Sexuality in Fallout: New Vegas

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

http://i8.photobucket.com/albums/a15/hpowellsmith/CherchezLaFemme.png

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.

A cartoon of a the Fallout Pip-boy man holding a dagger to the back of another man who is asleep with a heart next to his head.

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.”

A light-skinned woman wearing rough clothing and a cowboy hat with the following conversation options: [Cherchez La Femme] "That's… rarely an issue." [Black Widow] "Soft men rarely stay that way around me, I've found.""Not sure I understand your answer.")

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.

14 thoughts on “Sexuality in Fallout: New Vegas”

  1. Great post, i loved New Vegas but after 80 hours of game-play i didn’t had to time to play it again and explore all the options. Giving attack bonus for being gay or bisexual is awesome :)

    But i think Obsidian has sometimes a bit simple approach to sexuality, for me it was never really tempting to date anyone of any gender in the game. Also complicated issues like a side quest where you help a rape victim felt somehow shallow.

  2. Minor quibble, but you couldn’t marry anyone in the first Fallout game.

    But yeah on the whole I was surprised to find that Obsidian mostly did a good job on making the game gay friendly.

  3. You might want to read this : http://blademaiden.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/work-love-and-u-hauls/

    A blog post by a former employee of Obsidian, probably the one to whom we ought the fact that Veronica and Arcade are defined as homosexuals.

    “By implementing the perk system the way it does, the game sets up the default as asexuality rather than heterosexuality.”

    You know, I think that is kinda hard to believe when you see the “Ladykiller” and “Black Widow” perks. Those assume heterosexuality as normal, but make your character a master seducer/seductress/manipulator of the other sex.

    That’s why I prefer a slightly different interpretation, if you want to read it. For me, it’s still the player who defines his character’s sexuality in his choice of partners and romantic interests… something that is hard to do in New Vegas, I admit, what with the absence of any romance whatsoever. The perk could set your character as homosexual in your mind, but they also could be interpreted as not just engraving the character’s sexuality in stone : it could be people with no interest in relationships who have managed to make themselves master manipulators of homosexuals of their own sex, just in order to get what they want. Pretty much the opposite equivalent of the ‘heterosexual’. A trope I’ve seen from time to time in fiction.

    “But i think Obsidian has sometimes a bit simple approach to sexuality, for me it was never really tempting to date anyone of any gender in the game.”

    Josh Sawyer and Chris Avellone (probably two of the most visible members of the company) are rather famous/infamous for being rather derisive of romances in games, and not liking them a whole lot in general. They didn’t make a romance in their games since Alpha Protocol, and I’m guessing that’s not something we will see much from that team.

    1. “They didn’t make a romance in their games since Alpha Protocol, and I’m guessing that’s not something we will see much from that team.”

      Can you elaborate a bit more? I didnt know there were games since AP (other than NV), and that there were romances/seductions in AP?

      1. They released Dungeon Siege 3 recently, it’s focused on action and combat, and it doesn’t have much in the term of interactions with your companions, so no romance. Plus, two of the characters (a man and a woman) share a father, so not exactly romance-friendly between those two.
        I suppose it wouldn’t score a lot of good points in this blog’s regular subjects, with some female characters having really revealing armor and clothes. Although it does have many women in power… except in the democracy. Ah!

        Alpha Protocol as four romantic interest, all women, out of five female characters. There was a bit of a controversy on this back in May 2009, I think there is a link in one of Denis Farr’s contribution to the blog. One of those doesn’t end well, and another fits a very, very stretched definition of romance (I still believe that inversed genders would have had everyone completely ‘squicked’ by this one).
        Given the game’s structure for social interactions, you have to build up the relationship in the set pieces of dialogs, different tastes for each of the ladies, although only one really sets herself apart (she’s a sadomasochist who likes you the more you insult and hurt her. This includes pumping her full of lead).

  4. I might not be remembering correctly, but as I recall the Courier can also use either the Black Widow or the Confirmed Bachelor perks to advance the main plot quest with Benny. And that, I thought, was really interesting.

    I was pleasantly surprised by both Veronica and Arcade as characters. I was even more surprised to find that Veronica’s girlfriend’s story is followed up on, in detail, in the first DLC. (It’s a story with some issues, gameplay among them, but it’s still a story that gets told.)

  5. I really loved the inclusion of bi and homosexuality in New Vegas, but I felt that Obsidian brought something to the game that Bethesda didn’t in Fallout 3, and that’s a frustratingly large amount of sexism. Am I the only one who was cringing constanly while playing? It seems like the gaming community has completely ignored New Vegas in that respect. Apart from the mediore story-line and ridiculous bugs, the in-your-face misogyny simply ruined my gaming experience. =/

    1. Are we talking ‘real world’ misogyny here, or ‘in universe’ misogyny, like the one professed by Caesar?

    2. Any examples of this sexism? I’ve played through about 90% of the game (never finished it, partly because of the stupid experience level cap) and I only noticed sexism in Caesar’s Legion (which is justified because they try to emulate Roman legions).

      The story is not that special, but it is way better than what we can see in Bioware or Bethesda games (or in 90% of modern games, for that matter).

    3. Interesting… I actually felt like overall, New Vegas had less built-in sexism, or at least a less built-in male viewpoint, than Fallout 3 did. Caesar’s Legion are of course horribly misogynistic, but they’re also just flat out terrible people, and I always figured that their “no girls allowed” stance was meant to be an indicator of how backwards and dreadful they are.

      There are certainly places to quibble, or problem elements — Gomorrah, that one lesbian PTSD soldier in the NCR — but I feel like in general, the tone and worldview weren’t too bad on the sexism front.

      1. On the subject of Caesar’s Legion, that was in-universe sexism so it didn’t bother me too much. Yes, Caesar’s legion are horribly misogynistic, but that was the game telling a story about some people who happened to be misogynistic (and there are similarly vile groups in our real world) rather than the game itself being misogynistic. I did find the female slaves in the Legion camp quite upsetting though.

  6. Like the author, I really enjoyed the implementation of sexuality in New Vegas. Adding to ways it impressed me above and beyond, say, Dragon Age II was that the gay characters roaming the wastelands flat-out turned you down if you tried to make heterosexual advances at them.

    ie, my smooth-talking cowboy tries to chat-up the female soldier mentioned in the article, and she her reply is, “Yeah, maybe if you were blonde…. and a woman…” Where as in Dragon Age it would have been “Oh, you want to play it straight? Yes sir, Mr. Player Character, sir.” Being shot-down is pleasantly realistic, and makes the connections you CAN make out there in post-apocolyptia feel that much more meaningful. It puts power in the hands of NPC’s out there in the world, gives them agency in the fictional relationship you build with them. Too many games let the PC get away with anything, if s/he picks the right conversation track. In Fallout, you can’t “get the conversation right” to ensure happy endings.

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