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.
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.
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.