Fallout 3 as Economic Stimulus Model

22 03 2009

Can Fallout 3 help fix America’s economy?

The New Wasteland

I like Fallout 3.  I’ve played the shit out of this game and I still can’t get enough.  After a brisk run through the main story as a ‘good’ guy, I decided to replay the game again, focusing this time around on all the side missions and alternatives.  Just to make sure I got the full range of experiences, my character is now an ‘evil’ girl.   I also consulted an amazing online guide, wikia.com, to insure that I left no stone unturned.  I’ve lost track of the hours I’ve got in it so far, but it’s a considerable number.

To cover everything, this second pass required considerably more time and energy committed to scavenging, trading and resource management.  I’ve never been a huge fan of RPG’s in the past (too many swords, spells and orcs), so this is the first game that I’ve really gotten into the leveling and grinding required to hone my character just so.

Nuka-cola

Nuka-Cola

One result of the hours of dedication is that I have now amassed quite a few Nuka-Cola caps (the in- game currency to you non-Wastelanders out there).   I’m so rich by the game’s standards that the primary reason for me to trade is not to earn money, like I needed in the early stage of the game, but to simply get rid of all the weight of the accumulated guns, ammo, meds, scrap metal, and other loot acquired during quests. I am in possession of so much of the circulating currency that the other traders in the game are usually broke from buying from me. But if the other traders are all already tapped out, how can they continue to buy the loot that I continue to amass?  

This question reflects the second reason I trade; Pumping cash back into the economy.  Since I seem to be the only person in the wasteland with spare caps, I feel a responsibility to free up some capital, so I have been buying up luxury items and expensive weapon blueprints every chance I get.  My home now sports a pristine antique Nuka-Cola machine, jukebox, infirmary, laboratory, workbench, a cabinet full of exotic weapons and a pretty cool retro theme throughout, plus a wide range of other unique and expensive items.  And I STILL have all the money.

Home upgrade

Home upgrade

So I continue pumping cash into the game’s economy.  True, it doesn’t seem to be having a huge effect upon the citizenry – they are still largely humans and ghouls scratching out a meager living in the nuclear wasteland – but it does allow them the chance to give that money right back to me in exchange for the weapons, drugs and other supplies that I have continually for sale. 

After a while of this economic cycle, the pattern started to look familiar to my cynical eye (My other eye, the non-cynical one, was busy shopping for a new household theme). 

Suddenly the Capitol Wasteland was a striking analogy for our whole nation – nobody has money, unemployment and homelessness are commonplace, the government is powerless, everyone’s got radiation sickness and huge mutated crabs attack at night.  Playing Fallout 3 is like America looking in a cracked, dirty mirror.  I start to think “Hey, maybe I AM an evil teenage girl with a gun that shoots nuclear bombs…”   The fact that the game allows me to steal Abe Lincoln’s top hat, rifle, beard and voice(?) and actually don them during my adventures adds another, somewhat twisted layer of meaning to this grimy doppleganger America – I’m just now sure what that meaning is anymore…

Wasteland Cutie

Does my character, with her wealth, power, winning smile and cute arsenal represent the Fed?  Or does she represent corporate America with her responsibility – or lack thereof – over the economic health of the wasteland?  Maybe she’s representative of American consumers, for whom shopping has become a patriotic duty?  Perhaps she is representative of all three, a symbol of the responsibility that we all collectively share. 

I don’t know.   I’m not a RL economic expert, and these days I’m often lost trying to keep pace with the news.  But I do know that in the world of Fallout 3, the economic health of the wasteland seems to hinge on my ability to continually feed a dribble of cash to a violent, hungry populous, simply so that they can buy my supply of guns and drugs.   Success in this activity encourages me to go out and rob, kill and plunder even more supplies from all the people, Mirelurks and Super Mutants I encounter.

I’ve recently noticed that over time, the other traders slowly acquire caps, presumably as a result of their other dealings, but in reality, the software itself is acting like the Fed by “printing” and distributing more cash to these NPC’s.  But even these cash injections are too small to ignite any real fiscal activity – I can still force them to spend every last cap they have on my sweet, sweet, meds and ammo.  The more money the game pumps into consumer’s hands, the quicker it ends up in my pocket.

This cycle, which essentially forces the fiscal growth of my character, is the cornerstone of the game economy, but it seems to me that it can not be sustained for long and will eventually collapse as my character amasses literally all of the liquid capital over the course of her adventures.

Mirelurks:  Wont you please help?

Mirelurks: Won't you please help?

It begs the question:  Is constant growth a good thing?  Is long-term unrestricted growth beneficial to society?  And if so, who really benefits?  Government? Corporations? The citizenry?  

At the very least, shouldn’t some of the money go to curing radiation sickness and establishing basic healthcare and job training for Mirelurks and Super Mutants, or does that very suggestion make me some kind of Wasteland socialist?

More thoughts on Fallout 3 and the value of bathrooms in video games.

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2 responses

13 05 2009
Daniel

There really isn’t an ingame economy as there is a ticker that constantly fills up traders’ money supply at a known constant rate, so it would be one of the only cases were Keynesian economics could work.

If it were real. Which it isn’t. The game disregards capital structures, time, interest rates and other such elements which compose the rich canvas that is our reality.

However, there is one economic theory which does predict bubbles (even if it can’t “time” them very well) which is the Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT).

Despite ABCT being a “fringe” economics theory, (you can thank “let government control everything” economics and academia for that) it is very telling when one of its greatest critics (and unfortunately, one of only two critics which actually understand the theory) was able to accurately predict, in 2005, how things would turn up using ABCT itself:
http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/01/if_i_believed_i.html

A commentary with an analysis can be found at the following address:
http://www.gene-callahan.org/blog/2007/11/how-rich-would-tyler-cowen-be.html

19 05 2009
Ricke

Although it is true that the game itself does not include inflation via interest rates you do make a very humurous and sad and scary point all at the same time. thank you for this post. 🙂

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