How Fallout Taught the Video Game Industry the Meaning of Role-Playing

Who are you? Before you answer that question, really take the time to think about it. The question isn’t “Who do you think you are?” or “Who do you want to be?” It’s “Who are you?”

Some may say the answer to that question requires some deep soul searching in order to really figure out what defines you as a person. It doesn’t. At the very least, it doesn’t have to.

No, the question of who you are is one that you answer every day. You answer it with what you say and what you do. Though the question can be influenced by outside factors, it is ultimately one that is answered by the role you create for yourself. If it seems almost impossible to truly answer, that’s because it is. After all, who among us plays a role so often that we are comfortable defining ourselves by it?

This is a lesson that takes many people years to learn and fully appreciate. Yet, Fallout taught it to the entire gaming industry on September 30, 1997.

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In the 1980s, a group of developers led by the likes of Ultima creator Richard Garriott and Dungeons and Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax helped develop or inspire the first wave of computer role-playing games (CRPGs).

These games are rough by just about any modern technical standard, but at the time, they were a minor miracle. They allowed players to participate in the kind of adventures previously limited to the pen and paper format. Sure, many of them lacked the depth and multiplayer elements of D&D, but who was going to balk at the chance to participate in an epic fantasy adventure whenever they wanted to do so?

Despite an overwhelming influx of all-time great games, the CRPG industry began to experience a serious sales decline during the early-to-mid ‘90s. Its fall can partially be attributed to oversaturation and consumer fatigue, but others blame its declining fortunes on CRPG developers’ inability to adapt to the CD-ROM age fast enough. It certainly didn’t help…

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