Fallout 4 vs Star Wars: The Old Republic or Gender, Sexual orientation and Gaming
This past month I’ve been fairly caught up in playing two very different RPGs, Fallout and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Playing them both has really driven home the difference in the games’ romance option mechanics. In one all romanceable characters are romanceable regardless of player character gender and the romance does not significantly impact the story. In the other, only certain characters can be romanced by a male player character and vice versa and the romance does manage to have a sizable impact on the overall story and experience.
Scenario One: Fallout 4
Playing as a male or female character in Fallout really doesn’t change much- the main difference is that either your husband (if you are playing a woman) or wife (if playing a man) die and you are referred to as either mother or father in relation to your son. Apart from that, there really isn’t much difference. Men can wear dresses and women can wear tuxes even. And, most notably, if a character is romance-able for a man than he or she is romance-able as a woman. Honestly, I feel like this choice was likely made out of laziness rather than an effort to appeal to all possible players, but it really has done a wonderful job of creating an air of inclusion. Typically, I don’t try to romance my companion characters, but it’s nice to know that if I wanted to romance the sassy female ex fighter or the more withdrawn male ex mercenary as a female character, I can. I can even romance them both if I want to. Story wise, I sometimes find this game frustrating, but the companions and romance systems are really nicely done. For me, a nice part is that, if I choose to not romance ANYONE, the character’s arc is not significantly changed. Each character has his or her own story that you help them through and if you choose, you can flirt with them and romance them, gaining a few lines of additional dialogue and the option of a temporary status boost when sleeping. Their stories, for the most part, do not change.
Scenario Two: The Old Republic
And on the other side of this is the whole Knights of the Old Republic franchise. Now, I absolutely love all of the games and will play them over and over because the story is so well done. I never really felt that I was missing out on anything… until I started to talk to one of my friends about the game. She also really loved the original PC games and we decided to both start a free to play account on the current SWTOR MMORPG and play together. She currently lives in Taiwan while I live in Alabama, so we don’t get to see each other very often. We figured that this would be a fun way to do something together, even if we are on opposite ends of the world. At some point while we were deciding which storyline to pursue I mentioned in a offhand comment how obnoxious the character of Bastilla Shan was in the original games. Much to my surprise, my friend responded by listing all these wonderful things about Bastilla and how yes, she was really annoying at first, but as the story progresses she got much better. Bastilla was her favorite character! Also, it was CARTH that was the obnoxious and whiny one. At which point I did what she had done, listing his good trained and remarking on his character’s growth. Eventually we both realized that our versions of the characters were massively different… because she, being interested in women in real life had always played as a male character in the KOTOR games as male characters were given more potentially romance-able female characters. I’d always played as a woman. Male characters have the ability to, through words and actions, romance Bastilla and over the course of the game she gains depth and loses her preachy holier than thou attitude. As a female character, I did not have this option, thus Bastilla remained obnoxious the entire way through the game. I was offered SOME backstory, yes, but she did not get nearly as much character development as she does when you are male. On the other hand, as a female character your companion Carth gets the character growth and backstory. If you are male…. He stays annoying. Again, he gets SOME growth but not nearly as much as he does when the player character is female. This revelation shocked me. Doing some research showed that there are tons of posts about how terrible Bastilla or Carth are, and in almost every case those that hated Bastilla played a female character and those that hated Carth played male. Without the Romance option, both characters lack their planned character arc, which greatly impacts the main characters interactions with them throughout the game. They feel unfinished and stunted. It really is a shame that, through the simple act of character creation, you drastically effect the gameplay for the rest of the game. And there is no warning. Neither my friend not I even realized that the hated one had a more substantial storyline that we simply couldn’t access and both put it down to simple poor writing. Sadly, in the current MMORPG the companions are similarly limited. While I love my second companion as a Sith Warrior, many people seem to hate him for his uptight nature. They don’t get to see how he reacts to the mildly malicious (I AM a Sith, after all) flirtations of a female player character. While I honestly won’t end up noticing much difference (I rarely pursue the romance options in video games) my friend is already considering switching to a male character (she is playing a female Sith inquisitor at the moment as we both chose characters that physically resemble ourselves in order to find each other easily) so she has romancing abilities with the female companions she comes across. I really wish Bioware could simply embrace Bethesda’s equal opportunity laziness and make companion character arcs potentially the same regardless of player character gender. With a game that has such good writing, story wise, I hate to miss out.