Remember when Fallout 4 was finally officially announced and the internet collectively shouted with glee? In June 2015, Bethesda finally told fans that yes, Fallout 4 was indeed A Thing, and during their E3 showcase, it was the main attraction. I was actually playing Fallout: New Vegas at the time and was having a ball, so needless to say, I was pretty pumped myself.
While I did not have the chance to attend the Bethesda showcase in person, I got to watch it live on Twitch with other fans who couldn’t make their way to California either. Showcases are meant to promote upcoming games and their technology, and Bethesda did a damned good job of making the viewer want to buy the game and its accompanying merchandise. Fallout 4 was presented as a trailblazer in the frontier of next-gen gaming that retained the spirit and lore of previous entries in the franchise. I couldn’t wait until November 10th, but there was a certain aspect of the gameplay demo that had me worried.
When Bethesda presented Fallout 4’s character creator, they showed that you could play as a man or a woman, represented by a married couple standing in front of their bathroom mirror. However, the method used to choose your character and their spouse’s gender was left slightly ambiguous, raising the question of whether you could choose your spouse’s gender as well. In my mind, this situation could have either been a pleasant surprise or a total letdown. This meant that you would either be able to completely customize the type of romantic relationship your character has (a welcome addition to gaming) or you would have to put your character—which many players view as a representation of themselves—in a heterosexual relationship, regardless of your orientation.
November 10th rolled around, and lo and behold, Bethesda opted for Option B. Even though you can completely customize both yourself and your spouse, and the husband and wife’s story roles are completely interchangeable, you can only be in a heterosexual relationship where both spouses are cisgender. I’ll take Hopes Completely Crushed for $60, Alex.
While the character creation I was hoping for would probably stick with “male” and “female” body options as opposed to a gender neutral character creator that our writer Teddie discusses the need for, it would still be a vast improvement to LGBTQIA+ gaming. You would not only be able to customize your player character, but their life partner as well, opening up a world of possibilities. For instance, if you were a butch/masculine woman who’s interested in other butch/masculine women, you could have your fictional relationship reflect that. You could even base your fictional spouse off your real spouse or partner! But I guess that all went down the toilet.
Folks who aren’t too bothered by this aspect of the plot often point out that since the Fallout version of the future is heavily influenced by the 1950s aesthetic, the presence of LGBTQIA+ people just wouldn’t fit in. I’ve even seen someone write that there weren’t any LGBTQIA+ folks back then (!?!?!?), as opposed to that population having to pretend to be straight and cis so they wouldn’t get targeted. Some simply posit that it wouldn’t mesh with the morals of the 1950s, which the Fallout pre-apocalypse world mostly held on to. However, it turns out that there’s a lesbian couple right there in the trailer. They’re holding each other lovingly on their front lawn where all of their neighbors can see. So even that’s not a worthy excuse, since apparently everyone’s cool with it.
Others argue that your character and their spouse must be heterosexual and cisgender because your biological son, Shaun, is a crucial character to the plot. (Heh. I wonder if he has a brother named Jason.) A major plot point is that you are searching for him after being in cryostasis for 200 years. (This happens in the first part of the game, so no spoilers here—don’t worry.) Shaun’s appearance is a combination of you and your spouse’s appearance, just like how the children in The Sims series have appearances based on their parents’. They’re trying to emulate real life. I get it.
Here’s the thing, though: Fallout 4 isn’t real life. I know, I know, some of us, myself included, have floating robot butlers called Ms. Sexy Toeeater. In fact, mine’s giving me a foot massage right now. It’s fantastic. But some people—namely everyone who has ever existed—don’t have that luxury. That’s because Fallout 4 is a video game set in a fictional apocalypse based off an American 1950s vision of the future. If they can implement rocket cars and nuclear shelters that can sustain people for hundreds of years, I’m pretty sure they can manage a nonbinary or gay trans person who has a child with their partner, considering that it really happens. And the cis gay relationships? Gay science babies. Make it so. Or Bethesda could have skipped this whole mess by making Shaun an adoptee. Multi-million dollar companies have tons of creative options at their disposal, and ideas such as these are not outside the scope of their abilities.
I’m not saying that Fallout 4 is automatically a terrible game because of a plot element that mainly exists in its first hour. Currently, I’m saving up for a Playstation 4, and it’s definitely on the list of games to accompany it. Metacritic’s scores from major critics seem pretty happy with it, too. Nonetheless, it’s incredibly frustrating to see a game publisher that has a history of decent LGBTQIA+ representation (at least within the scope of current AAA games) base one of their plots around a concept that can be alienating to that exact population.
Anyway, my robot butler just told me that my sweet roll is done, so I’ll see you in the comments. Make sure you’re wearing your spurs that jingle jangle jingle when you come, or it’ll be awfully embarrassing.