How Fallout 4 is Helping Me Fight Cancer

Written by Max Mallory
Originally posted on

Everyone has a perception of cancer, or what fighting cancer is like, but nobody really understands until it happens to them. Even if you’ve had cancer, you probably won’t know a lot about what another patient’s treatment is like. It’s different for every single cancer patient. Just like chemotherapy drugs, there’s different emotions for different types. My two most dominating emotions were confusion and urgency, followed by plenty of dread.

But once the dread passed (once I found out that I can be treated), I found myself oddly at ease. My treatment plan is beginning with four rounds of chemotherapy, and that’s not something that you complete during a long hospital stay. It takes months. During those months, I’ll have a lot of downtime where I’ll either be sitting around, waiting for the next round to start, or actually getting chemo. This means that I have a lot of time to kill, and video games seem like the natural answer. So when Bethesda Softworks’ heavily-hyped Fallout 4 was released earlier this month, I didn’t have a reason not to play it.

Even just going through the opening sequence of Fallout 4 a mere seventeen days after my diagnosis, I noticed a parallel to how I felt. You play through a glimpse of someone’s normal life, going through their morning routine before a day’s work. Everything is as normal as normal could be, and while you might have things you’re worrying about, it’s not really dominating your life. Until somehow, it is.

I’d been feeling somewhat sick for about 5 weeks before I had to go to the ER. I drove back home with my family to go see a specialist, and the next day, I felt an excruciating pain from my lower left abdomen. Immediately I knew I would need an ambulance, and I was sent to the emergency room for a blood test, a urine test, and a CT scan.

“Who’s here in the room with you?”

This is what the two doctors asked me upon entering my room, turning off the TV, and shooing out the nurses. “This is uh, my mom, dad, and brother.”

I still didn’t have a clue as to what they were going to tell me. I didn’t really have any feelings of dread or anything. I was a little worried, but I thought they’d tell me I’d need a surgery or something. This is what they said:

“So, the CT scan shows cancer…all over your body.”

This is the way cancer comes and changes everything to you and yours: not with a bang, but a whimper.

During my playthrough, I started to notice a lot of things that seemed just a bit too similar to what I was going through. It was eerie. Many characters in the commonwealth had the same outlook on life that I did at that point: Bleak and nihilistic, unreasonably angry at everyone around them, but with just the slightest bit of hope. Even my character was saying things that made me stop and think. She was talking about her family; her will and motivation to continue even while she didn’t understand this new world at all. Topics like these are discussed all the time in game narratives, but I guess it just…hit a lot harder in this game.

While the commonwealth and greater Boston areas were astounding to look at and explore, if there’s one area that really stands out in Fallout 4,it’s the Glowing Sea. The Glowing Sea is one of the most visually impressive parts of the game. It’s what we always thought the nuclear apocalypse would look like — completely barren and horribly irradiated with an ever-present neon green haze. It only gets worse when you dig deeper into the abyss. Hell, you even have to go outside the map borders to get to a certain quest.

It’s a huge, huge area. There’s not a whole lot to do, but there’s sure as hell tons of land to explore. The Glowing Sea encapsulates a raw feeling that Bethesda has been attempting to get players to feel for a while now: Pure exploration. Wandering with no other goal but to explore the wasteland, its inhabitants, its destructive beauty, and all the good, bad, and ugly that comes with the apocalypse.

When I got to this mountain pictured above, I couldn’t help but pause for a moment. You can barely see anything at this point in the Glowing Sea. The only direction you have is the one that you’re told to head in. Creatures pop up unexpectedly, and you have to fight them or run away from them. You’re told what your objective is, but the journey to that objective has a lot more unknowns. You might have a follower that can help you out a bit, but you’re the one who’s fighting the hardest, and no matter how much help Dogmeat or Piper can be, you have to be the one walking.

Death is always on your mind, because it’s impossible for it not to be.

Everyone needs something different during their cancer battle, but the thing that I’ve asked of my caretakers is to never let me be alone. Being alone is the scariest thing that could happen to me at this point. During the tail end of each cycle, I can take care of myself. But the days during and after chemo have been the roughest. It’s difficult to climb out of bed and get my medications. And while that’s something I need help for, it’s not the only reason I want people near me. I can’t handle sitting in an empty room too long. I start to spiral, thinking that I’m not going to make it (even though everything is pointing towards a successful treatment). It gets worse and worse until I have to get on the phone with someone just to make sure that I’m still sane.

Games are the best way for me to spend my time. Work is a close second. My employer has been an angel and given me all the time I need to recover from this, yet still I find myself trying to do some basic tasks when I can, just to feel human, just to feel productive and get control of my life. But games help so much. They’re ways I can escape, learn more about the industry I work in, and keep up with something so that I don’t come back to the fully-functioning human world in February with no clue about anything that’s happened for a half-year.

Fallout 4 couldn’t have come out at a better time for me. What time I’ve spent playing it so far has helped me realize the similarities in many of the struggles we all go through, health-related or otherwise. The wasteland is one big radioactive metaphor for the human condition. We all have goals and destinations in mind, and only a few that we’ve reached. We get confused. There are times where that confusion is all we can feel, but as long as we’re with others, that’s okay.

Professional Roles: Community Management @mobilemeshgames, Producer @Ludoforo, Co-Founder @thegltchr || Unprofessional Rolls: Barrel, Tootsie

Professional Roles: Community Management @mobilemeshgames, Producer @Ludoforo, Co-Founder @thegltchr || Unprofessional Rolls: Barrel, Tootsie