I’ve been watching the New Vegas season of Spoiler Warning recently because eh, why not. And in episode 4 they talk about the Courier’s amnesia, at least briefly (around 12:30). This is an interesting topic to me because a lot of people seem to assume the Courier has this affliction when in reality… he/she kind of doesn’t.
It’s clear from dialogue choices later in the game that the Courier doesn’t in fact have amnesia, but it’s pretty easy to see why people might assume they do. For starters, you have dialogue options in the opening area (Goodsprings) that sort of indicate you don’t know the major factions in the region. You also have options to ask about your job, the very one that led you to getting shot in the head.
These speech options aren’t there for the Courier. They’re there for the player’s benefit, in order to inform them as to several important aspects of the outer world and the main story hook (the platinum chip/Benny).
Later on, if you visit… let’s say the caravan in the North Passage before heading off to play Honest Hearts (or the New Reno singer in Novac for a base game example), you’ll get a speech option clearly showing that the Courier in fact has all their faculties intact. There are several situations like this where you can ask questions the Courier could only know if they still have their memory.
So where does this amnesia theory come from? The aforementioned Goodsprings speech options for a start, but as mentioned, those are more for your benefit. My general feeling there is that the initial period after waking up is spent with a very minor form of amnesia as a result of being shot in the head.
This lets you ask some dumb questions the Courier really should already know but the player won’t. It also lets you confirm some important things like the importance of the platinum chip and Benny. But as you wander south past Primm and Nipton, your memory comes back pretty rapidly.
By the time you hit Vegas, you’re basically firing on all cylinders again and have no cognitive problems (until you visit Big MT, lol). So yeah, a brief and mild form of memory loss as a side effect of your recovery that feels more like the Courier asking questions to confirm to themselves that they’re all still there is reasonable, but beyond that? Nope, no amnesia.
It’s also revealed that the Courier put down roots in the Divide, heavily indicating that they’re not from around Vegas and are only really in the region to deliver the package for Mr House. Getting shot in the head, finding Benny, participating in the Dam War, all of those things work to keep the Courier in Vegas, but it’s entirely probable they didn’t originate here.
But since that’s revealed in the final DLC, it’s also reasonable to assume some mild amnesia in those opening sections of the game until the player is better informed about the Courier’s past. So… yeah, there are solid arguments on both sides.
Finally, Josh Sawyer actually confirmed the Courier doesn’t have amnesia:
The Courier is not an amnesiac. Questions about the NCR, Legion, local goings on, etc. are present so the player does not stumble around without a clue. We can’t assume any given player is familiar with these factions.
If you can’t believe the director of the game, I’m not sure who you can believe. 🙂 Of course, we could always argue that backstory like that introduced in Lonesome Road wasn’t really appropriate for a blank slate character… but that’s an argument for another post.