The Fallout franchise’s track record of the role of women had never come into question by me before. These were games where your main character could be male OR female, and made no judgement on your sexuality or choices as a result. In fact, some Fallout games made it advantageous to be a woman with the Black Widow Perk, which would amplify damage output you inflict on enemies of the opposite sex – and there are a LOT more male enemies in the Wasteland than female ones. So it comes at such a surprise when I encountered this issue in a simple mobile app.
I’m speaking of chauvinism, if even in the most inconspicuous way.
The first time I encountered this problem was with my “strategic breeding program”. Since you need a certain number of Dwellers to unlock the next room-type you can build, and citizens weren’t exactly running to my Vault from the Wasteland (the percentage of gaining a new Dweller from the Wasteland, even with a Radio Room, is very low), I took it upon myself to start massive breeding within the Vault. I took one male with a high Charisma stat and sat him in the Living Quarters, and one-by-one marched a female Dweller in. Once he knocked her up, I sent her back to work and brought in the next one, until every female was pregnant and working.
At this point, I’m saying to myself, “OK, you’re using the women to breed… but at least they can continue working, right?”
The issue of pregnancy in the working environment in today’s workplace is a strong topic. But, I was willing to brush the politics aside – these were the end-times, and you have to do what you’re required to in order to survive. “It’s a fantasy game. Just go with the fantasy.” So I set my uneasiness aside like a good Overseer and pushed forward.
Then, one day, Raiders showed up at the Vault’s front door, looking to break in and cause some trouble. Like most crises in the game (like the RUSH failure events), production halts until the crisis is resolved. We had to kill the Raiders to keep going and push on.
But there was a problem: most of my rooms were occupied by pregnant women, who represented about 70% of my workforce. And in this game, if you’re a pregnant woman (or a child), your reaction to crisis is to run screaming with your arms in the air to lock yourself in your bedroom in the Living Quarters until the crisis has been resolved.
I’m not kidding.
The result? My “defense” was down to about 30%, scattered across several rooms. It took several minutes and several deaths to finally kill all the Raiders, after which the women and children all came out of the panic room and went back to work.
The children I can understand, since that applied to both male and female kids in your vault. I was willing to let that go. But for the women, the implication is pretty unfortunate – that these pregnant women, even in the end times, resort to running in fear instead of gearing up and standing their ground. Granted, no one wants to risk a pregnant woman in a dangerous situation, but the implication that fighting isn’t even an option seemed rather ridiculous in my eyes. What if all the men were killed? Wouldn’t at least ONE woman pick up a gun and start defending the other women? Shouldn’t a woman, even a pregnant one, be given the choice to defend herself?
But this wasn’t even the worst part. Once again, I could placate myself with excuses of “it’s a fantasy game” and just roll with the mechanic. The problem really came to light when I realized how my strategy evolved after that point.
I stopped sending women into the Wasteland – I needed them to breed more Dwellers.
I stopped arming women in my Vault – they were usually pregnant, which meant at the first sign of danger, they’d run away, and that weapon could’ve been used by a male who could beat the crisis.
I stopped outfitting them with Outfits in favor of their male counterparts – after all, higher stats means better protection from crisis events or enemies in the Wasteland… and you need the men to survive to breed with the women…
It started an ugly cycle. A cycle I didn’t really identify until I was already a week into the game. I was pretty shocked with myself - I had come up with a very efficient strategy as a result of these shortcomings, and it was working better than the two previously-failed Vaults I had attempted in spades. I had created a self-sustaining machine, limited only by the number of times I could check into the app. Could I "breed" less so the women could defend themselves? It would slow development of the Vault, but at least I wouldn't be in a position to fail. But why wait when this strategy DOES work? When I realized what brought me to this point, I almost laughed at how ridiculous it was, and then I was shocked to come to the realization that this had been the end-effect from a franchise that never emphasized chauvinism and contrarily was always a great shining example in the portrayal of women in gaming.
Don't get me wrong - this game is a lot of fun, and is a very well polished product for its first release. But given my experience, can improvements be made to fix the issue I encountered? Absolutely! In only a 1.0.2 release version as of this writing, I’m sure there’s more to come, and plenty of bugs to fix.
The main problem for me is that I don’t see this as a bug. This may not have been intentional by any means, but in my opinion the implications are there. All in all, my takeaway is a broadened perspective on the unintentional and unforeseen consequences in a game’s design.
All I can hope for is acknowledgement by the developers that this happened to an innocent player looking for a good time killer, and probably other players as well, and that perhaps worst of all many players have NO idea that it’s even happening. Maybe I’m overplaying this card concerning the portrayal of women in games, but you can’t deny the implications that result in what would otherwise be considered an “efficient strategy” for a simple mobile game.
It’s a fixable issue, with a simple fix. I just hope someone besides me can recognize it.
The crazypnut put about 140 hours into Fallout 3, and grew up playing Wasteland on the Commodore 64. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @crazypnut. Likewise, you can argue with him about the validity of his argument here by emailing him at crazypnut @ theemergentgamer .com