Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Human breeding simulator

I'm not exactly an ultra-feminist. I do believe in gender equality, but don't agree that the best way to get there is forcing quotas for women in every job, or turning half of the Warlords of Draenor into Warladies. Having said that, it does happen that I object to some particularly sexist content. And it is with some surprise that I found Fallout Shelter to be offensively sexist.

Fallout Shelter is a mobile game which falls into the same general category as let's say Tiny Tower. You manage a vault in the world of Fallout and need to keep a balance between resource production and resource needs. Your shelter is inhabited by "dwellers", and shortly after the start of the game you stop getting dwellers from outside. You can attract outside dwellers with a radio station, but I haven't had much luck with that yet. You can get rare dwellers from lunchboxes, which aren't that frequent either if you don't buy lots of those lunchboxes with real money. So as you need quite a lot of dwellers, for example to unlock new room types, Fallout Shelter quickly degenerates into a human breeding simulator.

From a pure minmax perspective, if not all of the women in your vault are pregnant, you are playing it wrong. You need to drag each woman into the living quarters together with a man who isn't a direct blood relative, dress them both up in gear that increases their charisma the most (which in my game weirdly is a bishop's outfit for the man and a baby doll nightdress for the woman), and a few minutes later the two will disappear into the bedroom in the background, from which the woman will come back pregnant. Repeat until every woman is pregnant, and you will soon have enough dwellers in your vault. There are even quests ("objectives") like "Have 12 Male and Female couples dance in the Living Quarters", with "dancing" being an euphemism, you can't dance without a pregnancy resulting. Oh, and "dancing" is also the best way to increase the happiness of your dwellers. As much as that is represented in a humoristic way, that sort of gameplay isn't exactly in the best of taste.

Isn't it supposed to be about survival of the human species after a nuclear war, viewed through the weird lens of the 1950s notion of futurism? (I ask disingenuously because yes it is).

I mean, it doesn't sound like a hard-hitting Max Max Fury Road sort of approach to discussing the problems women will face in a post-apocalyptic future, but I'm wondering if the "retro-future lens" of Fallout is what's causing the problem you see, or the fact that there's really no way to escape the fact that in a "repopulate the human species" scenario women sort of have to fill that role? One of the ironies of the 1950's lens in Fallout, of course, is the notion that it was the last cultural epoch in American history where there was a significant drive toward the nuclear family, and the baby boom generation which sprang out of that mind-set.
I'm not a big fan of the Fallout series but I thought it was famous for its ironic humor? Of course irony is always a hostage to misinterpretation.
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wear a Bishop outfit and use clever pick up lines like "Do you have a map? I'm getting lost in your eyes."

Who knew?

It could be worse. The pregnant ladies could be sent to the kitchen sans shoes until the baby comes.

Ooo! Ooo! Or the "full fairness" version, where the guy gets pregnant 50% of the time.

I'm concerned about how your dwellers fit in a lunchbox.
What's sexist about it? Is it that women's most useful role is to bear children? In a post-apocalyptic situation, it is not entirely implausible that biologically-based gender roles would come more to the forefront, and it sounds like the game is riffing humorously on this.

Anyway, it looks like for you, the game has presented a rare role-playing ethical dilemma! Strive to preserve the vestiges of feminist civilisation, or degenerate into an oppressive and apparently rather kinky patriarchy, which will however survive handily in the mutant-ridden landscape. The choice is yours!
Based on the title of this post, I expected this post to be about the Sims! Or at least that's how I always played it...
Tobold, one other question since I don't have this app and won't get it because I have zero interest in tablet gaming: the whole Pipboy phenomenon in Fallout is thematically about wartime propaganda and its use in a 50's sort of style, where it was egregious and retrospectively obvious to just about anyone. Is the game actually attempting to portray a realistic simulation, or is it ironically portraying a "wartime propaganda" representation of such? I'm not sure how much Fallout you've actually played so not sure if you understand the context or not.

Put another way: seeing pipboy show up is tantamount to saying, "Insert irony chip for translation." A game about managing a Vault sounds to me like a demonstration of the sort of app kids in the pre-apocalyptic Falloutverse would be playing to learn how to be good Vault survivors in the event of a final nuclear exchange. In the Fallout universe that sort of app is going to be ridiculously thick with hairy retrofuture 50's style propaganda.

Another question: can you play a female fallout survivor in this game? Does it work that way? Can you have female Vault survivors who do things other than get pregnant? Or do women only appear when it's "time to dance?"
"I'm concerned about how your dwellers fit in a lunchbox."

I'm concerned that the dweller meat might be lunch...
I disagree that this is sexist. Extreme survival situations need extreme measures:

If just a few people survive a cataclysmic event, repopulating the planet is #2 priority after ensuring the survival of the existing survivors. This means maximum breeding, limited only by the biological ability of women and the resources.

This does not mean a patriarchal oppressive society, it can retain gender equality besides the actual pregnancy and breast-feeding (that men can't do):
- men could (and actually needed to) do big share of raising and nurturing the children
- women could (and actually needed to) take large part of organizing, leading and intellectual work (as men are needed in dangerous and physically hard jobs, that women can't do due to being pregnant/breastfeeding).

I believe that in such dire situation women would understand that the human race (and not oppressive individual males) need them to have those babies, just like men would understand that they need to go on missions that can cost their lives.

The funny thing living in non-western country (I'm from Russia) is that I cannot possibly understand most western discussions about feminism. I mean, it's post-apocalyptic scenario. Some people work all day, because otherwise everyone gonna die. Some wither away from radiation sickness. Some fight horrible mutants (don't know if they actually exist in Fallout Shelter, but they kind of supposed to be). And some people are repopulating the world. I just can't wrap my head around the problem, what's supposed to be offensive in this situation?

Sometimes it looks to me like the whole "women can get pregnant, men cannot" thing is shameful and has to be swept under the carpet, because it is inequality in its purest form. But inequality can't be allowed to exist, so let's keep this a secret!
The fact that it is set in a postapocalyptic world and humanitys future depends on children doesn't make the game less sexist. If a game treats women as breeders and deny them the right to so "no I don't want to have a child and especially not with a stranger in a pope cosume" it is sexist. Might be fun, still sexist.
"If a game treats women as breeders and deny them the right to so "no I don't want to have a child and especially not with a stranger in a pope cosume" it is sexist."

That's a sexist comment.

Why are you only concerned with the women not having a choice (in a game set in Fallout where you play the role of the overseer...) but totally ignore the male? What if the male doesn't want to be used just to breed with some random women?

The problem isn't the game (neither male nor females have a choice, so its gender-neutral there), it's you. You're sexist against males, and due to that sexism are too quick to jump on a cause when one doesn't exist, diluting future, real causes due to your sensationalism.
I cannot help but picture the courtroom drama version of this, with the lawyer for the prosecution standing up and saying in his slight southern accent, "Mister Tobold, would you please use the screen capture provided to point out to the jury where this game grievously offended you with its profane and gratuitous admission that human sexuality is actually a thing!"
Human procreation is a thing, so is slavery, or the Holocaust. That still doesn't make those things appropriate subjects for a video game. Would you want to play Slave Trader - The Game, or Concentration Camp Manager?
I have to point out, the game doesn't force you to do this. It simply presents you with a realistic problem given the scenario. You, playing the part of the tyrannical dictator (as the player does in all such games), have chosen your solution, as some overseers in the real world would. Other overseers would not do so, and (as is realistic) they would have fewer dwellers.
Tobold, if I were you, I'd delete that last comment. Maybe some Daybreak or Blizzard dev is lurking around. Let's not give them ideas!
Actually, I would defend their right to make those games, I believe there is an artistic freedom to be offensive. I'm just saying that I wouldn't want to play them. I stopped playing Fallout Shelter. Sometimes the moral choice is not to play the game.
"Slave Trader - The Game, or Concentration Camp Manager?"

Hey how about everyone's favorite, beat the slaves?

Loved that WoW quest back in the day.
Syncaine enjoys beating slaves. Why doesn't that surprise me?
Slavery was a useful tech in one of the Civ games, if I recall correctly.
Why did you stop playing, instead of "playing it wrong", i.e. NOT having all women pregnant all the time?

I understand that the game mechanics pushed you in an uncomfortable direction if you want to "optimize", but this is true of many contexts, most of which are not sexist at all. I mean: economically, the cheapest "solution" for cancer/AIDS/dementia/old age is just to kill the patient, we don't do it in real life because it's morally repugnant, so why would you do it in a game? Just to get an achievement faster?

I've started to play Fallout Shelter, and I definitely DON'T keep all the women pregnant all the time. Will my progress be slower? Sure. So what?
Well, apart from disagreeing with the human breeding, I also found Fallout Shelter to be not a very interesting game. Look at the status bar of my screenshot, I had no problem whatsoever to keep happiness and all resources maxed all the time. I didn't find the game very challenging, nor amusing. And of course there is no "story" or other ongoing content to follow.
"Your shelter is inhabited by 'dwellers', and shortly after the start of the game you stop getting dwellers from outside. You can attract outside dwellers with a radio station, but I haven't had much luck with that yet. You can get rare dwellers from lunchboxes, which aren't that frequent either if you don't buy lots of those lunchboxes with real money. So as you need quite a lot of dwellers, for example to unlock new room types, Fallout Shelter quickly degenerates into a human breeding simulator." Emphasis mine.

Leaving aside the lore elements that others have covered, it sounds like the "breeding simulator" playstyle works against the game's ability to make money. That makes me think that it's more of a bug/design fail than intended gameplay; maybe a bit of humor taken far farther than the devs intended. That brings us back to the question of how much of the sexism comes from the devs, and how much the players bring with them.
@Tobold "Well, apart from disagreeing with the human breeding"

...I thought Americans were supposed to be the prudes!
My concern has nothing to do with sexuality, but with how women are depicted in the game as some sort of breeding machine without free will.
Regarding post-apocalyptic sexism, no one has pointed out yet that the situation in this game appears less dire (and perhaps also less realistic) than the solution proposed by Dr Strangelove in Kubrick's film, where the ratio would be of ten women to each man in the shelters (mineshafts), and women were "to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature" !
The radio room works great, provided that you expand it to the max, upgrade it to the max, and staff it with high charisma dwellers.
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