Mormonism in Fallout: New Vegas, and Why it Was (Largely) Cut

Kotaku writer Skip Cameron wrote about how Fallout: New Vegas has one of the best treatments of Mormonism in popular art. I’m not surprised that Cameron feels that Fallout presented Mormonism fairly. For a game that features “Super Mutants” and ghouls, Fallout has always done a brilliant job of exploring human nature. For a game where you can do anything from have sex with a robot to sell children into slavery, Fallout has always had strong moral lessons to teach us.
Specifically, Cameron focuses on two storylines of Mormon’s in Fallout‘s post-apocalyptic world. The first is New Vegas‘ story of Joshua Graham/The Burned Man Graham’s storyline begins with him as a Mormon Missionary/member of the utopian group of intellectuals/philanthropists “Followers of the Apocalypse”. After a series of mishaps, he becomes the head of the violent, autocratic Caesar’s Legion, then falls from grace (literally by being tossed, while on fire, into the Grand Canyon), somehow survives, and is either redeemed or made into a fearsome killing monster, depending the actions of the player. Cameron writes,
After failing at the first battle of Hoover Dam, Caesar has Graham covered in pitch, set on fire, and thrown into the Grand Canyon. Graham, already renowned for his resilience as much as for his cruelty, survives. Stripped of power, title, and purpose, he returns to New Canaan filled with remorse for what he had become and for the shame he brought to his people.

Here again, Obsidian avoids the lazy cliché of religious people being hypocritically unforgiving and intolerant and has the Mormons of New Canaan forgiving the penitent Graham, embracing him as a returning prodigal.

Cameron also looks at the story-line of the ghoul Bert Gunnarson (which was mostly cut from the final game) and his futile trek across a nuclear wasteland to convert his homicidal friend, Driver Nephi, back to the faith of Mormonism.

When death inevitably comes to Driver Nephi, likely at the hands of The Courier, if the player speaks to him Bert laments Nephi’s passing (oddly, it would seem, given that all of the related dialog was cut) and expresses the hope that Nephi’s soul is at peace.

“Elder” Bert Gunnarsson exemplifies the Mormon belief in the power of repentance and forgiveness, and that even someone as lost and sinful as the murderous Driver Nephi can be redeemed.

What Cameron doesn’t go into much detail about is the significance of the fact that this story (which is touching and well-developed, and seems to deserve inclusion in the final game) was cut. A similar scene which drew heavily on religion was cut from Mass Effect 3. And Bioshock: Infinite‘s development team was nearly torn apart by the portrayal of religion in the game, which led to some changes in the storyline. There seems to be an inherent discomfort in video game producers about including a religiously motivated story-line, perhaps because the ambiguity of such a narrative could alienate atheists and the religious alike. Of course, in games like Mass Effect, Fallout, and Bioshock, the world is big enough and complicated enough that a honest portrayal of religion seems necessary.
In fact, the whole topic of how video games deal with religion is fascinating. Perhaps we might write something about that here in the future. Or maybe do a podcast. Maybe it will be called “Games are Sometimes Great”. Or “A Religion and Video Games Podcast”. This is all hypothetical, of course. It’s not like it will happen in the next couple weeks. OR WILL IT?
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