Like a lonely hoarder, you’ll explore vacant buildings, collecting books, cups, batteries, empty soda cans, and other garbage. Every visible surface — tables, desks, floors, dressers, cabinets — might contain a pencil or a mug, so they must all be searched. You’ll then sell these items for bottle caps, which are like money except they’re bottle caps. These bottle caps, you’ll soon realize, can only purchase items in the game; only virtual items, never real items, no. They can’t be used to buy real things in the real world. This is a crucial distinction between Fallout: New Vegas’s bottle caps and real people money, and one that can’t be ignored in assessing the game’s quality. Despite this, the more bottle caps you earn, the greater the serotonin release. (Scientists have found the simple act of handling cash can improve one’s mood, so who can ever fully know the intricate mysteries of the human mind and its nuanced sense of what constitutes an accomplishment.)
You’ll build your life around the steady accumulation of virtual objects, opening drawers and boxes, always opening drawers and boxes, forever opening drawers and boxes, scouring the area like a greedy desert scavenger. The endless desert plains, lonely and radioactive, unpopulated except by monsters and murderers — it is the window to your soul. ‘Is this my real life?’ you’ll wonder as you acquire a wage form from a dead chem (meth) addict’s desk. ‘Does my life have any meaning at all?’ You know the answer, and the answer is no.
The game allows you to level up as you accomplish tasks and murder things, instilling a sense of progress, of growth as a human being. You’ll boil rice for chicken curry and think, ‘I do 10% more damage with handguns. Now, how do I translate this newfound competence into attractiveness to girls/men?’ This thought will lead to a heart pounding terror, a fear people might discover how much time you’ve spent acquiring imaginary mugs and pencils. The average PC gaming session lasts eight hours, and, although you haven’t precisely timed yourself, you’re certain you’ve surpassed this duration by at least a few hours; you’ve watched the sun rise, set, and rise again while still playing Fallout: New Vegas. If anyone finds out, they’ll know you for what you are: a sad bleary eyed junkie who collects imaginary pencils and mugs, whose drug lacks the drama of heroin. The outsiders will judge you harshly for your dumb addiction and they will be right to do so.
Game features include a greater appreciation for time spent outdoors. You’ll think to yourself, ‘Feels like I need outdoor time,’ and the walk to 7/11 for iced coffee will be a euphoric communion with nature. ‘This is what Thoreau was talking about,’ you’ll think as you pass a Popeye’s and a QuikTrip. With your humanity reaffirmed, you’ll dive back into the make-believe desert to sift through robot infested factories and casino/brothels for prewar dresses and reading glasses. If you sell enough prewar dresses and reading glasses, you can buy a gun that shoots better, and having a better gun will increase your feelings of self-worth.
You’ll imagine you’re playing simply to purge this compulsion from your system, that once you’re finished, you can move on to other more important, productive activities in your life, perhaps outdoor activities even, but the truth is: Fallout: New Vegas is hundreds of hours long with three different expansion packs and endless replay value due to the branching storylines. There is no future for you. You’ll never read those books or finish that painting. Abandon your dreams. Hope is a firefly that just flew into an ocean of lava. Your limited time on this planet will be spent in a cyber desert, talking to imaginary people, solving their problems, punctuated by the occasional break for sustenance intake and disposal.
Your bones will grow soft and gelatinous with vitamin D deficiency, increasing the difficulty level on basic daily activities. When you fall down due to catastrophically atrophied calf muscles, your legs will snap and break like dry spaghetti noodles, a medical condition known as rickets. White goo will gush from wounds on your knees, and you’ll scoop up this bone slime into an old mason jar, take the jar to a hospital, and slither sluglike into the waiting room. Doctors will attempt to resolidify your bone slime. Expert medical professionals will be flown in from distant countries to test the slime and slop your floppy body into testing machines. They’ll whisper among themselves. A passing fragment of conversation will reach your ears: “…as if he’s been in outer space his whole life.”
Without bones for a framework, your organs will roll around in your guts like a gooey maraca. Your mother will quit her job to take you to various skeletal regrowth therapies in cities like Sedona, Tokyo, and Austin — all of them either ineffective mysticism or outright scams. She’ll roll you around in a metal cart from place to place like a pile of dirty laundry, increasingly resentful, on the verge of depression, and all the while you’ll still play Fallout: New Vegas, thanks to the faintest remaining flecks of muscle tissue in your fingers. You’ll cry while you play. You’ll cry so hard you’ll throw up on yourself. Then, due to an inability to roll over, you’ll choke to death on the puke. What I’m trying to say, I guess, is it’s a pretty cool game.