Friday 3 July 2015

Gender and Management in Fallout Shelter

To piss off any gamergaters stumbling on this post, let me note that when Anita Sarkeesian says ...

... she is right. The further observations made by Eugene Fischer are also right. Then again, saying you cannot grow your population in Fallout Shelter quickly without pregnant women - as noted by @catherinebuca (since deleted) - mirrors life is also correct. Cue confusion for those wedded to either/or thinking.

Fallout Shelter is a resource management game set in the 1950s retro future/post-apocalyptic Fallout universe, and forms part of Bethesda's marketing juggernaut as it gears up for Fallout 4's release this coming November. And basically, all you do is run a vault, the nuclear bunkers in which some inhabitants (dwellers) of the franchise cower. And the aim, as much as there is one, is to keep it ticking over by expanding the numbers of rooms and facilities it has, keep the population going, and protect the place from radroaches and raiders on the outside. It's a make busy game, a real-time challenge of incessant micro-management pile ups.

In such a game your population has to reproduce. Therefore "impregnating as many women as possible" is an inescapable game mechanic. This is something it shares with plenty of other games, such as Civilization and Sim City. With one key difference. There population growth happens "spontaneously" off the back of food production and the placement of residential zones, respectively. Fallout Shelter demands the player adopt the view of women as a reproductive resource. This, of course, is identical to the position patriarchal social relations have placed women in throughout recorded history, which in turn has been subject to radical feminist critique.

Something else is afoot too. The practice of video gaming helps inculcate and reinforce various postures we need to assume to get on. There's the practice of screen-staring, the practice of lifestyle design, the practice of ego-amplification. Fallout Shelter reproduces the logic and practice of managerialism. It reminds me of the problematics of population management explored by Michel Foucault in his first volume of The History of Sexuality. Various disciplinary technologies that centered on the body conspired to produce certain kinds of people, namely bodies that were healthy, bodies that were docile, and bodies that would work. This is your viewpoint. You manage a population.

In Fallout Shelter, there is a certain gender fluidity. If you fancy it, your time as Overseer can establish an underground matriarchal dwellerdom, place all the women in the skilled jobs - including what passes for military - while the men wash dishes and scrub floors down the canteen, but that does not escape the horizon of the managerial problematic. It simulates the managerial mindset and strives to inculcate a sympathetic predisposition toward managing things, of being able to take the point of view of management - something most workplaces try and encourage anyway. Decisions here are conditioned by resource bottlenecks or by external threats, in contrast to really-existing managerialism which is always much concerned with social control of subordinates. What Fallout Shelter depicts in its game mechanics is an ideology of management. Power is stripped out of the equation.. There is no need to take the viewpoint of your charges, because you always know better than them.

Could Fallout Shelter be fun and compelling in any other way? That's a bit like reimagining Space Invaders without the shooting. It's a stripped down ideologised simulation of the necessities that beset human communities, and how it encounters them in the context of a culture constituted by unequal gendered relationships naturalised in and by accepted regimes of ostensibly technocratic managerialism. Anita's observations are right, but they're just one element of the cultural codes wrapped up in the game.


Anonymous said...

Stop worrying about the boys already!

Why don't you devote some time to discussing the harmful affects of women's mags like "Chat" and "Take a break" and how that affects perceptions about society.

If anything it would make a refreshing change, your attacks on manhood are getting rather tiresome. It is as if a whole cultural revolution passed you by and we are still stuck in the 1950's or something.

Phil said...

I'll write about what I like, thanks. Seeing as I don't read women's mags, there's every danger I could churn out something as clueless and completely off the mark as your parting comment.

Margaret Thatcher said...


Anonymous said...

Think of a blog from a dialectical point of view, it shouldn’t just be a vehicle for your ego but a 2 way exchange, we should get something from your droplets of wisdom and in return you get a whole field of different perspectives to draw upon.

Your readers are not just your groupies you know!

Chris said...

I think in general Gamergaters are socialists, whereas Sarkeesianites are more of the Liz Kendall tendency.

Phil said...

Thanks for telling me something I don't know. If you don't like what you read here, go interpenetrate someone else's opposite.

Phil said...

I think you're trolling, Chris ;)

Chris said...

Surveys have shown that Gamergate supporters are generally on the left. Just not the left the liberal elite approves of.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Whether Gamergate are on the left or the right, the important thing is that their main argument is "wah wah wah a woman has opinions I don't like". (Which, weirdly, has nothing to do with "journalistic ethics". Funny that, eh). So, y'know, fuck 'em. They're all a bunch of COD players anyway. Filthy casuals.

I don't even have much time for Sarkeesian's arguments anyway. And this shows why. She assumes that violence in games is de facto bad without trying to back that up and frequently overshoots in the arguments she tries to make. But to quote Jim Sterling, "But we can't talk about that anymore, because the debate's not about whether she's right or wrong. The debate was invalidated when people tried to ruin her life en masse. The chance to debate her on merit was lost once people started threatening to rape her."

Libertarian though he may be, Popehat still has the best summary of Gamergate around-

Anyone who actually cares about "ethics in game journalism" rather then either fighting culture wars with the Tumblr kids would drop the Gamergate tag. It's a liability. If you're not prepared to, I guess you didn't care that much about your stated goal in the first place. But then, what can you expect from a movement that's prepared to fete that fine example of journalistic ethics, Milo Yiannopoulos? I'm only surprised you haven't linked up with Taki yet.