Archer in the Wasteland: What I learned from playing Fallout 4 as Sterling Archer

Posted on April 13, 2016

Role-Playing Games are enormously interesting: a genre that goes back to pen-and paper games such as Dungeons & Dragons (lunchtime in Primary School, anyone?), they allow people to inhabit rich worlds as fully-developed characters and make decisions that substantially alter the course of events. Improvements in technology have allowed games to present richer and richer fictional worlds and more complex narrative arcs, with all the action and spectacle of a traditional video game.

I’ve spent a fair while playing Fallout 4 already: having completed a ‘vanilla’ playthrough where I played in my own usual style I was inspired to try an experiment. Rather than playing the game in my default mode, I decided to inhabit the role of TV character Sterling Archer, from the (rather adult) animated comedy series Archer. If you know the show, you can see the potential already.

Sterling Archer is an espionage agent for the International Secret Intelligence Service (yes, ISIS). He is like an early James Bond ratcheted up to the extreme of over-entitled and self-absorbed loutishness: although quite capable, he is completely insensitive to the needs of others and is motivated purely by his own desires and wish for the ultimate thrill ride. In some ways he is endearing, but there is no other way to say that he is a complete douchebag (click here for a detailed definition).

So in setting up Archer for the Wasteland, the selection of attributes was important. Good-looking and charming, he must have full charisma, as that is largely how he gets through life (although his charms don’t seem to work on those closest to him). He also needs a few points in strength and endurance, because he’s buff, capable at unarmed combat and can certainly take a beating, or a shooting, or a paddling. He needs loads of points into luck, because by virtue of his birth and upbringing, that’s mostly what he’s got going for him. But he doesn’t have much else – not too much Intelligence to speak of, almost no Perception, not a great deal of Agility, nor any of the other well-rounded personal attributes that would make him a decent human being. Then designing the right appearance was quite a challenge.

Archer from TV vs...

Archer from TV vs…

But it was when I started playing as Archer that I learned a little more about the game and a lot more about myself as a gamer. The role-play required me to be rude and selfish, and especially contemptuous of those who display ideals and strong morals. This is the opposite of my usual play style, and I found myself cringing at having the leader of the Minutemen (basically a community development militia) call me a jerk. Being Archer forced me to align with the Institute, who are basically the most evil faction in the game, simply because they have the most power and cool gadgets, and who cares about the rights of slave androids anyway? I am also very impressed by the Brotherhood of Steel because, well, Power Armour, and blokey faux-camaraderie. Here is learned that when I play a game I have real trouble getting out of myself and playing a role, and I just want to be nice to everyone. It’s fun being Archer though: I can rob travelling merchants without a care in the world, and forget about defending the victims of local dope peddlers.

Archer in the Wasteland. He’s weathered the nuclear apocalypse quite well!

There were also very liberating aspects of the Archer playthrough. I usually play with the difficulty setting at the hardest I can manage without ragequitting, but everything comes easily to Archer and he must never die, so I can happily turn it down to Very Easy and strap in for the ride. In my first playthrough I was very concerned with building settlements, modding/crafting weapons and armour, and completing almost everything I could find, but Archer just wants to get to the action with the minimum of fuss, so I can leave all that behind and jump to the explosions. I can happily choose the biggest, most powerful weapons (hello nukes!) because that is just what Archer would do. Alcohol and chemicals? That’s all fun! And I don’t need to agonise over moral decisions or accidentally killing innocents or good guys because, hey, who cares?

So this new style of playing really opened my eyes to the potential of RPGs and gaming in general: the potential to take me out of myself, allow some reflection on my own basis for decision-making and think through what makes a game fun for me. And here’s cheers to the developers of Fallout 4 (Bethesda Softworks) who have created a game rich and complex enough to make this possible, as well as other amazing feats such as completing the game without killing anyone.

Do you have any interesting experiences playing a particular game, or observing others? Comment below or tell us via email.


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