Patriarchy in my Vault

Vault510Welcome 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?



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  1. Frank Ch. Eigler

    July 2, 2015 — 8:53 am

    “Where’s Imperator Furiosa when you need her?”

    Ms. Furiosa wasn’t pregnant… and in the story she went out of her way to protect the pregnant characters.

  2. Furiosa’s entire goal in the movie was to empower a bunch of pregnant women. She puts guns in their hands and tries to take them somewhere they needn’t be subordinate to men.

  3. Frank Ch. Eigler

    July 2, 2015 — 7:03 pm

    But “empower” here simply meant “protect”. (Giving weapons to pregnant ladies is also a form of protection, just like in real life.)

  4. If you don't like it don't buy the game

    July 2, 2015 — 10:05 pm

    and stop bitching

  5. Thanks for this – you’ve expressed a lot of what I wanted to but couldn’t find the right words.

  6. Trust me, my wife is a tough woman. When she was pregnant, DOUBLY so. Pity the raiders.

  7. I guess I don’t see what the issue is. The game’s mechanics might be a little simplistic, but basic survivalism often demands putting material demands ahead of liberal cultural values, which is probably how we got the current gender power structure in real life to begin with. I think such a society as portrayed in this work would need pregnant women to prioritise not dying over being cool and dangerous. It shouldn’t reflect poorly on you or the creators of the game what roles the characters play.

  8. It is weird that children are invulnerable and it is weird that pregnant women are also invulnerable but also not able to defend themselves. what do you think are reasons a game developer and publisher would chose that?

    It’s weird that pregnant women can be assigned to work through the entire term of their pregnancy. late term pregnancy can be very debilitating. It’s problematic because in america pregnancy is not respected with parents getting little or no time off work to take care of themselves or eachother during pregnancy. should the game give parents some time off? or is it a simplification of a situation that in reality is far more complicated?

    It’s weird that instead of having an interesting conversation about disaster survival, the human condition and ludonarrative dissonance we only have conversations about if something is wrong or sexist or offensive. Enjoy your points and fem feq link, I’m sure it’s worth it.

  9. If you really cared about the women in the vault, you would give them maternity leave should they choose to get pregnant and find ways of making them happy without turning them into baby factories. They are constantly expressing their needs if you’d only listen to them, but NOOOO, you had to dress them up in Naughty nightwear and lock them in a room until they gave up and let yet another man put a baby in them.

    You could wait for other wanderers to approach your vault, but you chose the easy way, give them the happy hormones that come with pregnancy even if they have to start sleeping with their cousins and then isolate them from the work force because they are not willing to risk their baby’s life in a fire or against a giant mutated roach.

    I, for one, let relationships mature into a loving, trusting bond and then let the family spend time together once the baby is born. The community supported them and they eventually reached happiness. We got new dwellers all the time thanks to the radio station, which was often run by pregnant women. We have special programs to keep pregnant women (the cherished future of our vault) out of harm’s way while also keeping them occupied as productive members of society either by training their intellect, broadcasting creative radio shows, doing agility training on tuesdays, etc. This way, once they have bonded with their children they can go back into the workforce with an enhanced skillset.

    By the way, the dwellers in my vault were constantly judging your backward, non-progressive approach to post-apocalyptic survival. Maybe life’s mechanics are stacked against women, but you as overseer had the responsibility to make things better and instead you fell back on ages of female oppression. Good job!

  10. Totally agree w/ Juanxo

    July 3, 2015 — 12:21 am

    Stop complaining and find solutions. Women get pregnant, just a fact of life. Their are not ‘incompetent’ where faced with danger (roaches), but are protecting their children.

  11. What you are discussing isn’t the only way to play the game, it is the optimal way to play the game.

    You might say “Why should this be an optimal play style?”

    Because, sad as it may be, this sort of situation would be optimally handled in that manner. When re-population is a priority, you want maximize the birth rate. Putting women in low risk environments, having them stay pregnant, and not exposing them to danger whenever possible all support this. If the goal is population growth, women offer something incredibly valuable that men can’t, the ability to birth children. They are the only ones capable of filling said role, so men take up the work that men or women can both do equally well.

    But again, you aren’t forced to play this way. Vault tech is, in the fallout universe, often seen as horrific and monstrous for rendering people down to mere numbers and statistics, subjects to be used as needed. By playing optimally, you treat the vault dwellers the exact same.

    Fallout game shave always stressed agency. Sometimes the “optimal” path through a quest is to shoot the guy in front of you, even if he is a living saint who treats all with kindness. So the fastest and most efficient route may not be the one you choose to take. The same is true of shelter. You can treat the women as described, but it should leave you feeling exactly as described, just like shooting the NPC because it was the fastest way to resolve a quest should leave a bad taste in your mouth, at least the tiniest bit.

  12. I don’t think it’s the optimal way to play the game at all! I rarely have pregnant dwellers because I don’t want to overpopulate my vault too quickly and it is a bad idea to have too many of your population pregnant. My vault is mostly populated with bad-ass women in armor or cute dresses and flame throwers.

    When making the game I assume there were two options: pregnant women are unkillable because of children (and taking them out of battle is necessary because otherwise you have immortal players) or you have pregnant women being killed. Considering how much of the population considers unborn babies people, it’d be a bad PR move for them to let pregnant women die.

    You say it’s dubious but I don’t understand why. Bethesda doesn’t let you kill children. Unborn babies qualify as children in this instance so it’s not unexpected or even strange if you’re a Fallout fan. I’m also not surprised that they don’t have birth control, it’s the wasteland. They barely have water!

  13. alright I’m late and people have already made great points but I still want to comment. In my first vault at first I took The easy way of just getting women pregnant to keep my vault staffed and happy but I found my self with a bunch of kids who couldn’t work (but had to eat and drink)

    so they began to drain my resources and when they eventually grew up most of them had minimal skills and I didn’t have access to training so they barely made up for what the ended up taking that vault despite my best efforts was unhappy,underfed and overpopulated as a result

    In my second vault however, I rarely matched any couples and instead waited for radio and random dwellers to fill my vault so I had a constant workforce, in fact, most of the time I didn’t even need it to make them 100% happy because with observation I pick the best job for every dweller male or female and they tend to find happiness in their work, I’ve had entire rooms go to 100% without a single pregnant woman and whenever there was a pregnant women who had to evacuate during an emergency I could just bring in support from another vault dweller to pick help, nothing wrong with a helping hand in vault 112.

    I do not believe the game promotes any harmful ideas about women but instead promotes teamwork, coexistence and coprosperity (unless you’re the unlucky raider to run into my power armored guards), there are several ways to play the game but my weekly stats don’t lie.

  14. I can see how the game mechanic of letting pregnant women get killed would be unpopular but as a 36 week pregnant woman with a 2 year old son you can bet I’d be doing my part to defend the vault if it were me.

  15. They should just let the woman stand there and burn. Would make more sense.

  16. Maybe… just MAYBE, in a world where humans are forced into a vault to escape an irradiated wasteland , the continuation of the human species becomes goal #1, and so the most protected members of society are children and pregnant women… seriously OP you must have a bad case of confirmation bias if you see “big, bad patriarchy” everywhere.

    As a responsible vault overseer, you should prefer a non-pregnant woman to die before a pregnant woman every single time, but of course you don’t really care you just couldn’t find any other reason to accuse this game of sexism

  17. are you saying that you would rather have the pregnant women be killed .women are probably going to be happy to have a child and this isn’t sexist, its nature because any living thing needs to reproduce to survive and in your animal mind its seen as good. and women that are pregnant will have a way harder time fighting because her body is larger and hurting just like a slob would have trouble plus logic shows that her being weaker than usual and carrying a child, she should run. like a weak kid compared to strong adult should run

  18. Masculine Alpha-Male

    July 3, 2015 — 11:04 pm

    I admire the whole feminine movement thing. Really I do. I love it. Having equal rights in regards to vote; to hold public office; to be free from rape; to fair wages; to education and to have marital rights. (Got your attention yet?) — However, I think some of these feminist go mental without realizing it; overanalyzing “Everything”; overanalyzing every situation a female is involve in, even if the situation is most suitable to fit the circumstances to better the outcome for everyone’s survival or a non-threating situation, etc.

    There is a reason why the word “Patriarchy” exists. Overanalyzing feminist have become arrogant to the word. Some have become so arrogant, that most are now one with their masculine sides rather than their natural most suitable, feminine side. The feminine side that makes a woman so alluring and beautiful. Feminist continue to break the celestial rules and try to re-write them. It is forbidden, but time allows it until that time comes to act upon it. Names like lesbian is a powerful example of a true feminist, but doesn’t really matter in these modern days. Any female can literally scream for equality. Charlize Theron is a powerful woman in her prime. I like her. In fact, Sean Penn loved her. Two Alphas living under the same roof. Two Alphas calling the shots. Two Alphas fussing over spill milk. Two Alphas refuse to compromise, because the balance is being ignored. Both of them want to be on the same side. Neither one wants to step on the other side to keep the balance. Usually, the “Patriarchy” remains at the head like it has been for centuries, while a loyal, faithful soft spoken, obedient female balances the union by stepping on the other side (tail end).

    These overanalyzing Feminist… — I think I’ll make love to my loyal and faithful feminine, obedient and bootylicious short-shorts wearing, athletic Asian/White wife now. Think God I’m not married to a corrupted Charlie Theron feminist butch.

  19. Oh my lord, what infinite level of stupidity am I reading now?
    Pregnant women keeping their unborn child safe = sexist?
    Are you kidding me?! Usually you don’t use pregnant women as meatshields let alone make them to put out fire because fire, smoke and babies DO NOT MIX!

    And this is post apocalyptic world we’re talking about in here.
    You really think people thriving to survive would give a flying crap about petty things like feminist ideologies about sexism and patriachy?

    Hell, if this was real life scenario they’d probably give you gun and a bullet out of pity and kicked you out of their vault faring good bye and saying “Have fun surviving out there, use your supplies wisely.”

  20. Ummm… if I’m reading it correctly, the OP is not complaining that pregnant women are unkillable; she is complaining that they are useless in an emergency.

    Which a) IS pretty sexist, and b) is NOT at all realistic.

  21. Is there anything you people won’t get offended and bitch about? It’s perfectly reasonable a pregnant woman would be useless in an emergency because you know she’s carrying another fucking human being that really restrains her from doing more physical things. If you think this is sexist, then you need to take a long hard look at your life, because you are fucking delusional.

  22. Well we could always let them fight the fires and raiders, etc etc. And if the women die with their unborn child, oh well! It is not like that is stepping into territory that does not belong in a game… oh wait it does! Since the author of this piece is taking real life issues into a video game, I am going to do the same. As someone who is not good in panic situations, I do not think that would change if I was pregnant. In fact I would probably be even more inclined to run away to protect my child.

    So the question is, Is this game sexist? No, no its not. Are social justice warriors and extreme feminists trying to make it into being sexist? Very much so. And I really do pity you guys that you have nothing better to do but look for everything that is wrong and when you can not find anything, you paint it that.

    Also I love the fact that the author of this piece has only responded to one comment. I know you are probably thinking that we are just mindless misogynist monsters, so stay in your little bubble. And if you are being paid to write stuff like this well I really do pity you to sell out so much for that, times must really be tough for you.

  23. Re: “I love the fact that the author of this piece has only responded to one comment”

    I responded to the one comment I got before Anita linked to me. Since then the volume is too high, so I’m just going to leave these here and respond to overall trends and ideas later, rather than individual people. Attention this asymmetrical doesn’t make conversation possible, so I’m not going to pretend to have one.

  24. Francomaistre

    July 4, 2015 — 3:38 pm

    In a really general sense, pregnancy has become a convoluted no-win issue for modern feminism. Empowerment and agency are the biggest issues of first-world feminists whose activism involve things like representation in films and video games, but pregnancy inherently imposes some burden of vulnerability that’s in opposition to those ideals. This conversation, as represented in totality by Eugene’s original essay and many thoughtful and incisive reader comments in response, represent the tension of the pregnancy issue perfectly, but there other recent examples of the same phenomenon, like the recent push among feminist writers in favor of drinking (alcohol) during pregnancy, challenging science on fetal alcohol syndrome and framing it as a patriarchy thing? I assume Eugene has at least heard of this? Does he also view social pressure to not drink during pregnancy as patriarchal oppression?

  25. So you will be happy if pregnant women and children get killed, right? (Just the girls, though. Who cares about the boys, amirite?) But wouldn’t that be violence against womyn? It’s almost like there’s no pleasing these SJWs.

  26. If something, this game is absurdly egalitarian, stats are random, although you can improve them, pregnancy aside, characters are for practical purposes exactly the same.

    Context is what gives it al sense, don’t ever forget the context

    China bombed America back to the stone age, like it or not, gender roles are the only thing between mankind and extinction.

    Equality is the true social construct, and when you don’t have the first level of Maslow’s pyramid secured, it’s a luxury you just can’t afford.

    The earth is barren, people outside vaults is either starving or slowly dying from radiation, you are the overseer of a vault with clean water, food and energy, the survival of the species depends on people breeding like catholic bunnies inside your safe haven.

    Eugenics is a highly encouraged, but totally optional practice

    In this scenario, the most valued human beings are pregnant women, they know it of course, and it’s only logic that they run away from danger while they are carrying the next generation of humans on their wombs.

    Heck! even in the real world, if a rat gets in the house I wouldn’t let my pregnant wife anywhere near the house until said rat has been killed by me, no matter how irrelevant is our fetus to the future of mankind on this overpopulated world.

    In the game I choose which workers put in which room based on their stats, and breed them based on my available resources, if I heard anyone complain about how I handle things, calling me sexist pig and things like that, as an overseer I would fell compelled to send this ungrateful asshole to die in the wasteland.

  27. “Women get pregnant, just a fact of life. ”

    Actually, I believe it takes a MAN impregnating a woman for her to “get pregnant.”
    Pregnancy doesn’t just fall on her.

    So it’s not so much a fact of THEIR lives, as something that they agree to do with men, or men do TO THEM. Either way, to call it a fact of life is to ignore all the women who don’t want to, or can’t get pregnant. Which is pretty important in a video game featuring them.

  28. Although I understand the place you are coming from I view the act of running and hiding an act to keep the child safe, if the pregnant women where to fight she is not just risking herself but the newborn child. In Fallout Shelter where growing your population is important and the easiest way is through birth if you where to have the pregnant woman die wouldn’t that kill a child? I feel she is not being useless more like she is taking on the job of protecting her child. I find doing something like that as commendable as fighting off raiders.

  29. Francomaistre: The actual science regarding alcohol during pregnancy is much more nuanced than your ‘feminists vs. science’ claim:
    “evidence regarding the effects of light or occasional drinking is mixed. In five epidemiological studies published in 2012, medical psychologist Erik Mortensen of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues found that five-year-old children born to women who had one to four drinks a week during pregnancy displayed no deficits in general intelligence, attention or other types of higher-order thinking. On the other hand, in 2011 psychiatrist Nancy Day of the University of Pittsburgh and her colleagues reported that teens born to women who averaged more than one drink a week during pregnancy were twice as likely as those born to nondrinkers to have conduct disorder, a condition characterized by theft, deceit or violence.

    The truth is hard to discern because research on the issue is fraught with problems. The ideal type of experiment is not ethical: scientists cannot randomly assign one group of women to drink during pregnancy and compare the outcome with those instructed to abstain. As a result, they must compare what happens to women who choose to drink during pregnancy with those who do not, and these women often differ in important ways”

  30. Are you serious? If you don’t know the approval process or certification that a game must go through then you should do a research before you criticized. Harming pregnant women and children will definitely not get approval for release or will get the “x rated” equivalent rating for games

  31. please just shut up you feminazi

  32. Wow, fucking hell. There are people out there today who undergo actual oppression and there are people like the author of this article who are so hungry for something to complain about, so spoilt by the systems surrounding them that they have to fucking drill into these games in search of some tiny particle, a spec of something they disagree with in order to inflate it and claim they’re “oppressed”.

    Maybe Pregnant women run away because, idk, they don’t want to risk a bullet to their unborn child?!

    Maybe they run away because the depiction of pregnant women dying and therefore their child dying may turn this game from a casual, strategy game into a highly controversial, distressing issue.

    Or maybe its a mobile game, with a limited scope, short life span and is a very temporary set up for Fallout 4, meaning that debating these issues was probably left to microaggressive-ofendees such as yourself.

    Please divert your anger to more real world issues rather than attempting to fabricate them yourself.

  33. Two weeks in, this seems like a fairly statistically representative sample of responses. Going to close comments soon. Get them in now if you care to.

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