poor release which was Fallout 76. We’re sadly getting the impression that he’s beginning to believe he’s ‘the odd one out’ or as that he doesn’t fit in.
The pre-teenage years are awkward enough without you wanting to talk about a franchise your friends view as ‘ancient’, while they’re all playing the ‘latest thing’ which doesn’t interest you in the slightest. On one hand I’m kind of proud that Ethan doesn’t like Fortnite and wants to devote his time to a video game that’s detailed, atmospheric and story-rich; but on the other, I get that the preference makes it more difficult for him at this stage in his life.
So what’s a dad and a stepmum to do? Pete and I have always tried to have an open communication channel with Ethan, and regularly discuss video games and their responsible use with him. Right now I guess that’s all we can keep doing. Maybe one day he’ll find something to replace his Fallout obsession, the same way The Legend of Zelda eventually did with Minecraft, or perhaps even find himself a friend who shares the infatuation so he has someone to keep him company in the wastelands of Boston.
Let’s hope so.