Anyone who has played a Fallout game knows of the dickish douchebaggery of Vault-Tec - the pre-Great War American company that was meant to protect people but ended up experimenting on them. Long time fans will also be aware of Vault 11, of Fallout New Vegas, which has arguably the most fucked up vault experiment ever conceived.
In Vault 11, the residents are told that they need to sacrifice one of their members each year in order to survive. When the first Overseer comes down at tells the first batch of people, who had just escaped a nuclear apocalypse, this, they get pissed and force him down into the sacrificial tunnel. From that point forward, whoever was elected Overseer was effectively being elected to make the sacrifice. So unlike in every other vault, and unlike in every other democratic society, you really did *not* want to get elected leader of the vault.
By the time your character gets down there, the vault is, as usual, in ruins and you see rotting election banners all over the place. Except, instead of people trying to get themselves elected they're trying to get the other guy elected. You make your way through the vault and see all the nasty tricks that people pulled to try and avoid being elected Overseer. Eventually, after going through the sacrificial chamber yourself and coming out alive, you find out that all the residents had to do to escape was to *not* sacrifice someone.
By the time they'd figured this out though, there were only five residents left, and four couldn't live with the guilt so they killed themselves. It's peak Vault-Tec maliciousness and makes you wonder if the CEO of Vault-Tec was that proverbial kid that your parents stopped you playing with after all those pets on your street started showing up dead. It's horrific, and you can understand why four of the five that got out alive couldn't go on living with what they'd done.
But the thing that gets me, that sent literal shivers down my spine - is a coffee mug.
When you're walking down into the sacrificial tunnel, where countless people have gone to their deaths, you walk down some stairs and there's this door. There's a blood stain on the floor, which speaks to the less than voluntary nature of the sacrifice, but there's also a coffee mug.
Now, to me, there's a whole story right there. While many of the Overseers were forced down there, one of them went down there on their own. Maybe they'd just finished their breakfast and then they set out to commit suicide so that all the people who’d elected them could live. However it happened, the person was still drinking their cup of coffee when they went down to die.... they got to the door and realized they wouldn't need the mug anymore, so they tossed it on the ground and went on to their face their end.
Who the hell brings a coffee mug to their execution?! It reminds me of that story from the French Revolution, about that dude that was reading a book while he was being put into the guillotine. He's in the line waiting to have his head chopped off, but he's just reading a book, and when it's his turn he just calmly puts the book down and goes to get executed.
This whole line of thinking was sparked from a single coffee mug that was laying in a place that by all rights it shouldn't be. It was just a coffee mug but it had me turning into Lady MacBeth screaming "Out, dammed spot! Out, I say!" for a long time after I left Vault 11. The journal entries and posters flat out tell the story, but the coffee mug makes you pause and wonder… and that’s the haunting horror of Vault 11.
It can't have been unintentional that the coffee mug was left there by the games developers, it had to have been left there on purpose. It's great storytelling like that which has people making the claim that Fallout New Vegas is still a better game than Fallout 4. Although I prefer the setting of 4 (I never really liked the Cowboy ascetic in New Vegas) I have to say that I definitely preferred the story of New Vegas over 4.
One item can spark a whole story in the reader/viewer/gamer who is taking in your story, you don't even have to explain it. If you put some thought into what conclusion you want them to arrive at, you can work it so that they end up there without you explicitly directing them. It's a fantastic bit of storytelling and world-building, and for something so small it's amazing how long it's stayed with me.
As the world ended outside Vault 11, countless people would’ve killed to get in. At the same time, everyone inside the vault would’ve killed to get out.