Fallout 4 was officially announced recently to a fanfare of delight from fans around the world. The announcement trailer, clocking in at three minutes, hinted towards a lot of aspects that may be present in the final game. Personally, I was most excited to see the world of Fallout progressing in technology, with the settings looking like society is fully in the swing of rebuilding. However, there is one rumour that has persisted since the initial whisperings of the games development that has been gaining a lot of traction recently - that there is no gender options in the game.
The rumour comes from a leak from someone claiming to be a disgruntled ex-employee of Fallout developer Bethesda. With the initial trailer being released, a few of their claims turned out to be correct, meaning people are now wondering how correct the rest of her claims are. The leaks that turned out to be true were actually already heavily rumoured, and the leaker may in fact be full of rubbish, but if there is a slim chance of credence here then it's not worth totally dismissing. So, what's the big deal with the gender options?
Traditionally, the design and gender of a main character has been the decision of the creator. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes to be a man, thus he is a man. Ripley was written to be a woman, thus she is a woman. But videogames are a strange medium, allowing for the participation of the player when crafting the story. Since the earliest forms of RPG's, players have been allowed to decide the gender of their character in order to help make them more of a vessel for the player. The Fallout series has always been among them.
Obviously not all games should have gender choices - after all, if your story is about a man or a woman, then you should make your main character one. But taking them away from a series that always had them is a decision I don't think will sit well with a lot of people. I mean, let's just come right out and say it - there aren't a lot of female protagonists currently in mainstream gaming. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) and Samus Aran (Metroid). While there are other characters to appear, like Faith (Mirror's Edge) and Nilin (Remember Me), they don't tend to quite break into the mainstream successes as their male counterparts.
As much as it is probably annoying for women seeking more representation, I can sort of understand why it happens. I don't agree with it, but if there's a factsheet in front of a publisher saying that male protagonists sell more, then they'll order main characters to be male. It's just the way the world is. But this is where games like Fallout or Dragon Age can help improve the gaming experience for millions. By simply asking the question at the beginning, it opens doors for more people who just want to feel represented. Fallout doesn't have to star Dick Masculine like the rest of mainstream games, but any spectrum of gender or ethnicity that the player wants. To someone who is going to play a man anyway, it's a subtlety nice feature, but to people who aren't usually portrayed in games as much, it can be a huge deal.
I really hope the rumours about Fallout 4 aren't true. I will probably play as a white man either way, because that is an avatar of myself - but I want other people to be able to create their avatars like they always have done in this series. To take that away from them would be making Fallout just like the other games in the mainstream circle - White, male and probably sporting a stubbly beard.