The following is a guest post by Danielle Perry:
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.