Time for some applied ethics in actual games. This is part 1 of an ongoing series about Fallout 4. There will be spoilers in these posts. I will try to avoid spoilers that focus on the main plot of the game by focusing on choices made in side quests as well as one-off events that happen in the game. Because Fallout 4 has a huge, open world with lots to explore, you may never encounter some of these situations in your playthrough. However, they are in the game, so you have been warned.
I start with a choice made by my heroic character, Dannis. I’ve decided that Dannis does care about finding his son (this is the main plot, but you discover this in the tutorial), but he is unwilling to sacrifice the good of others to do so. As a result, he helps people when they need it, whether they are settlers trying to fend off Raiders or victims of ransom demands from Supermutants who have kidnapped their loved ones. Dannis is a good guy, and this should make his moral choices pretty easy, right? Not exactly!
(This is where the real spoilers begin!) In one recent episode, Dannis happened upon an art gallery. As soon as he went in the door (hiding, naturally!), he overheard a group of Raiders talking about a man named Pickman. The Raiders were plotting revenge on this guy for messing with their gang. Sounds like my kind of guy! The Raiders are ruthless terrorists in the wasteland, and Dannis tends to shoot them on sight (before he gets shot himself). This was no exception, so he decided to put an end to their revenge fantasies by lobbing a frag grenade into their midst. Three raiders died instantly, but there were more around the corner.
After eliminating the resistance, Dannis checked out the building a bit. In a large room on the main floor there were grotesque paintings on the wall. They looked like they were painted with blood, and they depicted hellish scenes of torture and Cthulhu-like images of eyes on tentacles. Really gruesome stuff! In the middle of the room was what can only be described as a monument to death and dismemberment. Limbs and torsos and heads were arranged in sickening postures, a sadistic sculpture dedicated to madness and destruction. Whoever made this engaged in perverse fantasies. These Raiders had gone too far!
There were also some corpses on gurneys nearby. They contained the usual Raider loot—a few bullets, some bottlecaps, and various junk—but they also had calling cards from this ‘Pickman’ character. Apparently, he was killing these Raiders and letting them know it was him. Well, good for Pickman! These guys were even more disgusting than other Raiders I had seen.
As I explored upstairs, I realized that there was a space in the wall, which led down into the basement. Down there was another piece of “art”, this time with a bucket of blood and some entrails next to it. Ok, this was messed up! However, it was starting to dawn on me that this isn’t typical Raider behavior. Yes, they impale some of their victims, but largely as a warning or to strike terror. Someone was taking perverse pleasure in this, and that isn’t really their style. A blasted out section of wall led into some caverns/sewer beneath the building, where Raiders were taunting Pickman that this time had come. It was time to pay for his sick deeds. Uh oh. This confirmed it. Pickman was the bad guy here. I mean he was the worse guy…or something.
I finally found the climactic battle. The leader of this group of Raiders was fighting with Pickman. I wasn’t sure whom to help at this point, so I lobbed another grenade. Maybe it would take them all out! No such luck. A few Raider minions were killed, but the two big baddies were still fighting with each other. I decided to shoot the closest one, which happened to be the Raider. From my elevated vantage, I was able to end the fight fairly easily. Unfortunately, Pickman was still alive. I decided to find out his motives and go from there. This was where I made a mistake of sorts, morally speaking. If, at that moment, I had treated Pickman as a threat, I could have eliminated him and felt no real guilt. He was a bad guy; the Raiders are bad guys. Save the Wasteland by ridding the world of both.
That’s Fallout justice!
Instead, I listened, as he explained that the Raiders deserve what he’s doing to them. His art produced good in the world, even if it did satisfy his twisted ends. I froze, literally in game terms. I paused the game and thought through my options. What should I do? On the one hand, this guy was a psychopath; on the other, he directed his tendencies toward Raiders, and the less of them the better. He was an apocalyptic Dexter, using his deviant desires to rid the world of other evil people. Did the ends justify the means here? I wasn’t sure, and I teach this stuff for a living! What’s my duty here? What would maximize utility? What would Aristotle do?
Damnit…I just wasn’t sure.
Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t just murder Pickman now that he had stood down. In game terms, he was green (non-hostile). I told him I would let him live. He gave me a key to a safe he had hidden behind one of his viscera paintings. In it was some treasure, including the switchblade he used on his victims, which gave a bonus by making enemies bleed after being stabbed. I sold it, because gross.
As I left his gallery (yeah, that’s what the building is called in the game: Pickman’s Gallery), I pondered my decision. I couldn’t get over the feeling that I should have killed him. Sure, he’s ridding the wasteland of Raiders, but he’s also a sociopathic dick who delights in dicing up his victims and turning them into art. Should I have left someone like that alive? Does anyone, even a Raider, deserve to have that happen to them? I don’t think so, but I also wasn’t sure I could just murder him in cold blood.
Here I am, traveling through the Wasteland, acting as judge, jury, and executioner over and over again, and this one time I have a perfect chance to end someone awful, I don’t take it. What do you think? Did I make the right choice here? Or did I blow it?