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Analysis / Fallout 4

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The Battle of Ideals: Idealism vs Cynicism, Pragmatism vs Nihilism.

One of the major themes in Fallout 4 is the Battle between Idealism, Cynicism and Pragmatism. Each of the four major factions represent one of these points of view to promote a Gray-and-Grey Morality (probably to appeal to New Vegas fans) with the idea being of choosing how to save the Wasteland from itself.

  • The Minutemen represent Idealism as they promote - Strength through Unity - However, their Idealism has caused them to be decimated by the beginning of the story and no one takes them seriously until the end depending on your choices.

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  • The Brotherhood represent Pragmatism as they promote - Peace and Order through Strength - This has caused most of the Commonwealth to hate them when they arrive to occupy the region.

  • The Institute represent Cynicism and Nihilism as they promote - Our Survival and Prosperity at all cost - This has led them to murder and replace a lot of (sometimes innocent) people due to their belief that the Commonwealth is not worth saving but still need its resources to survive, leading to most people either hating or fearing them. By the time the Sole Survivor has made contact with them, they have given up on the surface and declared all wastelanders to be worthless and expendable.

  • The Railroad represent self-righteous Idealism and ruthless Pragmatism with them promoting the idea that Synths are sentient beings that deserve to live. However, their self-righteousness and guerrilla tactics has alineated them from most of the Wasteland and has led many people to believe that care more about Synths than actual humans.

Effects of a Zero Sum Economy in an Early Stage Agrarian Society

By the time Fallout 4 begins, we see that the Commonwealth does have pockets of fertile land and pure (underground) water where crops can be grown. You also see fruits, vegetables and corn being sold at trading posts, and cooking stations all over the place. This is a marked improvement over the previous games, where almost nothing could be farmed or grown. When agriculture wasn't possible, living as hunter-gatherers or "scavengers" was the only way to get by. Lots of people became Raiders because taking by force was easier than going for miles scavenging with potentially no reward. So why would there still be Raiders in the Commonwealth where subsistence farming is now possible? Sure, farming to eat is still hard work, but it offers better returns than scavenging. So what is the incentive to raid instead of settle down and farm?


The answer lies in the currency being used in the Fallout universe: Bottle Caps. There isn't a factory running somewhere, still making bottled sodas and caps for them, so the total number of caps available to the population as a whole is limited. When you trade something for caps, you are essentially bartering. If the population increases, there is less caps per capita that can be exchanged. Wealth is not created or destroyed, it is only transferred from person to person. In a hunter-gatherer world, things would even out somewhat. Raiding is only effective if the target has lots of stuff, so you wouldn't want to waste bullets on a dirt poor scavenger. Accumulate enough things, and you will lose some of those things, either having to trade them for food (which also had to be scavenged or hunted), or have it stolen by Raiders. Nobody could concentrate wealth for long.

With subsistence farming, things change. You are now producing food and water out of seemingly nothing, so if you continually trade what you don't consume, you will stand to take more and more wealth from the populace without bartering anything in return. You are now acting like a black hole sucking out the limited wealth in the region. Normally, this situation would have been fixed by a government printing fiat currency and guaranteeing at least some fiduciary value, thereby pumping in wealth as needed by the populace, but in this world, there is no government. Seeing these subsistence farmers as endless sources of wealth, but being unwilling to put in the work to become farmers themselves, more and more Raider gangs form.

  • But there are bottlecaps being added to the economy all the time. Nuka-cola is shown to be incredibly common, so much that random beggars can afford enough to become addicted to it, not even counting beer and every other drink that survived the bombs. Every time someone opens up a cola, a bottlecap is added to the economy. In addition, the functional farms are few and far between. Most settlements have one or two farmers and a handful of crops, barely enough to sustain themselves, let alone take any to a market for trading or to sustaining the countless raiders of the commonwealth. Taking by force is always going to be easier then working for it yourself, unless there are factors that make it more difficult or otherwise less profitable. In most cases, this would be the government with a police force, which the Commonwealth lacks. Bullets are incredibly cheap in the Fallout world, even the cloths a scaver wears would be worth it to a raider. There are also plenty of caps getting "destroyed", that is to say they are removed from the economy when their owner meets their doom in a way that doesn't involve a human assailant who can liberate them.
    • The problem still is that bottle caps must be found, stolen or scrounged. Those Nuka Cola or beer bottles are pre war - they aren’t being manufactured. So someone still has to forage for it, just like how people prospected for gold in the nineteenth century. And yes, taking is easier than farming, which is why you need a government and police force to prevent this “dog eat dog” breakdown. But a police force costs money - which if you don’t have a government taxing people to fund, you still need to scrounge.

  • In addition to that, bottle caps don't have inherent value. They are backed by water (which does have inherent value), originally by the Hub. Who backs them currently is unknown (its possible that Capital Wasteland does, the NCR likely still prints its own water-backed money, though that is just blatant speculation). That is to say, it is representative fiat money, backed by but not created by governments (or at least powerful government-like organizations).
    • Which makes it just another commodity and thereby not a fiat currency. The NCR currency is a fiat currency, and that place is relatively stable. Which proves my point - a commodity based economy is still zero sum, and farming disrupts a commodity based hunt and gather type of economy.

  • Unfortunately, the entire premise of this analysis is wrong. Fallout 3 is the only game in the main series where the player does not witness a representation of at least moderate-scale agriculture, with large-scale agriculture present or implied in 2 and New Vegas.
    • And those places have NCR backed fiat currency. Which proves my point.
      • Modoc doesn't. Nor did the Hub, Arroyo, the Den Slave Run, or the myriad random farms the player can encounter while out and about in the world.
  • This simply isn't how wealth works. Wealth in a fiat currency isn't static and wealth still grows as production rises even if the level of currency does not. What would happen is deflation as the same amount of caps comes to represent a greater amount of total wealth. That is to say that it would be a saver's economy rather than a debtor's economy. A zero sum economy only exist if absolutely zero new products are introduced into the system, and teh existence of farming prevents that.
    • The point made is that agriculture is disrupting what used to be a zero sum economy scavenger-hunter-gatherer economy by causing wealth to concentrate. Whether it is produce being concentrated in the hands of the farmers, or deflated bottle caps concentrating in the hands of the savers, the issue is that the change from a zero-sum everything evens out scenario to wealth concentration is what’s causing raiders to persist. Without a fiat currency to increase overall buying power so that money and goods flow, concentration of wealth means that the have-nots are increasingly incentivized to seize wealth by force.

The Minutemen - A faction that must be leveled up

There are numerous complaints from people about the Minutemen being the weakest faction in the game. They don’t give you Powered Armor and Gatling Lasers like the Brotherhood, nor do they give you Gauss rifles, special Stealth Boys and ballistic weave like the Railroad, or synth relay grenades and instant teleportation like the Institute. They don’t have Liberty Prime, Coursers or Glory. Why should anyone do the work of building settlements, planting crops and infrastructure, build defenses, arm and equip settlers, construct artillery, when other factions give you cool stuff for doing far less?

Because the Minutemen are just like you - weak at Level 1, but with work put in, can become the most powerful force in the Commonwealth.

When you encounter Preston and his party at the Museum of Freedom, they are a pathetic lot, barely able to hold their own against a raider gang. After you rescue them and take them back to Sanctuary, they are still a pathetic lot, starving, thirsty, powerless and vulnerable. You need to bring them crops to plant, build water pumps and generators, equip them with weapons and build guardposts as defenses. But consider how you were, when you just thawed out - you are a Level 1 character with no weapons, no armor, no caps, no perks and struggle against a few radroaches. When you get to Sanctuary, you are only marginally better, needing Codsworth tokill a few bloatflies for you.

If you go through the rest of the game, without leveling up and taking perks, without picking up and using various other armor, clothing and weapons, your Level 1 character in the Vault 111 jumpsuit and 10 mm pistol will get shellacked by everything. Similarly, if you try to use the Minutemen as they were constituted at Sanctuary after their rescue, they are laughably ineffective. Fire that flare gun, and nobody shows up. But as you level yourself up, you get stronger, sturdier and able to dish out more damage. At Level 10, you most likely have some basic metal and leather armor and basic pipe weapons, allowing you to defeat basic raiders, ghouls and small animals. Similarly, put in a little work in your settlements and you might have enough to feed and protect two people. At this point, your flare gun may summon Minutemen only around the vicinity of Sanctuary. As you level up more, you may start to equip yourself with hunting rifles, combat rifles and shotguns. Similarly, as you work more on your settlements, they may be able to hold four to five people each. Capturing more settlements and working on them gets you more Minutemen allies in more places. But you’ll have to level up to 30 to start seeing combat armor, assault rifles, 50 caliber sniper rifles etc. And similarly, you’ll have to gain control of 30 settlements and bring them up beyond subsistence levels for the flare gun to summon Minutemen everywhere. And by this time, your settlements can defend themselves better with machine gun turrets, but only if you build them. Settlement defense quests which previously were frenetic life and death struggles become survivable. Just like you are better at combat with your combat armor and harder hitting weapons, by leveling up.

Level up further and things get even better. You may be able to take on Legendaries and win, slowly equipping yourself only with legendaries. Similarly, if you put in the work, your settlements may have excess food and supply lines, at which point, you can up the recruitment of settlers and Minutemen. More show up when you fire that flare. Leveling up further allows you to pick and choose your Legendary weapons and armor, enabling you to spec to any desired combat style. You can now take on most Legendary enemies and win. Similarly, your settlements may now be well supplied and fortified with advanced turrets that they can fend off attacks without your help. And be strong enough to easily reclaim the Castle. Level up even further, and you become strong enough to kill all boss typeenemies easily. Similarly, your settlements may have fusion power, multiple missile turrets and possibly some shops if you built them up. And by the end game, they have artillery which can hamburger anything anywhere in the Commonwealth. Just like how you have your perks maxed out and may have fully upgraded power armor, with combat armor worn on ballistic weaved clothing, making you Nigh-Invulnerable.

And thanks to your efforts, you’ve become the most dangerous and hardest to kill person in the entire Commonwealth. But similarly, due to you putting in the effort, the Minutemen are now strong enough to not only invade, rout and destroy The Dreaded Institute, but to follow that up by hamburgering the Brotherhood too. That is the culmination of you putting in the work to level them up. Only by doing this, do they become powerful.

And the Minutemen by this time really are the most powerful faction. Although they have their HQ at the Castle, there are upto 30 other well fortified well supplied artillery batteries for Minutemen to rally at. Contrast that with the other factions. The Railroad is toast if their HQ at the church is attacked. The Brotherhood is kaput once you destroy the Prydwyn. The Institute is obliterated once you storm their underground “city”. But the Minutemen have much much more tactical depth - but only if you put in the effort.


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