Welcome to Vault 510, my creation in Bethesda Softwork’s new iPhone game, Fallout Shelter. The people here are happy. They have plentiful food, water, and power. They have a medical bay and a science lab. They have a radio station for entertainment, and a strong door protecting them from the uncivilized, irradiated wastes outside. On those rare occasions when raiders do break in, they have powerful weapons with which to defend themselves. And when they’ve been working too long, they can retire to the well-appointed living quarters for some romantic company. There is no jealousy in Vault 510, and as little incestuous behavior as I, their Overseer, can manage with a population this small. There are also no gay people, and apparently no birth control, because every liaison results in a pregnancy. Children scamper through the corridors, and most of the women are cheerfully pregnant.
That last bit shouldn’t be a problem, but it totally is.
All the Bethesda games I’ve played have had the unwritten rule that children shall not be harmed. In games like Fallout 3 and presumably the upcoming Fallout 4, when there is violence children will run, scream, and cower, but never get injured. They are functionally invulnerable. The player can fire bullets at them, and the only response will be a young voice declaring it mean. This is a perfectly defensible choice on Bethesda’s part, and they’ve carried it into this game as well.
The trouble is, in Fallout Shelter adult pregnant women get treated the same way as children. When a fire breaks out, or there’s an infestation of radroaches, non-pregnant women will calmly start dealing with it alongside the men, but pregnant women will run away and hide. They can’t handle emergencies at all. Presumably they act like this because they are considered to have an inviolable child inside of them (which is dubious enough), but the result is that pregnant women are thus significantly less capable. As I am trying to keep this bottled society as functional and happy as possible, this makes me have to do several uncomfortable things:
- In the early game I am incentivized to keep women pregnant as often as possible because it (a) makes them happy and (b) raises the vault’s population and thus my labor pool.
- I have to take weapons out of the hands of women and give them to men, because even if a woman is holding a combat shotgun, if she’s pregnant and a roach appears she will run and hide rather than shooting at it.
- I have to separate the pregnant women and lean toward having male-dominated working environments, because if an emergency breaks out and all the pregnant women flee, the situation could spread, whereas it will be contained if the room is staffed primarily by men or non-pregnant women.
The mechanics of this game are forcing me, as Overseer, to institute patriarchal norms into my society. If I want my vault dwellers to survive, I have to disempower pregnant women. And since the women want to be pregnant and I’m incentivized to keep them that way, this functionally means disempowering all women. While I’m otherwise enjoying this game, the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Fallout Shelter insists on being a big ol’ boys club. I really don’t like that.
Where’s Imperator Furiosa when you need her?