Is Fallout Shelter sexist?

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By Neil H. Howard – 2nd July 2015
Is Fallout Shelter sexist?

One indisputable fact about E3 2015 was the Fallout 4 conference and the release of the free to play iOS title Fallout Shelter. A simple 2D/3D hybrid that puts you in the role of the faceless overseer of Vault – whatever three digit number strikes your fancy. (451 in my case)

The Mechanics of the game are to take civilians from the wasteland and turn them into productive vault citizens, expand the depths and scale of the facilities, and here is the controversial but; breed enough new vault dwellers to keep the vault going. However it is this part of the game-play that has caught the attention of Feminist Frequency writer Anita Sarkessian, she tweeted that the primary way to progress in the game was to impregnate as many women as possible. Now while there is a nugget of truth to this statement, the tweet did what tweets do best; offer little detail. 

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While it is true that you need 20 vault dwellers before you can build a radio-room, which allows for the vault to broadcast messages to other survivors to come seek refuge in your vault, and the only way to reach 20 vault dwellers is through breeding the 6 dwellers you started with. But all the characters in the game are literally and figuratively two-dimensional. There are no personalities, no clashes between dwellers of any significance, and the actual breeding is already way out of the bounds of realism anyway because the game believes babies come from people hanging around in the same particular room for long periods of time.

Is it dehumanizing? Well these dwellers humanistic qualities are totally subject to the player. As are the choices on who should breed, when, and why. The game is literally about running a vault, whether you’re benevolent or malevolent is totally up to you. Can it be dehumanizing for the women in the game-world? Absolutely, but only if the player believes that his or her actions are in fact malevolent. It could simply be that the player believes that the social aspect of the chosen breeding pair is good and friendly and isn’t shady in the least.

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My only complaint is the pregnancy is so unrealistic, there doesn’t seem to be any consequences to the partners for being parents, rather it seems way more primordial in that the man breeds and leaves, the woman births and then leaves. Arguably this lack of realism is to prevent the game being more Sim-like that Overseer simulation.

But is it dehumanizing, is it sexist? No, first of all this 2D sprites that represent people aren’t very human from the get go, they lack realistic reactions to situations, any personality, and making them breed doesn’t seem to have any connotation outside of the players own. Is it sexist? Again, I would argue that the male response to the pregnancy is the most unrealistic aspect to talk about, now a more cynical person (like me) would argue that actually “yes, men would totally do that!” but then again it’s just a game with the sole purpose of simulating being an overseer of a vault. not a relationship simulation like The Sims 3.

If you must take the view of this game from the feminist viewpoint, I would argue that it is dumb but harmless, and if you take it from the fallout fan side, it’s not about the people as much as the vault itself. But who knows, as overseer maybe you’re manipulating the pipboys and these couples are just in it for the XP.

  • Mr.Bugbee

    Can we just all ignore anitas bs. Its the only way to make her go away.

  • Cameron

    Must stay relevant….beep..boop…must stay relevant. Relevancy fading….

  • Mr0303

    We should ignore feminist critics of games the same way we do religious ones. Any game can be sexist or sinful whenever they wish.

    That being said feminist Voldemort over there is again critiquing a game she has never played. It’s her thing.

  • Skiri-ki

    Alright, so the game is not a Sim and lacking realism so the entire mechanic around pregnancy is “not sexist”? Cool, lets, for the moment, pretend I could live with that argument and move past that.

    Because that’s only one of the first things that you’ll notice while playing. Another thing is, that special characters (which you’d e.g. get from lunch boxes) are 9/10 male and wearing male only costumes. Speaking of which, I so far haven’t encountered female only costumes. And since the costumes have gameplay impact, this is more of an issue than just customization.

    Why not make a female variant of the Greezer/Horrorfan/Comedian/Clerical/Nobles/Badlanders- Outfit? (might have mistranslated them, since I’m playing the German version) I mean, common, they’re sprites so don’t start with “production cost” BS.

    No, that’s just very bad form and shows that Bethesda just really didn’t care to make the game inclusive. Why can’t I have women running around in costumes reminiscent to the women in e.g. Mad Max: Fury Road, rugged and hardened by the Badlands?

    Why do I have to great lengths to get them up to the stats of the rare-males by sending them to exercise for a few days, just because there are hardly and rare-females?

    Why do nearly all Rare-Males have incredible Charisma stats, making them breeding stallions? Why do the Woman swoon them and talk about building a family if the only effect after childbirth is the occasional chatter about their kids and the fact that the parents won’t “dance in the quarters” with their own kids.

    Btw: that last bit highlights that they did indeed make an extra effort towards Sim-like structures and that they keep track of who is who’s child and that the player kind of has to as well. So there goes that argument.

    With that said, against such a backdrop, claiming that Bethesda didn’t WANT to portray women as Stay-In-The-Vault-Moms that are only allowed certain costumes that help them in these positions and even sexed up the female variation of the nightwear outfit (increases Charisma), … well, let’s just say such a claim is a stretch at best.

    At the minimum, they didn’t care enough about the implications to at least give the women outside of that mechanic an equal standing. That alone should be troublesome enough.

    • Neil H. Howard

      If what you say is true, then I’m right behind you in demanding it be patched to rectify these issues, you can quote me on that.

      But let me be clear, I don’t believe the game is maliciously sexist, at best it’s stumbled blindly into that area due to lack of attention and poor execution.

      Like Duke Nukem: Forever, I don’t think they embark to berate the entire female gender, I think it failed to hit its mark and left us all with a coppery taste of failure and gave us concussions from the colossal facepalm we gave ourselves.

      Is the game sexist? No. Does it fail to meet the standards of proper female portrayal? Definitely! But where malice involves both, poor execution only needs the latter.

      I say, get them patching.

      • Florian Gysin

        I agree with you on one point, but strongly disagree on another:
        Yes, I also don’t think that the game is ‘maliciously sexist’ – it wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t a marketing strategy or something similarly revolting…
        However, I think it is just blindly and arbitrarily sexist due to preexisting gender norms. Ooops, women can’t wear a knights or nobility costume? Men can’t be librarians? I call bull****.

        In my opinion society in general — and with it the entertainment industry — can no longer afford not to think about these issues!

        • Neil H. Howard

          I find that quite troubling, keep in mind this article was written in response to early backlash, the costume issues didn’t become well known until quite a bit later.

          What puzzles me is that in most if not all of Bethesda’s other releases all the clothing was gender-neutral until worn. It was a welcome departure from reality for me, hunting for the armour you want would have a new layer of irritability if you had to contend with what gender it was forged for.

          From what people are telling me, this sounds like something that can me remedied by getting Bethesda to patch these instances. I’m not advocating it should stay, I’m advocating for the side that says we can fix this.

  • Tammy Pressman

    Yes the game is sexist. And it’s not about being sexist against women. It creates arbitrary sexist norms. And I think the idea of this was because the game world starts from a sexist society. So the sexism is intentional. But out in the Wasteland, resources are limited. So, why wouldn’t a woman wear a Survivalist outfit? And if a man needs to wear a Librarian outfit to work more efficiently in a lab, so be it. It is a little odd because even though the 50s are seen as being sexist, men were librarians and women were professors. Men can be movie fans and women can be scifi and horror fans. There were plenty of female nobility. So why can’t we just let all the outfits be worn by everyone? Also it seems like there are 2 or 3 outfits men can’t wear while there are at least twice that the women can’t wear.

    • Neil H. Howard

      Most of this stuff could be patched easily. I reckon we should write an outline of changes to better accommodate everyone.

      As much as I agree that the game should reflect the time before the time-line split, I doubt that that much effort went into this mobile game. Besides, women in the 1940’s were kicking ass when it came right down to it.

      When I present the question is the game sexist, and give my opinion, I’m talking about malicious systematic sexism, which I don’t see the game doing. During my playthrough on the iOS version, I found myself sending more women out into the wasteland that men. As their stats (atleast in my experience) were better suited. More men worked in the power-plant but the water plant was almost exclusively women. The kitchen was mixed as was the sickbay.

      As far as the costume problem goes, I’m flabbergasted. I’m honestly not sure what the hell is going on there. It could be fixed with patching I suppose.

      As for the arbitrary sexist norms. Well in life, I’m an egalitarian, so when playing the game, I tended to just send out whoever whilst playing, the gender didn’t really matter to me mainly because the gender of the vault-dwellers just didn’t seem important to me. But my mentality would be if the game isn’t intrinsically egalitarian, I’ll make it egalitarian. My vault, my rules. Hope that made sense, even I’m not sure it did. :/

  • Opetrenko Maigo

    Seemed Bethesda could have just avoided the whole mess by having two parents come out the back room with a child… or have a nursery or something…