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Fallout 4 Impresses with Queer Romance, Polyamory
GaymerX is a gaming convention that takes place every year in San Jose, CA. GaymerX is a “queer space”; a convention where panels center on queer themes, but all are invited and welcomed. As a proud media sponsor of GaymerX, Unicorn Booty covers gaming issues of all sorts.
Fallout 4 is here, and two things are certain. First, gamers everywhere will baffle employers by suddenly calling in “sick” to roam the vast and dangerous Commonwealth. Second, those same gamers won’t be disappointed in what they find—a deadly, intricate, even humorous post-apocalyptic playground where the action thrills and terrifies.
Early reviews say Fallout 4 keeps all the core favorites fans have come to love in the series, with a few tweaks to stay competitive after 2008’s Fallout 3 swept through the gaming world like a radiation storm. Crafting, customizable armor and weapons, fully voiced male and female protagonists — these are just a few of the new features that a 2015 gamer has come to expect from an open-world RPG. However, one new feature has subtly tapped into a discussion in gaming that runs deeper than any buried vault — romancing.
Earlier this year, Bethesda announced that the Fallout 4 protagonist could romance any of a dozen or so companions throughout his or her adventure—no matter the gender. Players are (mostly) limited to human characters, however, so no sexing up super mutants and no getting handsy with robot butler Mr. Handy.While gamers shouldn’t expect the intimate sexual encounters of a Bioware series like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, romancing a companion opens new dialogue options, a deeper narrative for that companion and special perks. Romance enriches the player experience, but the way Fallout 4 has approached romance — through universal bisexuality — speaks volumes to how RPGs will treat character sexuality in today’s more diverse, relatively more open society of sexualities and genders.
Clearly, modern RPGs are experimenting with sexuality among characters and how much latitude to provide the player. In Bioware’s Dragon Age 2, protagonist Hawke could romance most companions (except straight-shootin’ archer Sebastian) whether male or female. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, however, the Inquisitor can only romance characters based on race and gender requirements — former templar Cullen, for example, would only lose his small clothes over a human or elf female. While some companions are universally bisexual, others have strict definitions of their gender and sexuality that can immediately close off romantic options from the game’s very beginning.
The advantage of universal bisexuality appears clear to a queer audience. Fallout 4’s Sole Survivor is a true blank slate on which the player can ascribe any aspect of themselves or their play style. Non-player characters like Minuteman Preston Garvey or reporter Piper can both capture the player’s heart no matter how they identify, ironically carving out a safe space for queer gamers in an irradiated wasteland of ghouls and synthetic warriors.
“One of the huge aspects of Bethesda’s games is the idea of personalization of your character,” said transgender gamer and founder of Cupcake Studios, Rukia Brooks, “whether this is putting yourself in the character or creating a character out of your own imagination that is nothing like you. A huge aspect of this is relationships, and what it means to have relationships, especially romantic relationships with other characters in these crafted universes such as Fallout or Elder Scrolls.”
Fallout 4 may taken this sexual liberation even further. Early reviews are reporting that while only one companion can accompany the Sole Survivor at a time, the player can still romance multiple companions — in essence, be polyamorous. There appears to be no negative consequences or mention by the other companions of the protagonist’s polyamorous nature. If the feature remains, this takes RPG romancing to another level for queer gamers.
“One huge aspect that I have always had an issue in games is the idea of being bound to a character, Brooks said. “I remember specifically in Dragon Age: Origins having a soft spot for Leliana but also Alistair. So it was rather crushing that I couldn’t romance and have a polyamorous relationship with both. I think the fact that Fallout 4 has the option to have multiple partners is wonderful, but I wish there was actually dialogue to reconcile the fact of your character being polyamorous.”
Intentional or oversight, Fallout 4’s polyamory scratches at the real potential for RPG romance to enhance the queer gamer’s experience. But the freedom of both universal bisexuality and even polyamory have, for some gamers, been treated as a distraction from the gaming world and a departure from writing true characters. As gamers adventure not only the Commonwealth, but the socially charged modern gaming landscape, they will have to decide for themselves if liberating blank slate or restricting detail in romantic encounters enhances or hurts their experiences.
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