There I was, sweating in my uncomfortable seat, surrounded by the sounds of obnoxious unsynchronized clapping. Todd Howard had just made his usual appearance on the annual E3 gaming expo stage. The crowd was anxious, awaiting their anticipated announcements, ready to possibly be disappointed. Myself? I wasn’t at the expo enduring the claustrophobic mania for some video games. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good RPG every once in a while, but that wasn’t my intentions on the day in question. I was focused on Howard’s body language, the glare in his eyes, looking for any subtle off-movements, even his choice of dialogue. There’s been something bugging me for some time now that I have a firm and dedicated belief for. Todd and the company of Bethesda are in fact a part of a secret cult. I know how crazy it sounds, but please just hear me out. Allow me to take you back to the traumatizing experience that started all of this.
Orange, red, yellow – the leaves brought an offset of color to an otherwise gloomy autumn day. The season also happened to be the prefix to the disc that was held in my hands; Fallout 4. I was a little late at having my try at the game, as I picked it up around November of last year. Still, I was pretty excited to give it a go. It has gained a lot of popularity, after all.
With the game in my PS4 console, I recall myself sitting on my bed for hours on end. I was fully absorbed into the wasteland-filled virtual environment, forgetting about the spilled cup of cola on the floor next to my feet and the fallen slice of pizza on my bed sheets. The real world around me was ultimately non-existent. It wasn’t until my controller died that reality peeked through again. I, however, only used this moment of clarity to freak out and quickly plug in a charging cable between my system and controller. I had to hurry and jump back into the Fallout universe. This is where I felt like I was worth something. This is where I didn’t feel alone.
Fallout 4 was a game where I could build, fight, and help people in need. The settlement crafting system pulled me in, allowing me to create houses out of resources I worked so hard for. Enemies that got in my way, I would fend off, using practical weapons I made myself. On quests I found mutants and irritated hostiles, the likes of which led me to achievements. These accolades made me feel great and wanted in this made-up reality. Finally, something made life livable that didn’t happen to be prescription or recreational drugs.
My virtual ecstasy, however, came to an abrupt halt. I began noticing some things out of the ordinary, even for a game of fantasy. I’d come up to these electronic terminals in the game and noticed some patterns. Whether I was in a shopping mart, a library, or a museum, the same word would pop up on the terminals, along with the rest of the text. I never really noticed, until I saw it appear even in multiples on some of the screens. The word that struck my attention was “end.” Most wouldn’t bat an eye at this. I mean, the game IS set in a post\-apocalyptic world, so the word “end” is rather fitting. For one reason or another, it didn’t feel fitting to me at all. I see this word pop up all the time throughout my life. Everyone has that magic “number” that seems to follow them everywhere they go, whether it’s the lucky number 7 or unlucky 13. Well, mine is the word “end.” I see it inside gas stations, grocery stores, the daily newspaper, even on cereal boxes. This word is constantly being thrown at me.
As soon as I started noticing this, I decided to look at one more terminal in the game. I came across one that was fairly easy to get to – there wasn’t much disturbance, just some destroyed cars, no enemies in sight. This terminal didn’t seem unusual at first, with the same common words lit up on the monitor. Then, something obstructed the screen. The entire thing filled up with my least favorite word, typed over and over. It sped up gradually, eventually to the point that my eyes couldn’t keep up. I was wildly confused, wondering if this was just part of the video game. It was then that I turned off the game, not caring about where I was or when I last saved my progress. I was far too spooked to continue
Later that evening, I shared the experience with one of my close friends while hanging out at his house. I told him I finally gave the game a shot and mentioned what happened, hoping he wouldn’t judge me and perhaps would know what I was talking about. My questions, to my dismay, were not answered.
“I’ve put hundreds of hours into Fallout 4 and that isn’t anything I’ve witnessed in my playthroughs,” he stated.
This led me to believe that I had simply played the game for so long, that it had taken a toll on my mental state. Somehow, this theory just made me feel worse.
Walking back home that day, my phone kept ringing from all sorts of numbers, all of which I assumed were telemarketers, considering I didn’t recognize the numbers. I ignored them for a while, but there was one I decided to finally answer.
“Hello?” I questioned in a cautious tone.
“Hey, this is GameStop. Your copy of Fallout 4 you ordered, has arrived from the warehouse. You can come by and pick it up anytime. We’re open till 9pm today.”
“Ah thank you…” I responded in a confused fashion.
I started answering more calls, my cellphone being bombarded with one new number after another. Perplexed would be an understatement of which to describe my mind at that point in time. Each phone call was from a different GameStop, at least a dozen or so from across the country, calling to tell me I had a copy of Fallout 4 ready for pick-up. At this point, I was more so frustrated than confused. I assumed my friend was playing some sort of prank at my expense. I eventually began blocking the numbers as they came in.
Despite knowing where the calls were more than likely coming from, something about the ordeal wasn’t sitting well with me. To make matters worse, something far more peculiar happened upon opening the door to my home. I didn’t walk through the doorway, no not in the slightest. As soon as the front door opened, I found myself sitting on my bed, controller in hand, looking directly at my TV screen. It’s tough for me to explain, but it felt as if I never left the house. The game itself was still running, stopped right where I left off, the word “end” plastered across the terminal screen and yet again multiplying rapidly. I shot up from my bed and unplugged both my television and Playstation. I looked up and noticed something – everything in the room was just how I left it, but the walls… they were undoubtedly different. The word “end” surrounded the perimeter of my bedroom, written in all different colors and sizes. At first, I was outraged, wondering who had broken into my home and vandalized my room. I thought it might have been my friend, pulling out all the stops to severely spook me. If so, it was working. This explanation fell flat when I realized that the word painted across my room was written in my own handwriting.
But hold on, how does this make any sense? A harmless glitch, hallucinations, and writing on the walls? What does it all mean? Well, at this point I wasn’t sure, but I knew I had to get to the bottom of it. Without a better plan in mind, I decided to go directly to the source – Todd Howard himself.
And this is what brought me to a room full of boisterous clamor, waiting for the presentation to be over. I grew anxious sitting there, hoping I could speak with Mr. Howard. I didn’t know what he’d say or if he’d even believe me, but I was a slave to my own wishful thinking. Perhaps he could explain all my worries away and put my mind at ease once and for all. Unfortunately for me, my issues couldn’t be fixed with a patch or update.
My heart racing, there finally came a time everyone left their seats. My legs were shaking, but that was mostly from sitting for such a long period of time. Just as I was about to stumble through the exit and head backstage, a man grabbed me by the arm and pulled me aside. It was none other than Todd Howard, an answer to my prayers.
“About time, sir! We’ve been expecting you,” he exclaimed.
“Of course, I’ve been waiting for you to get the hint. To finally come join us. Just, please don’t tell anybody,” he replied.
“Join you for what?”
“I’m gathering a number of people to help us at Bethesda to start a doomsday plan. I’m not at liberty to say why you or any of the others were chosen, but I can tell you that we are using Fallout as a net, to capture those that can be of use to us. It also foreshadows what the world will look like in the near future. That’s if, of course, you and the others are willing to join us. We can’t do it on our own.”
“What would happen, hypothetically speaking, if I don’t join?”
“Well, you’re free to do whatever you’d like, but the end has already begun. If you don’t help us, someone will take your place, and I just know that you’ll regret it. The clock is ticking.”
Mr. Howard handed me a business card, upon which was the text, “Preregister for your spot on the end list, today.” along with a 1 800 number. I took the card and went back to my hotel room to get some rest and process everything. It’d be a nice way to relax and hopefully cope with the strange events occurring in my life. I would soon find that relaxation was nowhere within reach.
Entering my room, anger and disorientation came over me. The TV in the hotel room was lit up with a copy of Fallout 4 playing. It was stuck on the same screen with the word “end” typed up all over it, just as it was back on that November day. As if this wasn’t enough, my phone rang, though this time a number I recognized.
“Hey Dad, what’s up?” I answered with, as I normally did when my father called.
“Hey, I’m sorry to bother you during your trip, but I have some upsetting news to share with you. Your brother, he just passed away moments ago…”
“Wait, what? How?!” I shouted out of shock and despair.
I was never close to my brother, with him always being away at war and what not. It sounds horrible, but it felt like he was more of a distant relative than a sibling. Even still, my heart sunk.
“The nurses aren’t completely certain, but they claim radiation poisoning was at fault. I find that questionable, because no bombs have been dropped near his location. They’re going to do a further analysis in the coming week to let us know.”
“I’ll be back in town as soon as possible, please keep me updated if any other information comes up. I’m not sure how to handle this, I was just talking to him a couple days ago…” I let out, along with a single tear of pure grief.
“I will, son… this is just as hard for me, and I’ll be devastated for as long as this world lasts. He’ll be looking down on us, smiling. At least he’s in a better place.”
My father said this in a tone of hurt and heartache. He then changed the subject, probably to lighten the mood a bit; something he awkwardly did to avoid dealing with more serious issues.
“Hey, by the way, I have a piece of mail I found stuck in my door tonight, pretty odd for a Sunday. It has my name on it, but I think it’s for you. Says something about a “Fallout 76 Beta invitation” and has the word “end” written all over it. Do you want it?”
I hung up on my own father. I’m not sure why or how I found myself in this ongoing nightmare, but it feels like I’m trapped in my own apocalypse. Take these words however you’d like, believe what you want, but Bethesda is not a game company. Todd Howard is up to something and this is the start of the end.