Welcome to another entry of Fanny Fridays (shamelessly inspired by Grant Morrison’s Lord Fanny character from The Invisibles). These weekly posts examine the mirror of gender and sex that occurs between our culture and videogames.
In Fallout, there exists a curious tab on one’s character sheet. This tab is labeled ‘Kills,’ and it tells you the number of enemies you’ve killed, split into categories such as rats, radscorpions, men, women, mut… Wait. Men, women?
I did not mention it in my post-play analysis, but this struck me rather early on in the game. I saved Tandi from the raiders by bluffing that I represented a larger force, and then went back and killed the raiders for their loot; wanted to make sure there were no casualties.
Pulling up one of my old saves (I keep most of them stored in various places when I switch computers), I loaded up the end game of a character who killed her way through most of the game. The reported kills were intriguing: Men, 98; Women, 16. This was my bloodthirsty character who just killed instead of bothering to even negotiate, and she only had killed sixteen women as opposed to almost 100 men?
I’ve previously made the point that women protagonists are often less violent than their male counterparts when we’re given a character. The exceptions we do have are usually not killing other humans, feel remorse if they do, or fall into the archetype of the femme fatale (killin’s sexy). It did not occur to me to look over the divide and see if this held true for antagonists. Of course, antagonistic females are a whole other category.
Witch. Manipulator. Sexual. Unwitting pawn. Foreign assassin. Insane. A monster or demon (then usually very scantily clad and a succubus).
While games in general are still a maturing medium in terms of the narratives and plots they tell, we rarely have horribly nuanced female villains–when we have them.
This was something I noticed in Deus Ex, where there weren’t any female NSF agents. When I brought this point up, the counterargument was resources for creating a female model. I suppose I could see that to a point. However, in games where we already have those models, such as Fallout, why are they not used more?
Expressive art reveals to us that we are racist, that we do hold stereotypes, that we do tacitly believe insane things about other people. This is going to sound very radical and not very PC, but here it is: bring it on. Bring on the deeply racist depictions of other cultures. Bring on the subtle stereotypes we carry along with us as societal baggage. But, bring it on artistically – actually SHOW us what we secretly believe in an expressive form. That’s what moves people. That’s how we come to see ourselves in a bas-relief.
Fallout does have a slight glimmer of this, actually. The question of children and how the family functions never is really brought up. Children exist, you shouldn’t kill them, but they are never seen around parents, which makes one wonder if the ‘takes a village to raise a child’ mentality has been adopted. One notable exception is Tandi, who is already a teenager (in fact, being the chief’s daughter, I wryly told myself, “The princess is in another raider camp,” when going to rescue her). The antagonist leaders with whom you speak are male; when you enter Junktown, you learn of Gizmo’s ruthless grip on the town through his casino, including the local prostitute, Sinthia.
If you go to the local hotel and speak to the prostitute, you learn how she is being exploited by Gizmo. He is her pimp, she makes him money, and she sees herself as having no other real options in this world, other than selling her body as a service. However, these conversations only come up if you save her from a deranged man who threatens to kill her because he perceives her laughing at him.
Given that we are presented with 1950s images of families entering vaults, with mom in her mid-length dress and pop being the cheerful middle-class family man, the game seems to present us with the fact that given an apocalypse, if women are not on equal footing, they will be in a worse situation than with what they started. If one selects playing a female character, some male NPCs are typically chauvinistic toward you, making it harder to get along with them unless sex is offered, which is an option.
However, outside of antagonists, in the latter half of the game, specifically the LA Boneyards, the player is presented with two female leaders. There is Razor, of the Blades, and Nicole, of the Followers of the Apocalypse (an awareness group of the dangers of how the apocalypse occurred). Razor becomes a target and is considered a threat. If one hears her out, the Blades have been framed as a child-killing organization. In this instance, the female who grew close to the child leads in decisive action while the father is impotent and usually gets killed; Razor can end up taking over Adytum. Nicole makes it easier for you to take an alternate route into a later part of the game, enabling the less or non-violent solution. Both of these women prove that women can take charge and lead forward into the new world.
While I’m only hazarding a guess, I’d wager that the Fallout team did think about the implications of sex in a destroyed world. However, instead of falling into an all out battle of the sexes (which, truthfully, could quickly be overdone in such a setting), they subtly implemented it. Did the audience perceive? Go check out any character creation FAQ online and you will have many that clearly outline the differences that one will face between the selection of ‘Male’ and ‘Female.’ The game falls short many times, but it does present a compelling, thought-provoking ‘what if.’