Fallout: Homecoming

Last time on our adventures in Fallout, Athena was a marriage counselor, a career counselor, and a health inspector. She’s a multi-talented one, that Athena. Where will she be using those talents next? Let’s find out.

So Athena has been out in the wastes for a couple of weeks now. All her best friends are already dead. Maybe she’s feeling a little homesick. Wants to go back, chat with everyone, remind herself why she’s doing this. I mean, it’s one thing to know she’s going to save the 2000 people she’s known for as long as she’s been alive. But it’s another thing entirely to see their smiling faces. So what if she hasn’t actually saved them, yet? Athena needs her good juju!

So we head back home. Back to Vault 13. The journey takes us several days in completely the opposite direction from where we’re likely to find the water chip our vault desperately needs, but… I’m sure it’s for the best. It’s not like it’ll doom everybody. Right?

So we take Tycho and Dogmeat back to the mountain Vault 13 is built into. If Ian were still alive, he’d have some stuff to say about this place, but he’s not. Dogmeat’s not doing a great job of keeping the conversation going in his stead.

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At the entrance of the vault, we remember to loot Ed’s body this time, although everything he has is plenty outdated by now. Athena punches her code into the keypad, and the door actually works this time! Vault dwellers! For the first time, your hero has returned! Give her your adulation!

The vault is largely unimpressed. Athena responds by looting a bunch of flares from an emergency locker near the entrance of the vault. Then she talks to the doctor, who says she’s doing just fine and tries to shoo her on her way. Nobody else cares.

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In fact, everyone just complains about how late it is, and refuse to talk to her.

Woman is out there, risking her life so that they can all enjoy a crisp, cool glass of water, and they don’t have the basic decency to absolutely adore her. Maybe these jerks don’t get their water chip.

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Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies: Part 1, Why I’m here.

Hold onto your seats, boys and girls. We’re going to talk about women in video games. Specifically, women as protagonists. You may have heard, likely from someone typing with way too many caps and exclaimation points, that the industry has a bit of a problem with its leading ladies. Which is not to say they aren’t out there. There are a huge number of strong female characters in video games. Given the size of the industry, in sheer numbers, there’s even a lot of protagonists with double X chromosomes. I could make you a list of playable female characters a mile long. The problem comes in when you’re looking at proportions, in which the formerly fairer sex is completely crowded out by a wave of digital masculinity. I’d like to see women getting a bit more market share. The thing is, gender representation in games is a hugely complicated issue, far more than your random agenda-pundit on Twitter is ever going to give it credit for. If all it took for creators to work some more women into their leads was to click on the right check box, it’d already be happening. Video games are a business, this overwhelming preference for male leads wouldn’t be happening in a vacuum. There are a lot of business, creative, and social factors that may be complicating the situation, and in this series of posts, we’re going to take a look at just what may be making varied gender representation in games such a hard thing to implement.

Before we get int that, though, I wanted to get into why I care. Wait, let’s put that another way. I want to talk about why I, as manly a dude as God has ever invented who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about this stupid culture war the Internet’s been waging in which it seems a participant’s intelligence is inversely proportional to the number of words they put together talking about it still wants to see more women helming his video games.

It’s not about trying to score points for any given side or to try to pick up women by white knighting for them, because when you look as good as I do, it’s no problem getting myself an in. Nor am I just looking for some new eye candy for my screen, although I wouldn’t begrudge it when used appropriately. To some extent, I do have the social concern. Studies have shown that just hearing stories about someone of their particular demographics finding success can lead to a statistically significant improvement on skills and education tests, and people shouldn’t have to work hard to find that in their chosen medium, though.  On the flip side, unless there’s a mirror in the room I do typically enjoy looking at women more than I do at men, and having more women leads would facilitate that. But to be honest, when I’m home, trying to get my leisure on, those are both small concern to me.  Really, what it all comes down to for me is a very selfish thing. I just want to play better games with better stories, and part of that is having more interesting leads.

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Just a refresher for those of you that need it, women are those people that wouldn’t go to prom with you in high school because they were too busy thinking about me. Anecdotally, more of my personal friends who play have been women than men, although I know that’s not representative. Women make up more than half of the human population, and a significant portion of the video games market. Although their proportions in a given industry, women are involved in all occupations, including military, law enforcement, crime, and video game development. Yet for all of their involvement in real life they don’t make up a very large proportion of video game leads.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that video game protagonists are more diverse than protags in most other creative industries, in the sense of actual experiential variation if not filling the EEO checkmarks. The most recognizable video game hero is both fat and rather ethnic. Due to the strong Japanese influence and historic market share, Asian and mixed-race characters abound. I could bring you examples of characters of all economic backgrounds. And I’d guess that you still see a lot more women taken seriously in action roles than in most other media. So while video games may seem to get more heat on the internet around its representation, I would posit that there’s a lot less inequality here than in most. Inequality is inequality, and that it’s there, even if it’s better than you might find otherwhere, is a sign that we’ve still got work to do, but recognition of that fact is handy for discussion.

The problem, from my big selfish perspective, comes when certain models of characters become overwhelmingly widespread. Now, this isn’t the first time games have run things into the ground. Back in the NES/SNES era, we needed characters that could be easily represented at minimal size and pixel use, so the mascot character ran rampant. As 3d games started getting their hold, and it became easier for the technology to represent someone recognizably human, the anime pretty boy started popping up all over the place. Then, when graphics started getting realistic, well, realism is apparently white brown-haired thirty something whatever.

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Any individual character is just fine. You can’t really pull out any individual mascot or spiky-hair or generic dude and honestly say they embody the worst of their era. It’s like steak. You can make a great meal out of it, you can prepare it so many different ways, there’s a lot of variation to it, but if you eat it every day, it’s going to start tasting bitter. Such it is with characters. Variety is key to keeping things fresh and interesting. When it’s something you’ve seen a thousand times, now matter how solid it is, it’s just harder to get into it. So when everything’s built off of the same general design document, the world just starts to look bland.

Breaking away from the XY chromosome isn’t the only way to add sufficient visual interest to a character. There are other ways to add in some fun variations. After all, Heihachi is made more interesting by virtue of being old. Link is made more interesting by being left handed. Dunban is made more interesting by being absolutely gorgeous and looking remarkably like your favorite video games blogger.

Nor is strapping a pair of tits on a character enough to automatically create that visual interest. No matter how white boy he might be, Geralt is still way more obviously interesting than Left 4 Dead’s Rochelle, just from a basic design standpoint. So yeah. Characters don’t have to be women to be interesting. And while the visuals, including their demographic, are the foundations from which a character springs, But women leads are a really obvious way to both create more interest through variety in their protagonists and get the story told through a somewhat different lens that we’re just not seeing that much of. Supplanting male characters is a common idea that just strikes me as a completely blind approach to the issues, but getting some lady leads, that carve out their own identity, much as Lara Croft, Faith, and Aloy have? That’s some low-hanging fruit that remains largely unplucked.

But there’s barriers to getting there. It’s not a simple decision for most of these businesses on any level.  You know what, let’s do some science here.

No, wait.  Let’s do some SCIENCE!

We’re going to do a big scientific study, right here, right now.  You would think, if it was easy to have women as lead characters in our games, if it were a simple matter, if the only thing holding it back was a bunch of old business dudes and their outdated assumptions, the indie creators would be making more woman-led games then the establishment.  Their creators are given more free reign, the companies thrive on individuality, and the smaller a company is the more flexible and the more in touch with their market they should be able to be.  So if there weren’t any of these business, creative, or social concerns in place, I would think that they’d be more reactive to the vocal demands for more women representation and the larger place women have been taking in our culture.

That’s what’s called a hypothesis in the biz.  We’re going to run a quick survey, sample size of my Steam library, on how many games have male protagonists, female protagonists, and indeterminate gendered/choice of gender or main characters/no protagonist.  First up come the major company releases.

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Really.  Out of almost 100 games, only six female protagonists?  Not very diverse, game industry.  Fine, let’s look at the Indies next.

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See!  There we go!  Numbers are still relatively low, but that’s 12% female protagonists in the indie sphere against just over 6% in the mainstream releases!  Twice as much!  Eat that, producers!

But wait.  There was one sphere that might be skewing those results.  Let’s take a look at those numbers again, but let’s take out the Visual Novels and Environmental Narratives that have very limited amounts of player involvement from those.  Not because they don’t count as games, we’re not getting into that argument here.  But because I think it does give a more accurate picture when we’re looking at the games where the player is expected to act through their character in a meaningful way.  So here’s the numbers when we isolate those games in which the player is an active participant.

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Indies have more mixed options, but as far as stories told with a strictly female protagonist?  The proportion is basically the same as the mainstream releases. 6% vs. 6.5%.

That’s because it’s harder to work in a female protagonist than most might assume, and those difficulties are largely the same whether you’re a company outfit or an indie studio.  If we are going to ask for more gender variation in our protagonists, I feel it’s important to understand where those barriers are, because creators aren’t going to break through them until their audience is there on the other side.

And that’s what we’re going to be taking a look at in this series. I hope you’ll join me for it.

Fallout Intermission, Round 2

Hey boys and girls, it’s that time again.  Our Athena just reached level 5, which, if you’ve passed your calculus, you know as just one less than level 6.  Level 6 means she’ll have a new perk to choose from.  And that means I need your help once again!

So, same deal as last time.  Democracy rules.  Vote for whatever you want, and as long as other people agree with you, you get your way.  You get your choice of anything we had last time, but we’ve got some new ones to add to the list.

Heave Ho!

Increases how far Athena can throw grenades and stuff.  Athena’s never used a throwing weapon in her life.  Maybe she will someday.  I mean, she won’t, but maybe!  Hope springs eternal!

Empathy

Empathy is kind of a cheat sheet for speech checks.  It basically color codes our dialogue options, so we can see which ones will cause positive or negative reactions.  I remember this not working in the original version of the game, and I don’t think I’ve tried it since more updated versions came out, so if you pick it, this will be new for me as well.

Friendly Foe

If you’re the type that keeps accidentally shooting your friends, this can help you out.  It’ll highlight allies in green instead of the usual red when you’re aiming your weapon.  I don’t have any problem keeping track of my peeps, so this would be absolutely no gameplay change for us, but I wish we could give it to Ian when he’s got his hands on a burst-fire… oh, I made myself sad.

Bonus HtH Attacks

This perks lets us punch and swing faster, making melee attacks cost less AP to perform.  But Athena’s got a gun.  Hmmmm…..  I suppose it could be useful if we ran out of ammo*, or if we got captured and had our equipment stolen**, or wore out our guns***.  Aside from that, I wouldn’t expect it to see much use.

*will never happen

**nor this

***nope

Bonus Ranged Damage

Now we’re talking.  This gives us an extra two points of gun damage.  Per bullet.  So if we bring out our SMG, which fires 10 rounds in a go, well, I don’t know if the phrase ludicrous gibs is appropriate, but it’s close.

Educated

2 more skill points every time we level.  We get better at stuff faster.  I like being good at stuff.  This one makes me happy.

Bonus Move

This one is honestly my favorite perk at this level.  Right now Athena gets 9 AP per turn.  Which is enough to shoot a fool, reload, then walk a few paces.  Or shoot a goon then rummage through her pack.  Or shoot a mook in the groin, then do a little dance.  If we pick this perk, we’ll get two free AP that can only be used for movement.  It makes us a lot more maneuverable in combat.

Ranger

You would think Tycho would come equipped with this one already.  This perk reduces our chances of running into a fight out in the wastes.  Helpful for ironman pacifist runs, not so much for gobsmacked badasses that nobody messes with.  Guess which group Athena falls into.

More Criticals

Criticals in this game are devastating.  This perk lets us have more of them.

Simple enough.

Snakeeater

What a thrill, with darkness and silence through the night.

What a thriiiilll, I’m searching and I’ll melt into you.

What a fear in my heeeeaaaaart!

But yoouu’re soooooo supreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeme!

I give my life, not for honor, but fooooooor yooouuuuuuuuuuuu.

In my tiiiiime, there’ll be nooooo oooooone eeeeeelse!

Criiiime! It’s the way that, I flyyyyy to yoooooouuuu,

You’re stiiiiiiiiiiill in a dreeeeeeeeeaaaaaaam, +25% to poison resistaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaance!

Sharpshooter

Will reliably make opponents tap out in the middle of the ring.  Also increases Athena’s accuracy at long distances.  We’ve already gotten some use out of her being able to shoot farther than anyone else, so could be handy.

So you’ve got all that?  Remember, if these don’t strike your fancy, you can choose anything from last time except Awareness.  Vote in the comments!

 

Throwdown in Junktown. Fallout Chapter 7!

Last time on Fallout, y’all decided to side with the good, handsome lawman that asked kindly for our help over the evil fat jerk that threatened us. I know it was a hard choice for you all. But one that I’m happy to see through.

So, we head on over to Killian, and let him know the good news. We got Gizmo’s confession, courtesy of the recorder we were wearing when he hired us to kill the mayor/shopkeeper. For that, Killian offers us our choice from a number of different rewards. Not quite the ‘anything in the store’ he promised. In fact, outside of the stimpaks, everything he offers is something that we already have and couldn’t get any more use out of. So yeah, for finally breaking the stalemate that has locked Junktown down for who knows how long, he gives us like five of the most basic healing item in the game. Woo.

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He follows by asking us if we’d like a piece of the action in taking down Gizmo, to which we respond that we’d love the chance to see the fat guy try to walk. With that, we head out.

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Unfortunately, we never get the chance to see that through. Killian gathers the guard, storms into Gizmo’s office, and announces that Gizmo is going for a long trip downtown. Gizmo decides that he’d rather not, so he pulls out a gun and fires a shot into Killian. All from behind his desk. The guy in fact never leaves that desk at all, so no walking for him.

In any case, Killian and his guards return fire on Gizmo. Athena takes aim at Gizmo’s bodyguard, Izo, and nails him in the head. Izo is a pretty simple combatant, no weapons, no items, nothing special, just pure physicality to him. He might be dangerous, if we didn’t find metal armor long before we’d be able to get it if we hadn’t taken on the raiders. As is, he strikes at us twice in his turn, neither of which break past our armor class.

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The guards and Killian continue the firefight with Gizmo while Dogmeat and Athena take on Izo. Athena knocks him down with a critical hit, and Dogmeat closes in and finishes Izo off herself. Next turn, a shotgun blast blows Gizmo’s chest out of him, and the crime lord is down.

This gains us the good well of most of the justice-styled folks in the town, as well as enough experience points for another level. We’ll be waiting until it’s night to level up, for the extra skill points that come as Athena’s intelligence rises. We’ve got some business in town before then, however.

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So hey, you remember Tycho, the desert ranger at the bar who taught us some stuff about survival? We check in with him, and tell him that Killian has asked us to clean up the town, and he’s all to happy to join up. He suggests we start by taking down Gizmo. Yeah… I guess we could have picked him up after turning in Gizmo’s recording, but I’ve always remembered his recruiting criteria as being after we take down the plus-sized crimelord.

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