In my last piece I confronted Fallout 4’s unfortunate bout of sexism. Part of why this is so problematic has to do with how Bethesda billed the piece as, essentially, a ‘gender aware’ game. Part of why this is so problematic is about how incredibly easy it would have been for them to avoid that gaffe. There are so many other ways Bethesda could have handled character creation and prologue that DON’T make the egregious error of stripping a female main character of the soldier’s identity. I’m not a published fiction author or game dev, but I can write three superior openings, in one sitting, in a couple of hours in front of my desktop machine at home.
Option 1: The Soldier That Never Was (Make It Not About Gender)
This option is pretty weak, but is the closest to Bethesda’s steaming pile that I can stomach being. She wanted to be a soldier, wanted very badly to be a soldier, but due to a medical condition (see how it’s not about gender anymore?) she was denied enlistment. Her beau at the time was either conscripted or enlisted at the same time and made it in. They married so she could live on base. On the side he taught her how to use weapons, described the operation of power armor and so on. After she gets pregnant, he applies to muster out so he can be a father to his son, and they move off-base to Sanctuary Hills.
With this option you can keep her not-a-soldier, if that’s super important to you for some stupid reason. The monologue at the beginning reinforces the family’s decisions being about their son, and we have a (weak but workable with dialogue support) explanation for how a non-military woman has any idea how to operate the weapons and equipment she runs across, let alone her MacGyver-esque abilities with a weapons workbench and so forth.
Option 2: They Were Both Soldiers (Lampshaded Sexism Edition)
Even better: both members of the couple are soldiers.
They met during a posting, fell in love, and were immediately separated because there’s regs against fraternizing in the ranks. They keep in touch throughout their respective tours of duty. When they muster out, they get married and have a kid. You can lampshade the male-voiced monologue at the beginning by having the couple talking about how women in the military don’t get asked to make speeches. Ditch the law degree story since you’re never going to use it again anyway so it’s just dead narrative weight. You can keep your prologue.
Option 3: How It Should’ve Happened
But look, you’ve already gotten rid of Ron Perlman as the voice of a narrator for the War Never Changes monologue. You’ve changed it from the 2nd person and 3rd person voices of prior Fallouts to be a 1st person narrative from our character’s position. So now you’ve introduced a problem: the monologue is a male first-person voice. If our character is female, you’ve just stolen our character’s voice for the monologue. You give it back for the epilogue at the end of the faction questline we choose, so why not let us have it at the beginning? Check this:
Instead of opening with the monologue, open with character creation. Fade in from a black screen that informs us the date is October 22nd, 2077. We fade to the couple in front of the mirror, getting ready to go to the V.A. dinner. Open with a randomly chosen character saying to the mirror, “War never changes.” Have the spouse say, “Yes! I love it. That’ll stick.” Neither of these lines makes it clear who is giving the speech, they’re just discussing it, trying to work out an inferior ending at the last minute. Immediately, both are relatable, we see them working well together, we see that they – like most of us – wait until the last minute to do things.
After character creation finishes, we now know who our hero is. The spouse, regardless of gender, informs our character that we’re going to give a great speech at the dinner (because it should be OUR character’s voice we hear during the prologue).
We meet Codsworth, he promises to take good care of Shaun, we head to the front door, the activation hot-tip says “attend V.A. Dinner.” We click, and there’s the Vault-Tec guy, catching us as we go out the door. We sign up for the program by whatever means, or decline and get told we’re actually already in, the V.A. saw to that when we mustered out, he just needs some information, then we fade to black, begin cutscene of our character at the podium. The monologue begins, we fade away from our character at the podium to the slides given to us by the game, there’s a woman in the power armor if we’re female.
After the War Never Changes monologue, we fade back in to our character repeating, at the podium, “War never changes.” Applause. Cutscene fades to us walking in the front door and we regain control of the character to fawn over Shaun, helping invest us in his fate. We thank Codsworth for watching him, our spouse says they’re going to turn in. We can explore the house a little more but the scene advances when we go to bed.
Fade to black. White text with the date, same as before, same place as the Fallout title slide. “October 23rd, 2077.” Fade in to our spouse leaving the bathroom, talking about coffee and wanting to see the morning news. Remainder of the prologue plays out as before, we run to the shelter, Shaun is kidnapped, our spouse is killed trying to protect him. We leave the vault.
Not only does this preserve the voice of the character we chose, it also gives us a single-soldier family. Bethesda clearly has no problem with the male caregiver, since the husband is clearly involved in taking care of Shaun from the banter and the way he carries Shaun in a female play through. A non-military husband of a female soldier is a refreshing change from the usual fare – such as the fare Bethesda tries to shoehorn in against their own narrative – and you can actually have something to brag about on that front beyond ‘we were too lazy to lock out romance options based on gender so let’s brag about being inclusive.’
There’s plenty of other options here. Toss me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your alterations to Fallout 4’s opening sequence. I’ll give it a month or two and then post a list of my favorites.