Gender and sexuality matters in Fallout: New Vegas, and it matters because of the perk system, which leads to some intriguing questions as to how gender should be handled in-game.
The gay and straight equivalents of the Black Widow-themed series of perks allow for an increase in damage depending on the perk, and allow for new dialogue options depending on the NPC involved: essentially, allowing for seduction and manipulation.
Now, both genders of characters have access towards manipulating others in the game using these perks, but there’s an important distinction in regards to the quest line in regards to gender that doesn’t involve perks – the Legion. While a woman can side with the Legion, women characters cannot fight in the Legion’s arena. Many people have brought forth arguments as to why it would make sense for a woman to side with the Legion, as the Legion has made it quite clear that women are to be enslaved.
While it may seem like splitting hairs to argue over the plot points of Fallout: New Vegas, it is interesting to tackle the issue of when and why gender should affect the plot line and gameplay. In a game like Fallout (or similar games that Bethesda put out, such as the Oblivion series) where the reality that exists is radically different from our own, the argument of realism is questionable.
It’s also interesting to note that New Vegas chose to include non-straight sexualities in regards to the perk system, which I feel is surprisingly progressive.
Personally I feel as though in regards to featuring gender and sexuality in video games certain players should not be privileged over others. The experiences can be different, but there shouldn’t be a benefit to playing one gender or sexuality over the other to the point where it dramatically influences whether or not the player will play as that character. This is a different argument than whether or not developing teams have a responsibility to create an environment that doesn’t encourage misogyny or homophobia. This is an argument based on maximizing the benefits of all players.
In the case of New Vegas, the difference between genders isn’t exactly enough to qualify as being unfair even if you count being locked out of the Legion arena. However, it does raise the question of whether or not games should consider all options and provide workarounds for both – for example, the desire of any player to play as a woman who is also a Legion supporter.
Let me know what you think.