The following is a guest post from Miss Haitch.
Miss Haitch is a bisexual teacher living in the UK with her female partner. She enjoys tabletop gaming, writing fantasy stories about people outside the straight/white/male demographic, and occasionally dressing up to enact fictional political machinations. Her first gaming loves were puzzle/adventure games and CRPGs, and she is currently in love with the Portal series.
“Why hasn’t some lucky man scooped this bachelor off his feet?”
In the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 3, sex is serious business – so serious, in fact, that it’s generally mentioned in the most euphemistic fashion possible, and you could get burned.
(I may be unreasonably bitter on that one. How was I to know that when I “rented a room” I would lie on a bed with a waitress and then get up again?)
Unlike the first two entries in the Fallout series, in which a PC could flirt with and marry same-sex partners, it’s mostly straight as an arrow. Play a female character and you can have the “room rental” scene with the waitress, but there is no opportunity to flirt with the women of the wasteland. A perk gives access to damage bonuses against and special conversation options with the opposite sex, but there is no same-sex equivalent.
So you may imagine my delight when, trundling around the wasteland of New Vegas killing wolves and stealing beer bottles, I discovered a new perk: “Confirmed Bachelor”.
Cue much speculation from my partner and me. Did that mean…? Well, the picture DID have a man looking deviously at another man in bed… But maybe the game makers just meant the damage bonus thing… Wait! There were gay conversation options! There were female gay conversation options! You could have gay AND straight conversation options!
That’s right: in New Vegas you can choose to be gay or bisexual. And you get combat bonuses for doing so.
An everyday approach
Another fun fact: you’re not alone. Two gay characters and a bisexual character can team up with you, and their sexualities are presented as … normal. Which is very rare and very important.
The title of this post is probably my favourite coming-out speech ever, and is a quote from Arcade Gannon, a joinable NPC. It’s smoothly integrated into his background, it’s funny, and it’s normal, just like we are – and just like we are so rarely presented in computer games.
Veronica Santangelo’s coming-out is a little less smooth, bound-up as it is in a random question from the PC about whether she has been in love, but she and Cass are both excellent examples of non-straight characters presented without fuss. They are as well-rounded, if not more, than the straight characters and their sexualities are not the only interesting thing about them. The characters are not straight, but not “other”.
The wider world reflects this sense of ordinariness. Characters respond to your comments as a part of everyday life – which, of course, they are – and it is refreshing to see a positive or neutral response to non-straight sexuality rather than a threatening one.
We also see homophobia presented thoughtfully. My male PC flirts with an NCR soldier who says, ruefully, that he would have professional trouble if he had a public relationship with a man, but that if they ever meet out West where they’re less bigoted, something could happen. What impressed me was the feeling that the writers had considered how this minor character’s personal life could affect his professional life. Details and moments like this enhance the inclusivity of the game – and the worldbuilding as a whole.
As a side note, the “Confirmed Bachelor” perk gives the most conversation options of any of the sexuality perks. Which, for something that the majority of game manufacturers consider an optional extra if they consider it at all, is pretty cool.
It’s not perfect, and there’s still a way to go. While my partner’s gay male PC sweet-talked his way across the wastes, my gay female PC had only a handful of opportunities to express her sexuality. A storyline attached to a lesbian soldier left me discomforted; mileage will vary, but I was disappointed at the writers’ choice to go down that route.
Main character personalisation
I hold a lot of respect for New Vegas’ approach to the PC’s sexuality, in which the game specifically responds to the PC’s expression of his or her sexual orientation. The PC’s orientation is embedded in the text of the game, which makes everything feel more interactive and personalised to the PC’s preferences.
To demonstrate, let’s look at the following paraphrased chat with Zevran of Dragon Age: Origins:
Zevran: “My sexual history is varied. I … um, like banging dudes. Does that offend you?”
Grey Warden: “That’s fine – I don’t mind.” Or: “Are you kidding?” Or: “Am I supposed to be offended?”
At no point can you say, as a man, “Oh, me too!” or as a woman, “Oh, thanks for the offer, but I like women.” Or even, “Of course I don’t have a problem with your bisexuality – I’m bisexual, too.”
In Fallout: New Vegas during a conversation with Cass about the harsh life of the Mojave, she says: “I’m not one for soft living … or soft men, let me tell you. I’m guessing neither are you.”
Depending on your perks, there are diverse conversation options available in which, variously, you can flirt with Cass, chat about her bisexuality, or snigger with her about erections. It all feels much more personalized and focused on the PC’s orientation and characterisation. Also, erection jokes. Win-win!
Subverting the default
By implementing the perk system the way it does, the game sets up the default as asexuality rather than heterosexuality. If you like, you can play the entire game without so much as a lascivious look, rather than being subjected to sexual moments that make no sense for your character (I’m looking at you, Consort Sha’ira of Mass Effect 1).
Challenging the assumption that default = straight is powerful. And in the gaming community, where some people feel all too comfortable saying that including same-sex content “neglects the main demographic” of video games, it cannot be challenged enough.
Well played, Fallout: New Vegas.