It’s hard to know everything that happens in the world. It’s constantly changing, even while the little piece of it you inhabit never seems to move an inch. It can be a rather overwhelming concept to think about, especially when it conflicts with everything you knew up to that point. This is what they call the ‘fish out of water’ trope, when you take a character from surroundings they have always known, and place them into an element absolutely foreign to them, but rather commonplace for everyone around them. The trope itself can be an interesting experience for the audience, as it adds the right amount of drama to keep the appeal of the narrative going, and offer contextual insight into the world through the eyes of someone also experiencing it for the first time. While we have seen it in some other forms of media, movies for example with works such as Blast from the Past and Thor, we gamers have seen this occur as well. From these following examples we can observe two different ways the ‘fish out of water’ story is played out.
The Time Traveler
Nothing is more stressful than closing your eyes one moment, then opening them another to find yourself in the future where there is not one item from the past that seems familiar. That moment when a character takes a moment to look around at their surroundings, only to see that what used to be their neighbourhood is something completely different; or, what seems common place for the inhabitants of this new world is strange and nearly alien for the character.
In Fallout 4, you play as either Nate or Nora (who you chose to play as the Sole Survivor), who enjoy a typical day in suburban Boston in 2077, the year the bombs drop. The couple, along with their baby, go to Vault 111, where they are to be cryogenically frozen until it was deemed safe for habitation. When the game gives you control, 200 years pass, and you return to your home only to see their neighbourhood decayed and their civilization drastically changed.
It’s here that the Sole Survivor is shown the rules of the new world: Kill or be killed, bottle caps are the new currency, ghouls are both a friend and a threat while the feral ones are worse, trust who you know will be there for you, and – though it’s unique to Boston – know who is real and who is a Synth. Before then, the Sole Survivor had no idea what sort of the world the Commonwealth Wasteland had in store for them, acquiring information on organizations like The Minutemen, the Railroad, and the Institute; common household names of saviours and boogeymen, but not ones the Sole Survivor would know.
The Social Outcast
What if you spent your entire life inside a bubble? A place where the terrors and fears of the outside world could never reach you, a place where all of your needs are met, and there was never a need for you to take one step outside the front gate. Then, what if one day you had to take that step?
Luke fon Fabre of Tales of the Abyss had such a fate happen to him. His upbringing left him without the need to leave his home at the manor. His education was offered there, he was given three square meals, he trained in the courtyard, and he had friends and family either residing or visiting the manor, so social interaction with someone his age was common. It wasn’t until certain events transpire that he was forced to leave the manor and explore the world of Auldrant that he realized how different everything was. Food was not always brought to him on a platter, and what was available to him had to be purchased with currency out of his own pocket. Not everyone was a servant of his uncle, so ordering the average town folk to do his bidding was out of the question. And with no one knowing who he was, or even acknowledging his nobility, he had to learn fast that the social hierarchy doesn’t always guarantee immediate recognition of status, nor immediate need to comply with his orders, rather it would be him that would need to heed their orders.
So has there been a time where you felt like a fish out of water? Or do you happen to know of another game that shares this trope? Let’s hear it in the comments. Until next time, Adventurers, learn what you can of the world while you can. Don’t feel lost out there!