Why can’t I stop playing Fallout Shelter?

I mentioned last week that I’d been spending a little time with Bethesda’s Fallout Shelter. It turns out I’ve been spending a lot of time with it, and I can’t figure out why.

Fallout Shelter screenshot
A screenshot from my early moments with Fallout Shelter (Bethesda)

Fallout Shelter is a pretty straightforward game. Build rooms. Fill your Vault-Tec vault with dwellers via random encounter, radio station recruitment, or the most common method—pregnancy (which led to an obsessive chart organizing my dwellers into generations of families). Manage resources. Craft weapons and outfits. Send dwellers to explore the wasteland or complete quests with minimal storytelling.

The requirements for which dwellers can be sent out on a particular mission differ, but every mission is essentially the same: Wait an arbitrary amount of time before the mission itself can be started. Explore a location room by room, killing enemies and collecting loot along the way. Return. Repeat. From what I’ve seen so far, each set of missions has what amounts to a single paragraph, barebones story split into pieces. And none of those pieces or stories are particularly interesting.

I’ve been waiting for things to change as I accrue more dwellers in my vault and unlock new rooms to build, but I think I’ve finally realized nothing’s going to change. I’ve reached the point where the only rooms left to unlock are more advanced versions of rooms I’ve had from the beginning. The missions are always going to follow the same structure. There will always be more loot to collect, but does it really matter?

No. Of course it doesn’t. This isn’t a classic like almost every entry in the core Mario franchise. This isn’t a shining example of what games can be in the modern era like The Last of Us. This is a throwaway mobile game with a post-apocalyptic Fallout skin. So why can’t I stop playing it?

I think I have an answer for it. And that answer, unsurprisingly, has almost nothing to do with the game itself. My mind’s been all over the place the past few weeks between planning a move across the country and trying to finish another screenplay before my impending departure from Los Angeles. As much as I’d love to play something a little deeper or watch a ton of movies, those require a hell of a lot more attention and dedication than something like Fallout Shelter.

It’s easy to pick up when I’m half watching last night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live on Hulu or whatever sitcom I happen to be binging again. Of course all this really amounts to is using all my free time as a (poor) distraction from the things I have to do and spending as much time doing essentially nothing as I would spend playing and watching the things I really want to. And this all brings up a pretty important challenge:

Can I clear my head enough to play and watch new things I’ll actually enjoy instead of spending an increasing amount of time with the same mindless, throwaway experience over and over? Can I give up the gaming and TV comfort food in favor of something new in the little free time I have?

I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.

Disclaimer: I don’t regret playing Fallout Shelter. It was a decent amount of fun for a while, but there’s just not a good reason to keep playing. 

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