How the Fallout Games Teach Priority Management

May 14, 2012 — 5 Comments

This might take a bit of work, but imagine this scenario:

Imagine if the Cold War had indeed escalated into something catastrophic. Imagine if during the middle of the twentieth century there had been an intense nuclear war. There were a handful of people who prepared for the war, and built secure vaults underground to be protected from what was to come.

200 years later, you are a young man who has lived only inside one of these vaults. You discover that your father has gone missing. He’s been the first one to leave the vault since before the war. You decide to search for your father. As you leave your underground home, this is what you find.

Washington DC, 200 years after nuclear war.

Or this.

DC - The Capitol Wasteland.

In search of your father, you roam the Capitol Wasteland, finding people mutated from radiation poisoning, bandits trying to capitalize of others’ weaknesses, oversize irradiated insects, warring factions of people building their respective empires, and the occasional person trying to the make the world whole again. All of what used to be Washington DC is open to your exploration. You fight mutants in trenches in the Mall, kill slavers who’ve laid claim to the Lincoln memorial, evade foul creatures in the serpentine subway system, and traverse destroyed overpasses all on the search for your father.

This is a giant, hideous city, filled with people who have a story to tell. You can explore as much or as little of it as you want as you try to figure out what drove your father out of his home.

This is the world of a video game called Fallout 3. It’s part of a game series that takes place in a dystopian future that has been ravaged by war.

I was utterly captivated by this game when it first came out. It was totally effortless to pour hours into this game. The developers did a superb job in creating an immersive experience that made you feel like you had to deal with the real terrors of living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Outdoor water is irradiated. Paper money is worthless. Most people are only interested in their own advancement. Every resource is precious. Spam, baseball bats, sewer rat meat, and pilot lights all have value in this game.

Additionally, the way you play through the game is entirely up to you. The player has the ability to customize their character, and decide which attributes they want as strengths. It is entirely possible to play the game as a silver-tongued diplomat who negotiates every situation, a sneaky thief who depends on pick-pocketing and picking locks, a skilled computer hacker who bypasses security, or a Rambo-type figure, attacking anybody who resists.

This is accomplished through a system in the game called S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck


The player has a certain number of points they can allocate to these various abilities. But the number is very limited. You have to pick a specialty. And this is the challenge of the game. It’s impossible to be the best hacker, master thief, skilled assassin, and accomplished politician all in one play-through of the game.

You have to choose how you want to specialize.

The temptation is to allocate some of your points to all your attributes but you will not do well in the game. For example, you won’t have quite enough skill to pick challenging locks, but you also won’t be adept and hacking trickier computers. Nor will you have enough skill to smooth-talk your way into where you want to go. Neither will you be good enough to beat the guards in a fight.

Though all the abilities are good. You have to pick one and excel in it.

I had a really difficult time with this.

I could see the value in all the attributes. And I’ve learned that I’m the same way in life, too.

I love doing too many things. I can see the value in loads of activities.

For example, I love the idea of fixing up my house on my own instead of paying somebody else. I love reading fiction, nonfiction, and writing. Meanwhile, I find incredible joy in playing video games and watching movies. So often I connect to God through music. All the while, I feel great when I work out regularly and cook my own healthy meals.

I could work full time at these things, and not do everything that I just mentioned… And I already work time! Not to mention I have a family with whom I would like to share my life.

So, I have to pick.

Just like in Fallout, I have limited resources.

I need to choose how I want to specialize.

To be sure, I could do a little bit of everything that I mentioned above. But I would be terrible at the video games I play, I would be an absent father, I wouldn’t be able to play the guitar worth beans, I’d be out of shape, I’d lose track of the plot in books because it would take me so long to read them, my house wouldn’t be all that clean, and I’d be exhausted by the time I got to work in the morning.

I once heard a difficult saying:

Say “yes” to the best and “no” to all the rest.

For so long I thought the challenge of life was learning to say “no” to the bad things. I’ve learned, though, that doing that isn’t too hard. The real challenge is saying “no” to some of the good things in life so that you can focus on what matters most.

What is constantly demanding your time, energy, and attention? What do you need to put aside (maybe not forever, but for now) so that you can accomplish what matters most?

If you have any ounce of empathy, you’ll be able to see the good in almost anything. There are loads of great ways to spend our time and resources in this life. But are you expending yourself on what you are the most gifted to do?

Fallout teaches us to decide now what we want our priorities to be.

Do you know what your best is? Are you striving to accomplish it?  Or are you letting other good things distract you from what God has created you to do?

What good things do you need to jettison in your pursuit for your best?


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I'm a pastor, writer, speaker, husband, father, and follower of Christ, to name a few titles. You can find my contact information in my About page.
  • I like your take on this aspect of Fallout 3. When I played the game, I often felt cheated because the limitation on skills meant that certain narratives weren’t available to me; my interest in the story was such that I wanted to be able to access everything the game had to offer, but it just isn’t possible unless you play through multiple times.

    • Jonah, I hear ya! This game was so intriguing that I wanted to experience all of it. Its fascinating that the game ended up being more immersive because of its restriction. It felt more realist that I couldn’t easily save slaves and casually explore the slavers’ compound as the same character. By the way, your blog looks great! Austin

      • Thanks for stopping by Virtual Stowaway! Yeah, the slaver camps are a great example of the game forcing you to make a choice, for good or ill.

  • I think that people also get caught up in things that are “urgent but not important.” Thanks for this reminder to say yes to the most important things and no to everything else. I just eliminated a handful of blogs that I read and quit playing Words with Friends and Draw Something in an effort to be more proactive about how I spend my time. Giving myself grace is also important! Thanks for this blog: it was helpful even though I don’t pay Fallout!

    • Way to go with dumping some unnecessary things like some blogs. Just don’t dump this one!