Yesterday, I finished by stating that I had already covered the arguments against the option for a same-sex couple option for the beginning of Fallout 4 via the lore within the games, the history of the games themselves, and the technology within the games. I then asked if you could guess what I would be covering today. If you guessed the mechanics and marketing for the game, you were right. Everyone else, you fail, but keep reading, because this is, in my opinion, the real reason this is an issue.
Simply put, Fallout 4, as a Bethesda title, is a western RPG. Western RPGs are characterized by having a blank slate character who is fully customizable, able to be an avatar of the player. These games are all about freedom of choice (or the illusion of it, at least), especially when it comes to who your character is. In fact, after the initial intro sequence, once you wake up in the wastes after a couple hundred years on cold storage, you are able to romance any companion, regardless of your or their gender. In fact, if you want, you can romance them all. Not only are all of your companions basically bi, but they’re also polyamorous, not one of them getting upset that you’re seeing someone else. You can even romance a ghoul and your former robo-butler. This was one of the major talking points about the game before it came out. So the fact that there’s this period of time where heterosexuality is forced on you is a massive oversight on the development team’s parts, one that goes on through all of the game.
See, many people will argue “it’s only for the first fifteen minutes, so suck it up and just play,” but if you watch the Codsworth video above, you can see that there’s still talk about your other-sex spouse. This is something that permeates the game, not just the first fifteen minutes. But let’s talk numbers, that which the company actually cares about. Queer folk make up somewhere between three and six percent of the population, Fallout 4 has sold twelve million copies for a total worth of $750, and that’s just at launch. Assume we take that 3-6% out of those copies sold, and thus the money raised, and how much of a hit is that? Well, that’s 360-720 thousand copies less they’d have sold, for a loss of 22.5-45 million dollars. Keep in mind that back when Tomb Raider was rebooted by Square Enix a couple years back, it sold 3.4 million copies in the first four weeks and was still considered a major loss. It took a full year for the game to sell 6 million copies and finally reach the company’s sales figures. A loss of just under a million copies sold can be a HUGE hit to the company. Bethesda doesn’t want this, which is why their marketing focused so much on the freedom to do whatever you want, including having a male character wearing a dress (something you couldn’t do in previous games Bethesda games, as everything had two models, one for men and another for women), to entice queer viewers, all while glossing over the forced heterosexual marriage narrative that drives the entire main plot of the game.
Now, one of the arguments I saw was “show me something from the company using that as their marketing, not the hype machines that are games journalists.” This proves to me that the people arguing this don’t know how video game marketing works. Sure, there are some demos released and maybe a commercial, but most of the marketing budget (aside from what is used for conventions such as E3 or whatever they’re calling it now) goes to buying space in gaming magazines via sending out “development copies” for games journalists to play before the release of the game, enabling them to have access to the title in order to review it before release. Sometimes these are basically more detailed demos than that which is released to the public, other times it’s a full copy of the game. They get their marketing by making us talk about the games. Hell, they even do it via controversy (just like this one, but by controversy before the game releases). Want proof? Check out this video discussing the very idea of controversy as marketing. The interesting thing here is that they didn’t use this controversy up front, but are probably cashing in on it now because of this.
That said, it’s still the role of gamers to urge developers to do better. Another example from this game where we lose the level of choice we come to expect from these games is hair. Yeah, you read that right, hair. In the previous Fallout titles by Bethesda, you could customize your character’s hair color with a series of RGB sliders to get just the right color you wanted. Sure, you could work with one of the presets, all variations of natural hair colors, but if you wanted to go with purple, for example, you could work that by shifting up the red and blue sliders until you got the shade you liked best. In 4, this doesn’t exist. You just get a list of hair colors (all natural, though one is labeled as bleached for super white), and that’s it. What’s more, there’s a subtle bit of “lost choice” that occurs as well. At character creation, you don’t have access to many of the hairstyles we’re used to seeing, like mohawks. Instead, you’ve only got 1950s aesthetic hair styles available to you. However, after waking up in the wasteland, you can find a barber to give you one of those more interesting hairstyles. This actually makes sense, as you couldn’t get those kinds of haircuts before the bombs fell. But here’s the thing, they didn’t add unnatural colors back in at this point as they did with the other styles. The only way to get a character with purple (or whatever other out there color you want) hair is to get mods. Players who play on PC can do this (as well as have workarounds for the forced het marriage), but those who play on consoles can’t.
Basically, for all that’s amazing about this game (and don’t get me wrong, I will be playing it in just a couple days assuming my computer can handle it), it has its problems. It’s up to us as gamers to push the developers to do better with the next game. But here’s the thing, we need to do so within reason. Which is where the final argument from the naysayers comes. They look at it as us demanding a queer option in every game, but honestly, that would be ridiculous. I’m not up here demanding extreme levels of diversity in a Legend of Zelda game, or a Final Fantasy, or any other game which has set characters and set stories. Those are what they are, and making every protagonist a blank slate or a queer individual would negate the ability to tell some of these stories. Take Heavy Rain, for example. Another game that revolves around hunting for your kid (one of whom is also named Shaun) a lot of the time. It has a story to tell, and it would not be made better by the inclusion of queer themes, because they aren’t necessary for the narrative. That said, you can queer just about anything. Seriously, go watch Lion King with a queer and feminist lens sometimes. It becomes amazing. But that’s a discussion for another time. The point is, those who argue that we “need to stop being so entitled” are themselves entitled, and get angry that there should ever be even a hint of diversity in a game, even in a game that is all about diversity at its core.
It’s a fine line between criticizing a game so that developers do better in the future and being part of their publicity machine. I’m trying to be on the pushing them to be better side, but I can’t always guarantee it. As with everything, we need to remain conscious of how we go about things. Because those who are so violently defending this forced narrative? They’re definitely on the hype side of things, as are many who are critical of this game for not allowing a queer couple up front. It’s a matter of how we go about it, not just what we’re arguing for.