It’s a simple question, really. One that makes a tremendous impact on the story of Fallout 4, the purpose of the player character, the lengths to which Father would be willing to go to ensure his legacy, and the depth of madness that he had actually achieved. Is the Sole Survivor a Synth?
That question has made the rounds online already, mainly thanks to dialogue between the player character and Synth savior-and-prototype-prophet DIMA in the Far Harbor DLC. This dialogue casts a heavy shadow on the possibility, all but spelling out that the Sole Survivor is a synth.
Many players dismissed it as an example of sloppy writing on Bethesda’s part, because when backed into a corner and asked to recall his earliest memory, the Sole Survivor can only recall the beginning of the game. There are a number of examples of the Sole Survivor remembering earlier events, from “the night at the park” where Shaun was conceived in the opening sequence, to memories of listening to The Silver Shroud broadcasts, to memories of baseball, to the war memories that are in the opening narrative scene. Players consider all of those examples of pre-war memory displayed by the Sole Survivor in the base game as an indisputable refutation of the exchange with DIMA. Lazy writing, case closed.
Except that the same lazy writers explained in detail just how memories work with synths in your companion questline with Nick Valentine. Nick remembers hunting down Eddie Winter pre-war, losing loved ones pre-war, and has a real problem drawing the line between himself and the real life, pre-war person he was imprinted from. When asked about his earliest memories, Nick Valentine recalls waking up in a dumpster after being freed from the Institute. So there are two distinct timelines at work when it comes to his memory: He remembers pre-war events which happened centuries before Nick the Synth ever existed, but that dumpster is his real starting point.
That’s how it is with the Sole Survivor, he (and mine are mostly “he’s” so forgive the sexism) can recall a number of things from before the war in the context of casual conversation, but when he’s backed into a corner by DIMA something happens which makes all of those memories fade away. When pushed, he admits the beginning of the game is his first clear memory. What should have been one of his last memories of a long and fruitful pre-war life is the only thing he can recall when it really comes down to it. Strange.
Perhaps DIMA understands how to discern synths through the method he uses on the Sole Survivor. That’s why he does it. He’s been at the Synth discernment game for a long time. It’s like a tell, when the memory recall programs of actual synths shorts out for a minute. Other memories exist, and are always there in the background of your sense of identity, until you really try to track down that first memory. The first memory cannot be two memories at once. The first memory of the synthetic self always wins out, because that is the memory that truly matters. Everything else is programming, imprinting, smoke and mirrors. That’s how it is for all synths.
As it so happens, if the Sole Survivor visits the Memory Den in Goodneighbor (before being sent there during the main questline), and decides to rent a booth to recall a pleasant memory of his wife, he is taken back to Vault 111 and the scene of her being shot by Kellogg. This seems to reinforce the difference between Nate the human, and Nate the player. Nate the player has a very shallow pool of memories to draw from.
Another clue about the Sole Survivor being a Synth is in the VATS system of Fallout 4. As you escape the deluge of giant roaches in Vault 111, you are able to access the VATS system. This encounter happens before you get a pipboy. In Fallout lore VATS is only possible because of the pipboy interface. Period. So is this sloppy programming? Messy writing? Or something else?
When exploring the Institute in the last act of the main storyline, there are a number of mysteries about the Commonwealth that are brought to light in the terminals. To be honest, on my first playthrough I was so floored about the Shaun revelation that I didn’t take the time to really explore the Institute the way I did almost everything else. My second time through I found out that most of the Commonwealth wandering traders are Institute informants. The Mayor of Diamond City is absolutely a Synth. The Institute has been carrying out Supermutant experiments for a long time. And some of the latest models of synths have a combat targeting system that sounds an awful lot like VATS. The last one really blew my mind.
The terminal entry that discusses the “combat assistance” is found in the Robotics facility. Titled [Unique Project] under [Project Updates]:
“Overriding directives to not alter our synths’ basis functioning notwithstanding, Father has granted clearance for a rather unique project.
In select Gen 3 units, the synthetic brain is indeed capable of accepting specific enhancements to the visual cortex. The result is substantially improved combat effectiveness, due to two factors:
- An increased understanding of weapon accuracy, to the extent that the combatant can actually visualize the percentage of effectively hitting targets (or smaller areas of those targets).
- An altered sense of perception that mimics the effect of slowing, or even stopping, time.
Recommend we commence surgery and field trials on appropriate operatives in the near future.”
Once again, players can roll their eyes at the lame joke which breaks the central lore of fallout for a cheap laugh and move on. Only by this point it seems apparent that the cheap laughs and poor writing are working together to paint a clearer and clearer picture that you, the Sole Survivor, might be a synth.
Think about how much the VATS system is taken for granted, and yet how much it resembles the way Robocop and the Terminator see the world. How completely robotic the “gameplay mechanic” is, and how much the edge of having VATS makes the difference between life and death all of the time. “Yeah but”, you might be thinking, “It doesn’t count because it’s a game mechanic”.
Is it? Not only can you access the system without a pipboy, not only is the Institute working on an identical combat enhancement system, VATS in fallout 4 is altered from the interface of the previous two Fallout games. Come to think of it, the entire Perk Chart sort of screams “upgrades, updates, and programmed enhancements above and beyond the limits of human potential”, but I don’t want to go too far off the rails here.
When you ask Father why he unfroze you in the first place, he admits that it was an experiment of sorts. It becomes pretty clear during your time at the Institute that your actions have been tracked all along, which has spawned a number of fan theories regarding Institute tracking methods ranging from Dogmeat being a synth, to the Institute implanting recording devices in each of the thousands of mannequins littered throughout the Commonwealth. But what if Father was monitoring your actions as you saw them, through your own eyes? What if your existence and unleashing on the Commonwealth was actually a covert infiltration program of the Institute against any and all factions that pose a threat to their domination of the Commonwealth? They already infiltrated the Brotherhood with Danse, the Minutemen with Sturges, Diamond City with Mayor McDonough, so why not infiltrate everything with you?
The search for your infant son is the perfect cover for your infiltration, to all parties concerned. The fact that you are a trusted member or leader of most likely all three rival factions by the time you meet father is rather convenient when you think about it, if you consider the plan of Phase 3.
The institute needed a double agent to betray the Railroad and the Brotherhood just when you happened to show up. It’s all rather too convenient, in my opinion.
Another issue that needs to be resolved is the imminent death of Father and his decision to appoint you as his successor. That was his plan from the moment he set you free: To have you lead the Institute into the future. If you are a synth that means that Father planned to hand control of the Institute and his beloved synths to their own kind. Having a synthetic version of his own father set free to find the Institute and join it of his own free will would help stem the tide of synths wanting to escape the Institute. To hand over the reigns of power from humanity to “humanity redefined”, and officially submit to the superiority of the synth race over humanity would be a monumental legacy for Father to leave behind.
It’s a rather chilling thought to entertain. If the Sole Survivor is a synth than you are the embodiment of the worst fears of the most paranoid survivors in the commonwealth. You are the being that officially renders humanity obsolete. You are the replacement, and your every action and every victory proves your superiority to “mere” humans. You even have a synth son to replicate the all-too-human institution of family. By siding with the Institute, as father had hoped and planned for, you doom the future of all humanity. You will not grow old, or develop cancer as a mere human might, you will not be resented by the synths beneath you because you are their brother. You will remain the Sole Survivor forever.
*If you feel as if the time has come to do a synth play through, might I suggest disabling the dialogue camera when you do. I toggled that on a whim recently and it has improved immersion tremendously.
*In researching this post I came across an interesting Youtube video by Oxhorn that asks the same question. It’s almost 20 minutes, but well thought out, and dives into certain details that I did not explore in this post.