Gender is a tough thing to get right in an open-ended game. Sadly, I haven’t had time to play as much of Fallout 3 as I’d like, but what I’ve seen so far I’ve enjoyed. Still, I can’t help but gripe about the treatment of my character’s gender. At the literal moment of your first-person birth — yes, that may even top first-person porn — you get to decide whether your avatar is male or female. From what I can tell, however, your decision doesn’t really change things. The story of you breaking free from the vault appears the same. Only the way people speak to you is different.
Well, kind of. This game is heavy in dialogue, but the only real change there is the addition of a few gendered pet names, like “girl.” Men will still speak to you coarsely and expect you do to dirty jobs like setting off bombs. Prostitutes will still talk to you flirtatiously. Every so often the game will throw in a word or two as if to say, “Yeah, I remember you’re female,” but really, you get addressed as if you were male.
On the one hand, I appreciate that Fallout 3 gives players the option to pick their genders — unlike, say, Far Cry 2, which offers a whole cast of killers to pick from, none of whom are women. At the same time, in a game that’s as heavily scripted as Fallout, I can’t help but think that leaving gender up in the air was a bad idea, artistically. Sure, you could call it empowering. Whatever a man can do, why not a woman? But frankly, people speak to girls differently than they do to boys. If the dialogue was gender accurate, we’d be hearing a lot more, “What do you think you’re doing with gun, little missy?” and “Oh, you’re going to blow up my town? Haha, I’m so scared.” Whether we like it or not, even our most basic communication changes depending whom we’re addressing.
Nice try, Fallout 3, but at the end of the day it sort of feels like you stuck in the female character option so male gamers could have acceptably curvy asses to stare at while still acting/being talked to like men. And if you approach it that way, that’s a pretty wimpy thing to do. We wouldn’t want to upset anybody by treating them as if they were actually female, right? Don’t worry though, Fallout 3, I still heart you.