Companions: choosing your friends

You are the company you keep, this old adage speaks to the nature of how the people around us shape who we are.  In role playing games such as Fallout 4, planning out a path for your character, the powers they will attain and the narrative they will complete determines how you will interact with the world and the followers you will take along with you as you attain your ultimate goal.  If you wish to play as a morally grey player you can side with Cait who will look the other way when you commit petty crimes and will encourage you to seek out monetary gains when making deals.  Whereas if you wish to be a paragon for good, Preston will be there to support your choices and will develop a strong connection with you when you perform acts of altruism and do right by people.

While you can at any time behave in the manner you choose, the companions in your party often dictate the choices you make.  Their support or rejection of your actions is reflected in the relationship between the player and their companion either growing together or apart.  The consistency of character in the companions makes it easy to navigate a relationship with them.  Getting to know what their beliefs are, what they value, can inspire in the player to modify their behavior to fit in, i.e. refraining from lying because of a companion’s belief in honesty.  At other times the player can dismiss companions and seek out another if they don’t feel like being judged for their actions.  This in itself brings up an interesting point; for example, if the past five companions have all disliked the player’s propensity for thievery the fact that they have to seek out a person who will go along with the immoral behavior becomes a statement on the basic tenets of civilized human society.

These lessons reflect the decisions we make in the real world when choosing our social circles. Determining the people we spend our time with, learn from, and the behaviors we internalize as accepted, is a reflection of the person we are but also who we hope to become.  Falling into the wrong crowd of people can mean everything from crime to apathy; the idea is that when we associate with people that change us for the worse we are actively choosing to alter ourselves to match our friends and suppressing the desire to better ourselves.

In the end the company we keep serves as a reflection of our values.  So why then do we spend our time scrutinizing our companions in games and not in our daily lives?  Perhaps it is because the things we attain from our in-game friendships are tangible; they increase our experience gained from conversations, they expand our combat prowess, etc.  Could not the same be said of our real world friendships?  Spending time singing with musicians helps us to conquer our fear of performing and eventually leads to opportunities to be musicians ourselves.  Participating in a book club creates a space for us to read and analyze literature, to contribute to a discussion, and could help us become critics if we so choose.

The reality is that we can see the benefits and areas of growth provided to us by our social circles if we apply the same thoughtful planning to our social lives as we do our playthroughs.  Often times we fall into our social groups by chance and go with the dynamic due to comfort. However, we are always capable of seeking out new company and creating our own diverse party of companions to help us along our journey’s of self-discovery and self expression. This realization is one that can empower us to create truly fulfilling social lives and to surround ourselves with lifelong companions.

I talked about the possibilities of letting the affinity system within games dictate the player’s choices too much within my article All or nothing affinity: Why NPC interactions are broken,  I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to playprofessor@gmail.com.

Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.

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