The first time Jaret Burkett played Fallout 76, he fully expected that everyone in the game would want him dead. The moment he exited the safety of Vault 76, where every player of the online survival game begins their journey with little to defend themselves, he was attacked by robots. Barely able to take them on, he could’ve been doomed — until he was saved by a random high-level player who killed the robots, dropped some gear for him, and waved goodbye.
That act of goodwill, along with many others, would keep Burkett playing a game he might have otherwise abandoned—and eventually, he’d end up making a tool that would pay it forward.
“I was sure he was going to try to kill me, but he didn’t,” Burkett told Kotaku in a Discord chat. “I played all day long for a week and was constantly on my guard worried people would attack me, but it never happened. Every person I ran into was extremely friendly and would craft some armour for me, give me tips, and even help me level up. I have made a lot of really good friends in the game. They are what really keep me playing.”
Burkett is the intrepid player behind a tool for Fallout 76 players called Map 76, an exhaustive and still-growing map of Fallout 76’s rendition of West Virginia that details where you can find just about anything in the game’s post-apocalypse.
It’s an exceedingly useful tool, because Fallout 76 players have increasingly taken to the game as a crafter’s paradise, a place to build communities and hunt for unusual items. Trouble is, it’s way too hard to do.
“There are quests that you could search for hours looking for things that are required and never stumble upon them organically,” Burkett said. “ A lot of things you need to find and do are simply not ‘stumble-uponable.’ For instance, in many challenges you need to take pictures of things. Yet the only way to get a camera is through an extremely rare spawn at only a few points on a huge map.”
This frustrated Burkett. A 34-year-old software developer from Austin, Texas, Burkett doesn’t really consider himself a gamer; he’ll go years without touching a game. But he is a Fallout fan, and Fallout 76, despite its reputation for being a frustrating, buggy game, made an impression on him, largely due to the kindness of the game’s community.
After one particularly involved search for some extremely rare crafting plans that sent Burkett hopping from server to server in order to up the odds that it might spawn, he began making a personal database of where crafting plans would spawn on the map, incorporating tips he’d found from other players who had formed trading groups.
Since this manual process was extremely time-consuming, he began thinking of less labour-intensive ways to make a resource more comprehensive than his own de facto database. Having seen some maps built on datamined location data, Burkett decided to try his hand at making his own.
Map 76 is the product of Burkett’s last several months of work, and on the Fallout 76 subreddit, it’s been very well-received, with 2,000 upvotes over the last 24 hours. Much like his initial experience playing the game, Burkett was pleasantly surprised to see his first foray in making a community tool was warmly welcomed.
“I am not sure what I was expecting. I mean, I always expect the hateful responses, I did post it on the internet after all,” he said. “I just know that I am obsessed with this game. I know a lot of others are as well. I built this map for myself because I needed it. It was something that I needed to exist for me to continue enjoying the game. I assumed there would be people out there just as happy to have it as I am.”
Burkett’s not the only person making Fallout 76 maps; he was also inspired by a project called Mappalachia. But he isn’t sure whether the proliferation of player-made tools like his are how the developers at Bethesda Game Studios want players engaging with the game. He is growing increasingly certain that there may be a widening gulf between how the developers want the game to be played and how the game is actually played.
“I feel they think everyone wants to go around killing each other all the time, which is why they spend so much time on the different PVP modes they keep coming out with,” Burkett says. “But in my experience, the people who keep playing this game are people like me. I am a treasure hunter. I like the hunt for rare items, I like trading, and I like the community. The people I meet in the game are always friendly and always searching for something. The community is friendly and has no desire to kill you. I don’t think Bethesda understands this. Their recent updates seem to point that they are trying to move away from those aspects. More and more content cannot be traded. More PVP modes.”
All things very different from what got Jaret Burkett into Fallout 76—a kind stranger who helped him out in his earliest in-game moments, and the kinder people he’s met since.