Sex in der Wüste

Among the complaints leveled at Fallout 3 was the fact that some features of the previous titles had been removed: notably killing children and the exploration of sexuality. The only act of sex to be sought after in the game is with a prostitute, which brings up once again Alex Raymond’s Women Aren’t Vending Machines. Instead of plying one with minigames, the model of sex is purely monetary, however. Oh, and will you look at that, Nova just so happens to be female.

In the narrative itself, we have Dukov, but I fail to recall any other explicit sexuality being present; while Greta and Carol are a lesbian ghoul couple, it never brings up their sex life, so I cannot comment on it other than that they are partners.

Therefore, within the game itself, the only model of sexuality we are presented is women as objects for purchase.

As for the players options for sexuality? As compared with the previous titles in the series, they are quite limiting, which is disheartening. Beyond the removal of more sexual options, there is a very constraining way of viewing the little sexuality one can express.

In Fallout 2 there was a perk called Karma Sutra master; this was a perk that was non-sex specific and either a male or female could select. In a similar, but vastly different, vein, Bethesda provides both the Lady Killer (male) and Black Widow (female) options, which actually draw closer parallels to the Sex Appeal trait in Fallout 2 (again, a trait that was non-sex specific).

While some may consider it amusing in its use of language (the perks both give an additional 10% damage to the opposite sex), there are some points of consternation here. Simon Ferrari examines how to explicate the term Black Widow in terms of the waves of feminism in his Thoughts on Playing Female in Fallout 3. But otherwise?

While the Sex Appeal trait in Fallout 2 was dependent on sex (males appealed to females more, females to male), there were other options in the game to explore. Without those other options, Fallout 3 locks the characters into a heteronormative existence. Even if a female avatar can pay to sleep with Nova, it’s worth noting that using female with female sex is something that plays to the stereotypical lust of male sexuality; a maturity level gamers are not willing to rise above if one takes a look at games like Bayonetta. It’s not an issue I would press further if, as the conversation at the boards of Iris Gaming Network and Ferrari point out, the game didn’t go out of its way to show how the female sex is very much an afterthought to playing the game.

Instead, if one is a male, one can be a Lady Killer; if one is female, a Black Widow. To some extent I can understand the game not wanting to press the issue of a gender that may conflict with the sex of the character, but this could be solved by, again, a non-sex specific perk. In their zealousness to be clever in naming perks, Bethesda has not only closed the door on a more open world with an exploration of a character’s sexuality through act, but in mere words.

Or, as an alternative, what if Bethesda were to offer either the Lady Killer or Black Widow perk to either sex? As it stands, the Black Widow perk is more advantageous, as more of the human adversaries you face are male (Talon Company is entirely male, as is most of the Enclave–the Raiders may be the most egalitarian, for all the sense that makes). Why should male characters be cut off from that option? Then again, from where does the bonus of this perk stem?

Is it an intimate knowledge of that particular anatomy that allows a boost to damage? Or perhaps being a distraction of sorts? In the case of the former, the need for creating such a specific perk is moot and can easily be explained as either sex picking up either perk. In the latter case, one could once again easily ignore any desire to play anything but a straight person, arguing, rather fallaciously, that the enemies you encounter are all straight. It would seem less complicated to not have to create any sort of programming for determining whether or not the Raider whose head you just exploded like a melon was after a penis or vagina.

Then again, this all assumes that anyone actually cares about providing options to be anything other than straight in an open world game. Or, for that matter, exploring sexuality in a meaningful way that isn’t about just kissing and penetration, whether that be on or off camera.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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5 Responses to Sex in der Wüste

  1. Simon says:

    I hadn’t even thought of how the names of those perks enforced heteronormativity. Shows I need a bit more sensitizing to such issues, because I keep missing them. What you bring up is true–the just didn’t want to add the extra toggle “wants penis” or “wants vagina” on there, which would be so easy to do. It could even default to straight so they wouldn’t have to check it off each time, and then they could manually make an NPC gay if it made sense to in context. Or do it based on a percentage that reflects actual populations.

    But maybe it’s even darker than simply ignoring homosexuality altogether. Maybe they can’t put a sexuality toggle on NPCs, because they want to maintain control of how homosexual characters are portrayed. If an eighth of the Raiders you splode are gay, then it doesn’t allow them to exploit gay stereotypes when their story demands a gay character. Of course, I can’t think of this happening in Fallout 3 in particular, but it definitely stands to reason that they might avoid such an NPC customization in other games that do have more key homosexual characters.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Bethesda probably didn’t want to invite the ultimate hyperscrutiny and hypersensitivity of the programmed mannerisms into a gay NPC. If he was no different than others, but just made gay comments – Bethesda is just throwing a bone and not putting any effort in, or marginalizing homosexuality to just comments. Any more than that, and they are playing to stereotypes. It’s lose-lose.

    Frankly, since you don’t interact with the raiders, Talon Company, the Enclave, and many other groups, how do you know they aren’t gay? I mean come on; Talon company kills everyone they come up against, except Reilly’s Rangers (barely), and they live alone on a fort with only men. It’s actually more likely that they are all gay, but how would you know the difference? It’s just too far down on the priority list from “duck – shoot – reload.”

    Besides, I think Daring Dashwood might have been at least bisexual, and Argyle may be gay (though you never meet him alive, he does spend all his time with a male, and complains about the presence of females…”always with the dames…”).

    In the end, I suppose it would be easy to put in a “gaydar” function on the PipBoy.

  3. Michel says:

    I would love to see an RPG character creation menu where gender was separate from physical appearance and you could also select sexual preference.

  4. Alex says:

    This is a great example of how even when developers may try to be inclusive and understand intellectually that having LGBT characters is important, being truly inclusive means that these little details are important too, that they can’t just conveniently forget LGBT people exist just for the sake of cleverness.

    Another thing that bothers me about these perks is, yet again, the conflation of sex and violence. As a Kama Sutra master you do more damage to your opponent? Really now? Is that really how we view sex? Part of the problem with games is that in most cases the only valuable skills are those that increase combat effectiveness; getting away from being completely combat-focused would allow for sex-related abilities that are meaningful to the player without being combat-related.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if lesbians ever get frustrated that when people discuss LGBT-in-media stuff, lesbian dimensions are discounted out of hand.

    “Oh, well lesbian sex is actually just an expression of hetero male fantasy, so it doesn’t count”

    I’ll never understand this.

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