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Extensive spoilers (and even more extensive discussion!) about the Brotherhood of Steel “missing rations” quest

Butch:

I had a lot to say about the missing rations quest. It was a great quest. I’m very glad I didn’t take Danse. What I want to know is, did the sergeant know? He kept telling us to go away…. if he DID know, that gives it a nice wrinkle. Either way, the fact you wonder….

So I told the guy to run and saved the ghouls. Kinda wonderful themeage. Thinking you are for “us” only to find “they” are….maybe…..sorta….us. But not really. But close. As the game goes on, those thoughts of “us” and “them” are getting blurrier and blurrier. Classic Bethesda. Well, classic GOOD Bethesda. What happened with you on that one?

Couple of thoughts!

It took me too long cuz I got a glitch where a ghoul killed me in one hit. That was awful. Trucking along nicely, killin’ shit, then BOOM dead. What was THAT?

Following the guy was kind of a pain. I got to one point and I sat in a bush for like ten minutes. Could NOT get him to move. Very Assassin’s Creed.

Remember how I said on that last bit that if I got a “confront” prompt instead of a “kill” I’d go in guns down so the dude wouldn’t shoot right off the go? Well, I did! And he didn’t shoot! And there was talking! So from now on, guns down. Unless I forget. Which I will.

Good quest.

Feminina:

Ah, missing rations. That’s pretty much what I did on that. I mean, I don’t know if the ghouls are going to survive once the guy goes and admits what he was doing–the Brotherhood will probably just kill them all, and honestly, I don’t know that I disagree with that–but in the conversation with what’s-his-name I said “I won’t tell” and left them alone.

I mean, aside from all the ones I killed on the way down there.

I agree, I felt it was a very interesting bit from a theme perspective, because here we have someone arguing for the ‘us-ness,’ the essential humanity, of the least sympathetic, most literally faceless ‘others’ in the game. Raiders, you figure they’re at least human, and super mutants, if no longer exactly human, at least think and talk, but feral ghouls? They’re just the mindless shambling zombies we don’t feel a second’s hesitation about killing. (Except for that time we both found one that didn’t attack us, and that we both then chose to leave alone, which was probably a glitch but potentially has some bearing on the issue in terms of where we stand in terms of game morality.)

But basically, we’ve never been asked to empathize with feral ghouls in any way — the closest we’ve come is the distress and horror of finding some that have names, which reminds us that they WERE people, but that in no way suggested that we should try to show them any kind of consideration now — and suddenly here’s this guy feeding them (even though they don’t apparently, actually need to eat?), stealing food from his own ‘kind’ to do it, and talking softly to them as if they were creatures for whom one could feel sympathy, or who could potentially appreciate or benefit from that sympathy. It’s a nice twist.

As I said, I don’t know if I really agree with his approach. In fact, I don’t think I do. Whatever essential ‘humanity’ the feral ghouls had may well have been entirely lost as their brains deteriorated, and I tend to think of it as more of a mercy to kill them. Does it honor my essential humanity in any meaningful way to have my mindless body walking around attacking people for centuries after the “me” in it is gone? It may be a fitting memorial for the PC, who does spend a LOT of time attacking people, but for me personally out of game…I’ll pass. Go ahead and shoot down my staggering corpse. No need to waste perfectly good food on it. It’s cool.

Still, in a very basic sense, feral ghouls ARE still human: presumably they still have human DNA, they have recognizable limbs, they move around, they apparently sometimes try to avoid dying, which suggests rudimentary consciousness (I thought it was interesting that he said “they were trying to run away,” which honestly is something I’ve never seen a feral ghoul do and kind of assumed they didn’t have the awareness to do, but perhaps they’re just not as scared of me and my one companion as they are of the descending force of the Brotherhood of Steel). Anyway, it’s an interesting question to bring up, and I respect that.

I’m thinking the thief’s position is essentially pro-life: he probably feels that human life/DNA/genetic material is sacred from conception to walking death. Ha.

Butch:

Ah, see, I went back to end the quest, and pretty much lied. I said there were no thefts at all. I probably threw some poor scribe under the bus, but no way I was going to say “Oh yeah, big ghoul nest” which was an option.

Moral of the story for ghouls: Stay in the room with the cram.

Not killing the (probably glitched) non-hostile ghouls is very much relevant to our moral discussion. Indeed, when the dude was talking about his friend who was a ghoul, I asked “Was he feral?” and the guy sort of said “I don’t know…but I’m not sure it matters.” Which is interesting.

It’s also interesting you bring up mutants because, like ferals, they WERE human. Ferals are humans who’s brains got cooked by radiation, mutants humans who got the FEV virus. They both were “us,” in a way, long ago.

The question of ghouls being “able to appreciate or benefit from the sympathy” is a point I considered. I mean, he is thinking “They are like me, they need cram,” etc. He’s trying to get them to take it. There’s something about a guy in an army uniform, the metaphor of which we’ve touched on, saying to a bunch of people whose language he doesn’t speak “Here, take this, I like it, so you will to. If you just GET what you have to do to get people who wear my uniform to understand you…” I mean, the BoS is trying to “purify” the wastes with guns. This guy, though he appears charitable, is really just trying to get the ghouls to assimilate.

And yeah I DID notice that he said the ghouls were trying to run! Which made me wonder “Am I not noticing that?” and then “Or was he imparting some sort of fear/humanity to them?” I mean, this guy WANTS to think ghouls are human. He had a friend who “went ghoul.” He doesn’t want to think his friend is gone. So maybe the ghouls he saw weren’t running. Maybe they were just running over there to attack that other guy or something, and he just saw what he wanted to see. He desperately wanted THEM to be US. Which is also something we haven’t seen yet.

What do you make of his being BoS in the first place? I mean, I asked him “Why did you join? What did you expect?” and his naivety was stunning. Did you buy that? What do you make of it?

Man, you joke about the pro-life thing, but I wish oh so very much you had done the cannery, especially before this, and especially both with Curie. Mentally bookmark this quest and what you just said and we’ll talk when you find the cannery.

Feminina:

Interesting. I didn’t cover up for the guy. I convinced him he should turn himself in, which he must have done, because when I went back to report they just said “good work” or whatever. Actually, I think they said “good work, we’ll go clean out that ghoul nest,” so I did basically doom all the ghouls. But again, whatever-his-name-was’ sentiment aside (and it’s a fair point that he may be attributing to them human qualities they don’t actually demonstrate), I’m not sure that was the wrong thing to do. I didn’t want to kill him, he didn’t seem like a bad guy, but I am not personally attached to the idea of having a bunch of feral ghouls hanging out in a pit under the airport. Seems like one of those landscaping choices that could eventually backfire.

He did seem really, really naive, but I didn’t find that unbelievable. I mean, some people must join the Brotherhood because it seems like a good opportunity, rather than because they fully understand or believe in all of the BoS principles. He strikes me as sort of the “idealistic kid joins the army thinking it’ll be an adventure, doesn’t realize what he’s getting into” character. An army needs soldiers, and not every soldier is going to be equally committed to or prepared for the work of the army, so I can buy that the Brotherhood would have accepted him, and he…well, he just didn’t understand the reality of what “exterminate non-humans” means until he got into the middle of it. He’d probably sympathize with synths, too, if he got to know any. He could be one of those people who’s just not soldier material.

Which is interesting in light of your point that he represents the ‘civilizing’/colonizing uniform, trying to impose his own views on a population (‘population’ by his own definition, more like ‘hazardous terrain’ if we disagree that feral ghouls are actually people at this point) that isn’t interested in them. In spite of his uniform, maybe he’s more a missionary colonizer than a military one? Trying to impose his view by persuasion rather than force?

He might make an interesting counterpart to the guy who tried to introduce Shakespeare to the super mutants. “Here, let me win you over to ‘my’ side with the obvious superiority of our entertainment/food!”

Meanwhile the ghouls don’t actually want food as such, they just crave human flesh, and the super mutants don’t give a damn about literature except in one case to the extent that it holds a clue to the mystical substance that will make them EVEN STRONGER.

I have the cannery on my map. I do. I just haven’t managed to claw my way out there yet. Soon! Maybe. So not soon.

I did get down to Quincy to pick up an Eddie Winter tape. There were a lot of locks to pick, so I took Nick back to Sanctuary and brought Piper, who’d appreciate them. Which she did, because then she asked if we could talk. I was all “we’re standing in a ruined basement knee-deep in radioactive water and surrounded by dead mirelurks and rotten fish heads, but sure, now’s good.”

Then the romance! I’m so charming, I didn’t even bother to take off my power armor (what? I’m supposed to put on Agatha’s dress in a flooded basement? Do you know how hard it is to get the smell of rotten fish out of sequins?). It’s how I know Piper likes me for myself, and not my pretty face and lieutenant’s hat.

So now I can FINALLY get the Lover’s Embrace bonus, which I will proceed to never remember for the rest of the game.

Butch:

I told him to run. Quit the brotherhood, get far, far away. He agreed that was best. Then I went back, and I could either say “Ghouls took the stuff,” which I did and that led to the ghouls dying, and I didn’t want that, so I reloaded, then the choices were “Tell the truth,” “Lie-there was no theft,” which is what I did cuz they all told me that was best and “Lie-it was raiders” or something. So I did manage to save the ghouls. As for them hanging out under the BoS, fuck the BoS. I don’t really want the BoS around anyway.

I found the guy’s naivete believable, too. But it was an interesting choice to have the dude who was sympathizing be a soldier. I mean, compare this to the guy trying, unsuccessfully, to train mirelurks. He came across as a hippie, intellectual doofus. For that matter, we never meet them, but what about the guys trying to “liberate the robots” over at the co-op with Mr. Goodfeels the robot? We see silliness in people trying to humanize/free/assimilate the non humans (at least the ones that don’t look like humans). They’re PORTRAYED as silly. Morons. But the ones helping humanoids are either cool rebels (Deacon, RR) or sympathetic, if naive, soldiers (this guy). It was a very intentional choice to make this guy BoS and not RR, or just some doofus who thought he could help ghouls. Because you’re right: there are a lot of soldiers who sign up for, what, free college, or serving the country, or because their dad did it, only to get out there in the desert and realize that shit is unpleasant at best, unjust at worst. They were obviously trying to give us that guy, that soldier who believed the recruitment ads. But it is quite the contrast to mirelurk dude.

And the contrast with the Shakespeare-promoting guy…him, too! Which, going from what I just said above, THAT dude was pretty much portrayed as a doofus. I didn’t get “doofus” from this BoS guy. Naive? Sure. But not as outright silly as the others. So what’s the difference? The military uniform? Does that make what he’s doing “respectable” when the same actions from someone in a suit would just be silly?

Lot in this quest.

Also, it was left ambiguous to me, anyway, if feeding the ghouls was working or not. I mean, he’s stolen multiple shipments to “feed the ghouls.” One would have thought if he had tried it and it hadn’t worked, he would have stopped. So what gives? Were they taking the food? They might have been.

I also think the sergeant knew. He must’ve. Why’d he want us to back off? He knew. Which is an interesting wrinkle there, too. Cuz if he did, then the BoS ISN’T the duty bound super organization it’s made out to be, is it? And, if that’s our proxy for good ol’ Americana, then…..

Another interesting bit is that Curie liked the way I played it, a lot. She wanted to save the ghouls, too. And wanted the guy to run. Which was interesting. She’s such a straight edger, you’d think she wouldn’t be down with lying, but she was. Very.

The cannery is a very, very interesting counterpoint to this. At least one detail of it.

As for Piper/romance: Nothing says lovin’ like mirelurk heads (T SHIRT!)

Little nuka cola cherry gets mirelurk out of sequins no problem (NEW SENTENCE!).

Isn’t Piper wonderfully flustered? We’ll talk later about how no one in this game expects any kind of human affection. Which I also think is intentional.

I mean, we’ve previously mentioned the whole flustered thing, and, the more I think on it, in this game about us and them, it’s interesting to see that no one expects love. I mean, love is the ultimate US, really. Most people, you ask them to rank what all the different ways to use “us” mean to them, probably number one on everyone’s list is family. Spouse. The people you share a roof with. And here’s a whole range of people, people who are all groping to figure the lines between us and them, all stunned that there could be such a thing as the ultimate US.

And she has such cute pillow talk. Ah, Piper.

Feminina:

That is interesting that Curie was into saving the ghouls and having the guy run off. I had Piper with me, and she didn’t really have a reaction to any of it.

I wonder, though, if it’s less about Curie being sympathetic to ghouls, and more about the fact that, being a scientist, she maybe likes this as an experiment? Because hey, we don’t KNOW ghouls wouldn’t eat food and (possibly) leave humans alone. We should find out! And maybe she sees the guy as someone who should be left alone to manage his experiment, the better to increase the sum of knowledge in the world, rather than as a nice guy who shouldn’t get in trouble for trying to do something nice.

I’m also not sure about the sergeant…if he knew, and really didn’t want us to pursue it, then why point us to exactly the two people we needed to talk to to find out the truth? I read him as being defensive about his people/department, but not necessarily as attempting to protect them from consequences if anything was actually going on.

And it is interesting how most attempts to free or civilize various ‘others’ are presented as foolhardy, but this guy comes across as well-intentioned and naive rather than just silly. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, really, given we could make an argument that super mutants are at LEAST as worthy of attempts to reach out/communicate/civilize as feral ghouls are. (At least we know they think, plan, use tools, etc.) Why is it such a joke that the actor guy was trying something weird and different? It IS a joke, I agree with you that he’s presented as a buffoon rather than a well-meaning idealist, but at heart, is his attempt really any more ridiculous? I don’t think so. So what is the game saying by presenting the attempts so differently?

Are we maybe laughing at the actor because he’s a pointy-headed intellectual, and the idea that anyone (let alone super mutants) would be interested in Shakespeare is ridiculous? (Because actually I quite like Shakespeare…am I laughing at myself?)

There could be something to the idea that presenting a ‘ridiculous’ idea while wearing a formal uniform somehow gives it credence…maybe we take this guy more seriously because hey, clearly he was good enough to join the army, his views must be worth considering! If it had been an idealistic young BoS guy out there reading Shakespeare to the mutants, and a snooty professor type trying to feed ghouls, it would have come across a lot differently.

And yet, “be young and sympathetic and wear a uniform” is not really the most workable lesson for a lot of people trying to effect change in the world. Our pointy-headed actor and robot-loving hippies are pretty much out of luck. Is the game saying it’s all a crapshoot which ideas get support, and pointedly demonstrating that winning our sympathies is more a matter of personal appearance and presentation than it is about the value of your goal?

Because…yeah, that’s a point one could make about politics, all right.

Butch:

Yeah. Curie had a surprising reaction to the cannery, too. Take her to the cannery.

The guy being defensive about his department…Hmm. Good point. But why was he so “Just walk away….” You could kinda tell he didn’t want people finding something out.

Aside from ridiculous, I found Rex Grossman (GROSSman for godsakes) more offensive. He came across as condescending. BoS guy didn’t. Is there a qualitative difference in terms of civilizing someone with Shakespeare and civilizing someone with food? Grossman certainly thought he was being charitable (most missionaries do, what with all that heaven and stuff), so why do we poo poo his charity but feel for the charity of the BoS guy, even if it was just as unasked for, unwanted and unappreciated?

One certainly could make that point about politics. And given all that, isn’t it more striking that here we are, a couple of pointy headed intellectual hippies ourselves, finding the hippies and intellectuals dorky at best, condescending at worst, and feeling for the soldier.

Games. They hold up mirrors, they do.

Feminina:

Good point about the attitude. Grossman (thank you) was so condescending, and BoS dude was so sincere. Not that sincerity is any guarantee of a good idea, but condescension is offputting. If Grossman had looked the same, but had a more personable attitude (say, he seemed genuinely enthusiastic and excited about sharing Shakespeare with a new audience, rather than seeming to view it as some sort of improving tonic he could give the benighted masses), we might have liked him more.

Do you really LIKE Shakespeare, or do you just want to make me read it because it’s ‘good for me’? Either way, in this context it’s missionary work (do you really LIKE the Christian God, or are you just here to proselytize because it’s ‘good for my soul’?), and it might be a terrible match for the super mutants, but one approach is a lot easier to feel at least some sympathy for.

I mean, on a non-missionary quest, I felt pretty sympathetic to the BPL librarians talking about preserving history, which no doubt is partly because I’m a librarian, but also had to do with the fact that they seemed to genuinely care about it (however impractical and hopeless the task eventually proved). So attitude matters.

I also kind of liked the robot-loving hippies, to be honest…and no doubt this is partly because I also love robots and am a hippie, but similarly they seemed to be sincere in their desire to improve the existence of other creatures (much like our BoS guy), and while they seemed goofy and likely totally misguided, they didn’t seem condescending. Grossman I just kind of wanted to go away.

Or take Ironsides, on the free robot front: he’s completely delusional, but we both found him sympathetic enough to side with him against humans. Surely part of that was that it’s obvious he sincerely cares (very, VERY deeply) about his cause, and maybe part of it is also that he didn’t talk to us as if we were useless dimwits. If he’d come across as a pompous jerk lecturing us about the morally improving qualities of history, would we have supported him? Likely not. But since he was kind of amusing, and rather personable, we helped him out with something that could potentially be a terrible idea. That’s politics, all right.

Maybe it’s just all about people hating to feel talked down to?

 

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