Cherchez La Femme

The following is a guest post by Danielle Perry:

Writer and photographer with a desk job. You can find her on Flickr, where she posts pictures daily, and on Twitter, where she posts about books, games, living in DC, and everything in between.

There’s something weirdly comforting to me about slipping back into the Wasteland. I didn’t think I’d like Fallout 3, but I sank nearly 100 hours into it. I was hesitant about Fallout: New Vegas, since I loved Fallout 3 mostly for taking the place I live (DC) and turning it post-apocalyptic, but I am already near 100 hours and have much more to do. So it seems safe to say that the Wasteland, whether Capital or Mojave, appeals to me.

When I played Fallout 3, I took the Black Widow perk – which opens up conversation options that allow the player to flirt with male NPCs – early on. There were only a few opportunities to use it and I loved every single one. But in New Vegas, there’s a different yet similar perk – Cherchez La Femme. It works pretty much the same way Black Widow does, except the Courier can now flirt with other women. I took Black Widow first, because it was familiar, but I fell in love with Cherchez La Femme. It helps that Obsidian does a better job with these speech options than Bethesda did in Fallout 3. There are more of them, for starters. Where there were only three or four Black Widow options in the previous game, there are multitudes in New Vegas.

The way these options have shaped my relationships and affections in the Mojave Wasteland has been interesting to watch develop. Every time I had a chance to sleep with another woman, I took it. Meanwhile, Black Widow has mostly been used to seduce and then murder Benny, the character who shot me in the head in the game’s opening. (This seemed appropriate, given the name of the perk.) The fact that New Vegas includes sex at all seems kind of revolutionary, especially because no one makes a big deal over it. It’s just another thing you can do in the Wasteland.

What I’ve liked about each of my sexual encounters, though, was the feeling of having a different relationship with each of these women. With Joana, a prostitute, sex was a transaction. We had sex, I helped her and her boyfriend escape the Gomorrah casino where she worked. Everyone wins. I wasn’t expecting to sleep with Sarah, who runs the Vault 22 hotel; I had retrieved some Vault jumpsuits for her as a favor. (After all, I was going to the Vaults anyway. Why not?) It seemed like a more playful relationship. And then there’s Red Lucy, who sent me on a series of dangerous quests. In the end, I became her “mighty hunter” and she invited me to bed.

And then there’s Christine.

Christine is a character in the DLC “Dead Money,” which takes place at the Sierra Madre casino. When the player meets Christine, she has been stuck in a malfunctioning Auto-Doc. Her face is cut-up and she cannot speak. Despite this, I found conversing with her – through hand-gestures, guesswork, and knowledge checks – to be more interesting than with any other character in the game. She was immediately my favorite companion – not just in “Dead Money,” but in all of New Vegas. Our relationship felt like a partnership.

Maybe you can tell where this is going.

There wasn’t actually any sex involved, though I did use a Cherchez La Femme speech option to convince her to participate in the plan of the man who had trapped us there. The next time I saw her was in the casino itself, voice restored to her. Together we discussed what should happen next. I convinced her to let me take care of our trapper. That was the last time I saw Christine. When I left Sierra Madre, a goodbye message played on the radio which lured me there in the first place. “Fortunes are more than wealth in your hands,” it said, in the voice Christine shared with the woman for whom the Sierra Madre had been built. The message repeats, over and over, just like the broadcast that led me there had. I listened to it loop a couple times. “Finding [the Sierra Madre]’s not the hard part…that’s letting go.”

And so I left. I went back to the Lucky 38, my home base in the Wasteland. The only companion I took back out with me was my dog Rex. I wasn’t expecting to learn a lesson in Sierra Madre, but I got one anyway. Knowing my interactions with Christine would be limited, I hesitated about continuing to play, wanting to draw it out instead. When I finally did continue, my reward was not the treasures of the Sierra Madre but this: begin again, let go.

New Vegas does something that is altogether too rare in video games: it presents an adult view of sexuality. There are some problems, of course – my fade-to-black with Red Lucy had her orgasmically saying “oh daddy,” for instance – but overall sex is simply a part of the universe. Sexuality isn’t an option in character creation; it’s not a drop-down box of options or a slider on the Kinsey scale. Instead it’s something that manifests in player choices and actions. The game doesn’t put constraints on what the player chooses to do; it gives the player the freedom to sleep with everyone, or no one, or any number in between. It allows the Courier to have meaningful relationships, even if she has to let go in the end.


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12 Responses to Cherchez La Femme

  1. BethanyG says:

    That’s just how I felt about Christine. Somehow they managed to make that the most meaningful relationship I’ve encountered thus far, and there’s only even one or two options for it total! I really wanted to take her back to the Mojave Wasteland with me, but not being able to actually left me feeling a bit brokenhearted.

  2. Your description of sex with Joana seems a little simplistic, when she’s being held against her will by gangsters who deliberately keep her drugged and addicted.

    • Shannon says:

      I agree. It’s a bit gross actually “We had sex, I helped her and her boyfriend escape the Gomorrah casino where she worked. Everyone wins.”
      But uh, did she actually want to have sex with you? If you’re so charitable, why not give her the money and then see if she still wants sex.

      • Daniel says:

        There are a couple of different ways that a sexual relationship with Joana can take place, but all of them can end up seeming like a transaction. There’s the most obvious option, which is paying her for sex. But when I played, the transaction went quite differently. When you first interact with Joana, she comes on pretty strong – likely this is just part of her strategy as a successful sex worker. But with a high enough speech skill and/or the Cherchez La Femme or Lady Killer perk, she invites you back to her room without charging you.

        At first this might seem to be her expressing an interest in the character sexually, and that may be the case, but after the act she begins to open up through additional dialogue, revealing her addictions and the abuse she and other sex workers have experienced at Gomorrah. Eventually this leads to the option to help her with an escape plan.

        So there are a couple of different ways that sex with Joana can be a transaction or be interpreted as one. In one scenario the player pays Joana for sex. In another, Joana has sex with the player seemingly out of a desire to do so, but this leads to the player doing a service for her. I think in some versions of the conversation, if not all, she also offers sexual services in exchange for help with the escape.

        Regardless of how this interaction goes down, it can end up seeming like a transaction, with varying degrees of amoral behavior on the part of the player, depending on the circumstances of that transaction.

    • James A says:

      No, that’s not right. I mean, your description is, but the sexual experience with Joana IS purely transactional. I’m not personally someone who can play characters that diverge much from my own morality (although strangely I can click the button to do a horrible thing, sometimes, if I’m sure I can undo it after I see the cut scene or whatever. I rarely do even that). I admire and envy people who can, however. She called it transactional; I have to feel that that was sufficient condemnation.

      The character who does that isn’t a terribly nice person, but I’m not in love with the idea that a willingness to play an amoral abuser, or even just someone who is largely moral who has serious personal flaws. And I also don’t think it is necessary for every writer to make a show of denouncing every detail of anything when it is ancillary to their point. There is no bright line rule, obviously.

      • I’m not in love with the idea that a willingness to play an amoral abuser, or even just someone who is largely moral who has serious personal flaws.

        Did you forget the end of this sentence?

        I’m not demanding anyone make a show. I just think “everyone wins” is pretty glib for a situation like that and “transactional” doesn’t get across the fact that she’s a slave.

  3. SonnetR says:

    I would say categorically that with the exception of Dean, Dead Money has the best characterization in the Fallout: New Vegas. I distinctly remembering using the “terrifying presence” perk on Christine, losing karma, and immediately reloading so I wouldn’t hurt her feelings. That she had to stay behind broke my heart.

  4. Doug S. says:

    There’s a similar perk for male characters as well, “Confirmed Bachelor”.

  5. James A says:

    Mild spoilers:

    I’m sad that she couldn’t come back to the Wasteland, but the thing I love about her character is one, the reveal of who she is in relation to both the captor and in relation to one of your companions. In purely narrative terms, I feel that having her come back to the wasteland would have been a mistake (as well as being astoundingly expensive* and given the age of the game engine itself likely technically impossible). They payoff is small, but worth it, I think.

    It also re-suspends my disbelief in something that had broken it wrt the Brotherhood. Which is also nice.

  6. Momiji says:

    Curious! I played a male courier with the “Confirmed Bachelor” perk, but I don’t remember any opportunities for him to sleep with anyone. I actually didn’t even know your PC could have sex in the game until I read this post. ^^;; Did I just miss it or did they avoid putting sex scenes in the game for male gay characters?

    • Ms. Sunlight says:

      There are no actual sex scenes and only a few “fade to black” moments. The only one I can recall with my female PC was with Fisto the Sexbot.

  7. Seagloom says:

    I don’t have anything meaningful to add here. I only wanted to state that I too was really impressed with how Christine was written, and indeed, Dead Money as a whole. Although it did have its flaws such as what I felt was railroading with Dean Domino. Christine is presently my go to choice whenever someone asks what I look for in an RPG romance or friendship track. It was often subtle, deft, and full of emotion. I was truly moved by her, and I’m not easily moved by games. Usually I fall into an analytical mindset; picking apart a character to figure out what makes them tick and how their portrayal impacts a narrative.

    With Christine, I left that part of me behind without even realizing it. It’s to experience moments like those in Dead Money that I seek out story driven games to begin with.

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