Gaming Made Me: Fallout 2

Talented RPS writer chum Patricia Hernandez asked us if she could write about the influence of RPG-classic Fallout 2 on her life. We agreed, and what she came back with was a stark personal tale of how videogame fantasy can inspire interest, provoke thought, and ultimately change how we see the world.

One of my most vivid memories of elementary school involves playing hooky after recess with a few other kids–two boys and one girl.

At some point, our grade decided that the boys with us are attractive–that we should, in our urgent attempts to play house, “want” them. The girl, in her unfettered giggles and whispers, tells me as much anyway.

I laugh too, but it’s a nervous laugh–we shouldn’t be there. The girl grabs my hand to make sure I don’t go anywhere, and this calms me a little.

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” one of the boys smirks.

I don’t know what this means. Not that it matters–it’s not like we understand romance or attraction. Some of us don’t even know how to tie our shoes yet, but still think we know how love is “supposed” to work. So, unflinchingly I say:


I watch him start to unfasten his pants, but before he can finish unzipping, I jet. I pull the girl with me, running into the women’s bathroom.

“What’s wrong with you?,” she angrily asks me. I don’t say anything. “And why won’t you let go of my hand?” This question disarms me in a way I don’t understand yet. I feel a panic setting in. It’s the same one that rears its head whenever the adults ask me why I don’t like dresses, why I only play with the boys, why I’m so unladylike. I toss her hand away and start running again.

Fast forward to my being twelve, maybe thirteen. I am locked in the bathroom, holding my knees. My mother is outside, holding a belt while she screams at me.

I look at the bra on the floor and am overtaken with a sense of humiliation at the mere thought of putting it on. Not being used to them yet, bras feel suffocating, always present. The boys at school have started treating me differently even though they are my only friends, even though I try to erase our differences by wearing baggy clothes. Putting a bra on feels like cementing that boy-girl divide that started happening the year prior.

I’ve tried to hold this moment off for a while now by wearing two or three shirts at a time so that it’s harder to make my breasts out. My mother is having none of it now. I’m getting older and it’s a new school year, so I should finally be presentable–or else.

I put the bra on. I look at myself in the mirror and feel a rage swelling as I notice how the embroidered patterns on bra through the shirt. Feeling defeated, I start to cry while I open the door.

“Was that so hard, Patricia?,” my mother laughs.

Fights like these were always followed with days if not weeks of tension. My mother diffused this one via peace offering: she picked up a box of computer games for me in a garage sale. Being that up until that point, I’d only used the computer to play educational games, she assumed that all games are educational–isn’t that what the computer is for? Learning? (Oh, dearest mother…)

This box had a lot of junk in it alongside copies of Myst and Civ II. But the game that caught my eye was Fallout 2. The premise of a post-nuclear California sounded fascinating, though baffling: how could the greatest country on Earth be destroyed, atomic bomb or no? That could never happen! It’s ridiculous! I had to play it to see what it was going on about, of course.

My family moved to this country in 1990 in an attempt to get away from poverty and civil war. My mother grew up with friends and family members who got drafted against their will, who sometimes disappeared, who would get tortured. But salvation was attainable: all she had to do was get to the United States. The myths were that you could make a living there, you could raise a family there, and the government was fair and took care of its citizens there. So she chased after the dream, and found herself on American soil by age 18.

It was all true, as far as she could tell–in comparison to the life they she led back home, America seemed like a haven. So my family adopted the language, the holidays, the attire and even the brands that Americans liked. Can’t seem like a sipota chorriada. As if putting on the right clothes and knowing the pledge of allegiance erased the fact that the country didn’t want us here in the first place! I also believed in that dream–until I played Fallout 2. 

I still distinctly remember the first couple of hours of Fallout 2. Fallout 2 was the first game I picked up of my own volition, and the first game I finished on my own. It would also be one of the only games where I played as a woman–it’s one of the rare instances where, though obviously largely written for a male audience, I still felt acknowledged.

I modified one of the starting characters, Chitsa. I appreciated that she was optimized for diplomacy, though I tweaked her to have high intelligence (“like me!,” I thought) and got rid of her sex appeal perk. No, I didn’t really want to “have a way” with the opposite sex–not in the manner the game implied, anyway. Not realizing I wasn’t “supposed” to be playing this game this young, I was confused as to why I couldn’t make my character younger than 18. At least I could rename her–and to this day, that Fallout 2 character is the only character I’ve named after myself in a game.

It all seems so appropriate, now. The village my character is from is “backwards”–like, spear-holding, ritual-performing type archaic. My half “indian” family crawled out of a jungle deep in El Salvador with a machete. They’re all fervent believers of Christianity, shamanism, and strict gender roles. Most didn’t have an education past first grade, if that. So when my elder in Fallout 2 told me that the fate of the entire village rested on my shoulders, it wasn’t a tired video game cliche to me. It felt like a role I already knew, what with my family banking on the idea that I’d be the one that got an education, I’d be the one that’d go out and earn six figures (which I’d give to the family), and I’d be the one that would sponsor everyone for citizenship.

Even early on, it was obvious that Fallout 2 was full of choices–and this seemed remarkable when I felt like I barely had any in real life. In the real world I didn’t have a say in what I wore, what I did, or in the messianic responsibility my family forced on me. With men in particular, you don’t ask questions and you do as you are told, remembering to only speak when spoken to. Men work hard for the family, the argument went, and it’s the woman’s job to acquiesce to a man’s every whim. And if they cheat, hey, they’re men. It’s their need.

One of the first challenges in Fallout 2 was to prove my worth to the tribe. I was supposed to do this by making my way through an ancient temple….but then I noticed that the only thing standing between me and the village was one guy.

I didn’t realize how much resentment I held against those gender roles until I became obsessed with killing this guy standing in my way in Fallout 2. He told me that no, I had no choice but to go through the temple. And what if I didn’t want to, you bastard? Why should I listen to you? What if I put this spear through your skull? So I did that instead, and to my amusement, it worked. The rest of the game fascinated me in this way, always giving me multiple ways to pursue a problem, many of them utterly clever.

I’d leave Arroyo on my own terms, and quickly found myself in the sleepy farming town of Modoc in my search for the village-saving GECK. Here I’d meet Miria, the daughter of Grisham the butcher. Imagine my astonishment when the game gives me the option to flirt with this woman. I hovered over the option for what seemed like an eternity–prior to that very moment, I had no idea a woman could desire another woman.

Even in the realm of homosexuality, my family ignored women. Men could sleep with men, and I’d very occasionally heard of those “sinners.” But lesbians? Inconceivable. Looking back now, it seems absurd that this was the case when you consider the constant anxiety driving my family to police my gender as a little girl, fearing that there might be something “wrong” with me, sexuality-wise. And yet the word lesbian was never uttered–let’s not even talk about bisexuality, which to this day, I can’t seem to explain to them. So back then I had no clear understanding of what it was that they feared, just the general knowledge that I wasn’t being a “proper lady,” whatever that meant.

Picking the paramour conversation options made me feel mischievous–partially because I knew it was wrong, as far as heterosexuality was concerned, but also because I genuinely…enjoyed it. I wasn’t supposed to be enjoying this, right? Prior to talking to Miria, I spoke to her brother, Davin. I could seduce him too, but that option seemed boring. I didn’t think much of this, then.

The flirting transgression lead to the classic fade to black and all I could think was “holy crap, did they…?” When I saw my gear sprawled on the floor, my character pretty much naked, the answer to my question became clear. But then her father bursts into the room, and accused me of dishonoring his daughter. Hah, what? But she jumped me! I’m baffled as he asks me to marry Miria to set things right–as of this writing, California, the state Fallout 2 takes place in, still hasn’t legalized gay marriage. But it was an option in a game made in 1998, amazingly. In 2012, most games still don’t include gay romance options, much less gay marriage.

Going back to Miria though–what a high price to pay for what was supposed to be a quick lay, eh? So now I was stuck with a character that frankly, was kind of useless–mechanically speaking, I mean. Fallout 2 was a difficult game for me to begin with–by comparison, the modern Fallouts feel absurdly easy, like they start you off as a powerful character and the rest of the game is an adventure in becoming super duper overpowered.

What I’m saying is, staying married in Fallout 2 was no easy feat. I did it anyway. I could have divorced, I could have sold my wife off to slavers, I could have even let her die. But instead I resisted temptation and I made sure to run away from deathclaws and super mutants regularly. Survival meant cutting down on heroics. I didn’t know why it was important to me that she stayed alive no matter how much of a burden, but it was. And when she watched me slip into power armor for the first time, it felt significant. Partially because it was such fantastic, difficult-to-acquire gear, but mostly because the body of the person underneath disappeared. I wasn’t a woman. I was a force not unlike the antagonist of Fallout 2, Frank Horrigan.

During this time, I also attended a history class unlike any of the ones I’d taken before. It was a real history class, basically. The teacher was young, having the sort of punk-rock aesthetic (piercings, funny-colored hair, that sort of thing) that makes parents worry about their child’s education. You could tell that she took up teaching because she was the type of idealist that wanted to give back to the community, and to her this meant dropping truth bombs on us impressionable kids. The hope was that this real talk would allow us to go further than we might if we believed the wrong history books or believed the things said in conservative Spanish media.

So when I started asking about the United States government and their ethics, my mother was quick to blame that professor–oh, she must’ve been poisoning my mind! What my mother didn’t know was that it was good ol’ video games that were corrupting me, making me ask questions.

It was playing through a version of history where Americans drove themselves to destruction because we refused to stop relying on oil that made me wonder about this country. It was playing through a reality where we valued being a formidable war force above all else that made me worry about this country. It was playing through something where the government cared so little about its citizens that it would knowingly construct vaults with the purpose of experimentation that made me feel sick thinking about what this country was capable of. It reading about how corporations like Vault Tek got away with manipulating the populace for personal gain that made me find out that corporations sometimes have more rights than actual human beings. And so the reason all Fallout 2 felt compelling was because its version of the future wasn’t so outlandish.

The education I was receiving at the time told me how the war on terror was actually over oil, how the government had experiments on certain parts of the populace without consent in the past, and how we even had internment camps at one point. If history class taught me about the United State’s horrific past, Fallout 2 projected a possible future that scared me, made the archetypal elements of “being American” seem too gross to want to aspire to. If the Fallout franchise is incisive here, it’s because it reveals a darker side of the society it depicts, masked under the absurd hilarity of the wasteland and its denizens.

The clincher came when I learned that the civil war my family ran away from was actually funded by the United States government–that their safe haven was actually responsible for their great misfortune. But my family, so in love with the American dream, so unwilling to look past the better living conditions, didn’t believe me. How could they? America was, and always will be, the great country that gave them the opportunities their own country would never afford them. But for me, finishing Fallout 2 and seeing my hard-working mother being relegated to a lifetime of cleaning toilets (what a dream! what an honor! She wanted to be a doctor, once…) marked a crucial shift in how I saw the society I was part of.

There are things that we need to believe in–for my parents, that’s the American dream. It makes being in this country easier; there’s always a hopeful fortitude that keeps them going, especially in the face of adversity. Despite being disillusioned myself, I don’t want to take that away from them.

And for me, the thing I needed to believe in above all, the thing I used as a weird form of rebellion, was the idea that I was straight–that, regardless of what “signs” my family picked up and tore apart, I could prove them wrong, that I could hate such austere gender roles without being queer. Revelations can be liberating, or they can destroy everything you once knew. If they ever see the American dream for a charade–and given the economic crisis, which has gifted them unemployment and a pile of never-ending bills, I fear that they will–I don’t know what type of revelation it’ll be for my parents. But one can only pretend for so long.


  1. Cloudiest Nights says:

    Decided to read fifteen minutes for work, because I thought this would be some short and funny article about Fallout 2.

    I came home from work 3 hours later still pondering this article. Very insightful…

  2. Rictor says:

    Well! Won’t find this on IGN, will you? Well done Patricia and thanks RPS.

    I wonder if the peeps at Black Isle (well, ex-Black Isle) know just how far/deep the influence of their game(s) extended. Probably not.

  3. scatterbrainless says:

    Boom, that was badass.

  4. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    I don’t have much originality to add, but I do want to join everyone in saying that this is beautiful, and one of the best pieces of gaming-related print I’ve read in a long, long time.

  5. Oryon says:

    Very interesting read. Thank you.

  6. Navagon says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; you guys need to compile these stories somehow as they deserve greater attention.

  7. Fumarole says:

    A wonderful story, thank you for sharing.

  8. realmenhuntinpacks says:

    Oof! Bravo, lovely read. I too had a strange intertwining (but with the first Fallout) as a stripling. This resonated.

  9. Sinlessmoon says:

    Thank you, that was an amazing article. :)

  10. dorobo says:

    registered just to say that it was a good read :)

  11. ankh says:

    First world problems. Yeah fallout 2 was awesome…

  12. Colonel Mustard says:

    Really good read, thanks

  13. Schmouddle says:

    Altough a very personal reading, I really have trouble to understand the message within. Being from Central Europe, I am from country being a leader in democracy and freedom in 30’s of 20th century only to be left Nazis for scraps by France and UK and then left behind the Iron Curtain for 40years only emerging in 1989 as a post-communist country with 20years worth of developement backlog, with enviroment damaged by extensive coal mining and Soviet-style heavy industry.
    I was born in 1979 and spent my childhood in what was called “the real Socialism”, dull and grey times, sure the gallows of 50’s were long gone, what remaind was just the daily siliness of the regime. Sure the lack of toilet paper and oranges rationed only for Christmas is no match for being killed in the civil war, but the “no future” times killed us slowly anyway, damaging our free will, spreading corruption and thivery destroing, or better never setting the morality we all shall have.
    In these times, our braver (and older) friends were coming to US Embassy to take English courses and read free press, to catch a glimpse of freedom only to be harrased by Secret Police in their schools and jobs, like one of my friends who was an interpreter whose services the Embassy used from time to time was under 24/7 surveillance by the Secret Police.
    We looked upon US not as a great devil the propaganda was showing to us, we looked upon they as a place where you can live free and, country which serves its citizens well and which does the unwanted role of the world power opposing Communism. We were aware of the side conflicts of the Cold War, about the mistakes US did and about the collateral damage it caused. We had it daily in the TV, even the conflict in Salvador was told in vivid colours of capitalist ploy to opress or kill all the citizens of Salvador.

    • Schmouddle says:

      Anyway, we personally experienced what US was fighting against and we saw it as a just cause.
      And there is where my past meets Patricia’s as her position on her homecountry and country of her ancestors rings the “propaganda!” bell in my head.
      Patricia, the view on world matters you have is an outcome of the liberal education you got, but the story is much broader than “US = the evil power” – if you are interested to have a chat with guy from the other side, a guy whose grandfather was driven to death in his forties by envy communists and who lived under communist regime (the one FMLN was to set up after their winning in Salvador) , please feel free to type me an email I will be happy to show you the other side perspective. I believe you might understand your parents, then.

      • reyn78 says:

        During these 44 years there were plenty of people in the U.S (UK, France too.. France especially) who believed, said, wrote and argued that the West is wrong about Soviet Union, that it is not an evil empire, there is no torture, and that it is indeed a democracy, which would be better off without meddling of these vile Americans, who want to play a global policeman.

        Funny, most of us here didn’t see it that way, eh? I mean honestly Mr.Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher are considered heroes by many here.

  14. reyn78 says:

    So let me get this straight – Ms. Hernandez, a second generation emigrant from a war-torn country working as a games journalist/writer for Kotaku and RPS and based in San Francisco, California, argues American Dream is dead?! And everyone here says how touchy the story is? Really?

    What about a story of an 18 year old girl running away from a country where she can be killed/raped/tortured without anyone giving a sh.. to change it for relative safety and a shot at relative prosperity. What about mother and father working menial jobs so her kids have better future? What about sacrificed dreams of becoming a doctor that turned into toilet-cleaning so that a kid can have her “Fallout 2” moment?

    To each argument there is a counter argument. To each story there is one from the other side.

    • jalf says:

      Maybe people say it is touching because they didn’t get hung up on the mentions of USA being imperfect.

      Maybe it’s because some people read it as a personal tale, rather than an attack on a country that certain people clearly have very strong feelings about.

      Perhaps, just perhaps, this article was not about America. Perhaps the point of it was not to defame this dear holy and clearly perfect country.

      Perhaps the point was simply to tell a story of what went through the head of the author as she grew up and encountered a PC game that made an impression on her.

      Part of that story is that it changed how she saw the country that her parents moved to, and which she lived in. But that doesn’t mean said country *is* the story. It doesn’t mean that the story is *about* that country.

      If you don’t believe me, perhaps look at the title: it is “Gaming Made Me”, and not “My argument for why the American Dream is dead”.

      Get over yourself. Please?

      • reyn78 says:

        For one I am not an American.
        Two, I didn’t say America is perfect.
        Three, about one-third of the author’s “Fallout moment” article is about how America is wrong and bad, so clearly it is important, no?
        You liked the article, I didn’t. I thought it is ripe with misunderstanding of people in a situation that Mrs. Hernandez either knows nothing about (doubt it as its her parents’ first hand experience) or doesn’t want to acknowledge.
        For me the fact that Mrs. Hernandez’s doubts, problems, experiences are of the scale mentioned in the article – let’s say usual teenage/growing up moments, the fact that she can write it, what she does and where she works, proves that the idea her parents had when they fled their country was correct. Right?

        • Alec Meer says:

          Debate without insulting each other if you want your words to remain here.

          • jalf says:

            Right, that did come across much harsher than I’d intended. Apologies.

            My point was simply that the reason people said this piece was touching was not that it was about the American Dream, and not about whether or not it was alive or dead.

            But rather that it was a personal story about someone for whom a game changed how she saw the world and her place in it. (and yes, America is part of that world)

            I don’t believe it was written as an attack on America, or as an argument that “the American Dream is dead”. And it bothers me a bit how many comments (not just yours) seem to try their hardest to turn it from a personal story of ones upbringing, into a hateful black-or-white for-or-against piece about America and nothing else. I think it is disrespectful. And it seems selfish, when someone writes something so personal, to try to turn and twist it into what you would like to argue and bicker about.

            If I reacted strongly, it was because I imagined how I would feel if I wrote a story as personal as this, and half the people who read it posted petulant comments about something completely different, if commenters turned it into an angry political battlefield, if people felt the need to “defend” something I wasn’t even attacking.

            All that detracts from her post, and I think that is sad.

            She never said that America is “wrong and bad”. She describes how she saw the country, not how the country *is*. And if you read what she actually wrote, she points out that some bad things have been done by the country (as they have been by any other country), and simply realizes that the country is not perfect, not a dream, but an imperfect reality. One of the earlier comments described it as her becoming disillusioned with the country, and I think that really nailed it. It’s not about discovering that the country is some kind of hell on Earth, or that it would be better to be anywhere else, but simply about discarding the illusion that she had lived under until then, that her parents still lived under, that America was somehow perfect and flawless.

            I don’t think anything she wrote disputes that “the idea her parents had when they migrated” was wrong. I don’t know where you get that from. It is quite possible for her parents to have done the right thing, and for her to *know* that they did the right thing, and for her to still have discovered that the country she lives in is imperfect.

            And I see nothing here to indicate that she thinks, or ever thought, that her parents would’ve been better off if they’d never come to America.

          • reyn78 says:

            Sorry. I just repeated the other person’s words. Didn’t want to be offensive to anyone.

            You see, it is like art. You take a painting/movie/book yes even a game and everyone sees it and interprets differently. You see it as a personal story. I see it as a story with a very strong political message. A message that I do not agree with. A message that rings hollow especially given the author’s background. (A stronger word comes to mind, but will hold off)

            Also it might be an old toad and a father talking in me, but it is so typical for kids/young people to take all they have for granted and not to acknowledge effort that was needed to get these things.

    • Unaco says:

      “Ms. Hernandez, a second generation emigrant”

      Doesn’t that make her an… American?

  15. dosan says:

    Thanks Patricia. I am also a latin american, from Bolivia, and i had a similar experience with fallout 1, most of my english came from that game. I remember playing it with a dictionary in hand, translating on the fly before selecting any dialogue options. I had very few friends that time, fallout make me feel i was somewhat important, and the history was amazing! Right now i am playing Tactics, at that time i coudnt :)

  16. Briosafreak says:

    Very moving, at times stunning article Patricia. Respect from a Fallout fan from over 16 years of playing and discussing the series.

    RPS, this was amazing. Thanks.

  17. Zombra says:

    I registered an account just so I could thank you for this article. Great read!

    • Agrotera says:

      Same here, I read RPS all the time but I’ve never felt compelled to comment on an article. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Patricia.

  18. fraek says:

    Yeah! We should re-order society to make the few happy, rather than the vast majority! Rock on! Keep that rebellious spirit!

    • Emeraude says:

      I do not think asking the vast majority to not trample the few is depriving it of its happiness. It’s a mild annoyance at worse, for the benefit of less actual suffering.

      I find the trade worthwhile.

  19. Ganesh says:

    Thanks for this great article!

  20. NikosX says:

    An excellent text! Congratulations!

  21. SilverDrake says:

    I remember my first encounter with Fallout and then Fallout 2.

    I bought Fallout and left on a shelf for half an year. There was a lengthy period when studying was finished and my “chirping birds” need not any of my attention (I was working sysadmin back then). So I decided to give this ‘Fallout’ (‘Interplay’… hmm… who?).

    Bam. There is no more me. Sniper, stalker and defender of justice embodied this very shell for a few days. I played non-stop, barely left office.

    Fallout 2 was greatly anticipated. And still… impossible. About middle game (I didn’t know that it was ‘middle game’, of course) I realized simple truth: they did it. They bested they own result. They made even better Fallout.

    I never finished Fallout 3, even out of curiosity. Maybe someday I will. Compared to Fallout 2 and it’s depth, immersion, accuracy, replayability and simple fun most games are pale. Even Baldur’s Gate I anticipated so eagerly after that wasn’t that much of a revelation.

    You wrote a wonderful article on such deep topic, with heart. Thank you for that.

    Hats off. :)

    P.S. Just read a few other comments. I read RPS for a few years now, but registered account only now to leave this comment. :) Thank you again. :)

  22. Flavioli says:

    Great, touching, and well written article about an excellent game. I also find FO2 to be a very influential game that has shaped me in many ways (it’s my third favorite game of all time). I do however disagree a bit on some of your stances about the US… I am also an immigrant in the US that came from Latin America, and it’s difficult for me to deny the opportunities this country provides; few other countries make it as viable for people to go from rags to riches through honest means, or to escape poverty just by working hard. Or to be able to do something you love regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Your own life story seems like pretty solid example of that =).

  23. BNCap says:

    Amazing article. Love Fallout. But don’t be too disillusioned with America- the American dream is still alive. Its faults, past mistakes/evils, and idiots, are more than made up by the good/courageous people, freedom of speech,etc. – that lead to games like Fallout and articles like this.

  24. Rockman says:

    What an excellent read. Very profound.

  25. Nick says:

    I really need to finish this game one of these days…

    anyways, the article was a very inspiring and touching read. thank you, Patricia :]

  26. Enkinan says:

    What a great article. Wow.

    Wasteland is what made me, obviously a similar game. Keep up the good work.

  27. adamvan says:

    I made an account at this site just to tell you how awesome this article is! Seriously, this is why I prefer RPS over IGN or any of the others. So much more passion, not to mention the fanbase isn’t a bunch of morons.

  28. akins286 says:

    Thanks Patricia, this was great.

    So very glad I recently discovered RPS.

  29. rockman29 says:

    Damn nice article. I was hoping it was longer though, I thought you were just getting started with the parallels between Fallout and your family life! Then it just abruptly ended and I was sad…

    Great read nonetheless!

  30. Saul says:

    Late to the party, but I have to add my praise – brilliant stuff, Patricia!

  31. Laythe_AD says:

    Easily one of the best articles on gaming I’ve ever read. Thank yo Patrica, and more please!

  32. Soggy_Popcorn says:

    Holy shit RPS, I only made it through like 1/3 of this. If I wanted to read this kind of emotionally victimizing drivel I would have majored in women’s studies or Latin American history or some such thing.

    I come here for witty opinions on VIDEOGAMES, and a year or two ago this site consistently delivered. Just leave the bullshit socio/sexual/economic commentary to Kotaku and it’s legion of feminist asshats imported from Jezebel.

  33. TheXand says:


  34. Regenherz says:

    Thank you for writing this.