Fallout 4 and Gender Roles

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Welp, Fallout 4 has been out for a few weeks now, and if Twitter, Tumblr, and Pornhub’s traffic drops are any indication, a good number of us have been foregoing our real lives in favor of traversing the radioactive ruins of Boston. Good times.

Going in, something that interested me greatly was how the game would handle gender in terms of characters and their roles. The Fallout franchise, being heavily influenced by the imagery and iconography of 50’s and 60’s Americana, has always been rather tongue-in-cheek with its presentation of traditional gender roles.

Or, as my professor put it: “It’s like the Stepford wives meets Terminator.”

As apt a description of the series as I’ve ever heard.

Players start the game choosing between one half of a married couple living before the war. (And before someone brings it up, yes, it’s a bummer that you have to start the game in a straight marriage and can’t pick your partner’s gender, but that’s a different topic altogether.) A minor annoyance, however, is that the very beginning of the game seems to assume you’ll pick the male character, as it’s his voice actor who gives the iconic “War never changes” speech in the opening cinematic.

At the story’s start, both have taken time off to take care of their newborn son.

What I found interesting about this is that the male and female player characters actually have slightly different origin stories. The husband was a soldier, recently discharged and poised to rejoin the civilian workforce. The wife was a lawyer, implied to have worked for the U.S. military. I actually found these little details really interesting, and was a little disappointed that the game didn’t do much more with them, obviously to keep the Sole Survivor as much a blank slate as possible. It would’ve been really cool to, say, visit the female character’s law office, or for either of the spouses to have been familiar with Roger Maxson, the founder of the Brotherhood of Steel, having worked with the army around the same time.

For the most part, what gender the player picks doesn’t really affect the story all that much, as is tradition with Bethesda games. Personally speaking, I went with a female character for my first play through, partially out of affection for her voice actress Courtney Taylor, and partially because I just found it more interesting from a roleplaying perspective, fitting well with my own play style.

My character wasn’t an infantry style soldier skilled in assault rifles and heavy combat tactics, but she had at least basic combat training. She was skilled at hacking computers, which makes sense, because she held a clerical position that employed the exact type of computer terminal used throughout the Commonwealth.

Also, this might be the first time I’ve ever roleplayed as a mother in a game.

The last few years have had tons of games about fatherhood, The Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, and Witcher 3, to name a few. And despite loving all of these games, it was really interesting to play the role of parenthood through a different lens, even if it was a fairly broad one. And, for those not interested in playing a parental role, fatherly or motherly, they’re free to ignore the main quest and spend their time establishing settlements and shooting mirelurks in the face.

Something I noticed while wandering the Commonwealth was that the post apocalypse was, for a mainstream game, surprisingly diverse in terms of NPCs, both named and unnamed. Every miscellaneous group of Raiders, Gunners, or Brotherhood of Steel Knights encountered in the wasteland has a decent amount gender diversity. Some groups were all one gender, some all of the other, some an even mix between the two.

It’s a minor detail, but it’s good to know that, in a world like Fallout, depraved murder, pillaging and mayhem are equal opportunity. Most other games would have three or four variations on the same copy-pasted dude wearing different armor.

One of my favorite encounters in the whole game came from a Brotherhood of Steel side mission that had me escorting a young Brotherhood squire into a combat one for educational purposes. When the squire arrived, it was a twelve-year-old girl in full combat gear with a laser rifle slung over her shoulder and an adorable can-do-attitude. She didn’t have a name, and suddenly, I felt like I was leading a post-apocalyptic Girl Scout Troop. Instead of nature hikes, we went on ghoul-killing expeditions and sold roasted Deathclaw instead of cookies.

Hey Bethesda, make this happen as DLC, please.

The soldiers, mad scientists, and random civilians squabbling about their personal lives on the streets, were all a fairly equal mix of men and women. It all felt very naturalistic and a good departure from a lot of big open-world games where the population is about 85% dudes. Of the half dozen ghoul gangsters peddling chems and conducting various skullduggery across the wasteland, most of them were women. Bobbi No-Nose felt like she could easily star in her own heist movie.

The named cast of characters also has a great amount of gender diversity and gender roles. There’s Piper, the spunky reporter with a motor mouth that only ever stops moving when you flirt with her. There’s Cait, a drunken, drug addled, pit fighting Irish woman. One of my favorite supporting characters was Ronnie Shaw, a woman well into her sixties who’s a veteran of the Minutemen militia who comes in as the main characters military advisor. She’s grizzled, badass, and even cracks a few jokes as she guns down hordes of oncoming killer robots. When the player’s base is inevitably attacked in the third act, it’s her who rallies the troops and gives the “We are canceling the apocalypse” style rallying cry. If she were a male character, she’d be played by Clint Eastwood, and she’s freaking awesome. The only thing I didn’t like about her is that she wasn’t a recruit able companion character. Which would’ve been really cool, especially considering that only three of the dozen companion characters are women. Add that to the DLC list.

As a whole, Fallout 4 does a pretty good job of portraying a large number of interesting female characters, though I think it would’ve been really cool if the male and female player characters had some bigger deviations in terms of story and dialogue.

Hey Bethesda, would it be cool if you guys gave the keys over to Telltale for a spinoff? A more character focused narrative would be great for the setting.

Well, have fun exploring everyone. Make sure to pack your Geiger counter and plenty of bullets.

Joe Cain is an Indianapolis native writer, currently working out of a small Liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. He is a lover of comic books, video games, and sci-fi/fantasy. He reviews video games for Nuvo, an Indianapolis newspaper.

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