Fallout Shelter just might be the darkest game I’ve played.
There are far more frightening things out in the Wasteland than mole rats, radroaches, ghouls, and raiders. There’s me. And I’m scared of what I’ve created.
In this latest mobile game in the post-apocalyptic series from Bethesda, your seemingly simple task is to look after the inhabitants of a vault, expanding its depths, and ensuring their survival. In theory at least. Really, you become the Overseer in a bizarre cult.
The bedrock of the gameplay is managing your three primary resources: power, water, and food. Assigning your vault dwellers to, for instance, a power station will increase your supplies and gain you some bottle caps, allowing you to expand the vault deeper. Yet there’s a fourth resource that Bethesda didn’t really tell you about: women. On occasion, you’ll receive a knock on the door from a friendly guy or gal looking for shelter, but the main way to expand your vault population is to assign a male and female dweller to the living quarters, whereby they’ll indulge in some awkward flirtation.
After a quick romp behind the back wall, the result is immediate pregnancy. A few hours down the line and *pop* out comes a child. So far, so heteronormative.
Soon, though, misogyny is rampant. Women are still required to work when pregnant – there’s no maternity leave after the apocalypse – which means each of your female dwellers will be on a constant pregnancy rotation. They are simply baby making machines, as integral to the success of your vault as a water plant or diner. What’s more, impregnating a woman gives them 100% happiness – morning sickness, back ache, and hormones don’t exist here – which is only a further incentive to spread the love.
Then there’s the children themselves who are, essentially, creepy as hell. They may take on characteristics from their parents, but that’s no excuse for these freaky manchild Benjamin Button wannabes:
Before they reach working age, they simply skip merrily around the vault spouting off little phrases that just make life awkward, even if that does mean interrupting the lovemaking of some consenting adults.
No Jimmy, this is no time for throwing “the ol’ football around.” And that’s no way to speak about your mother. Then again, if you walked in on your parents at it, you’d probably be after a BB gun, too…
There are at least some boundaries. For one, incest doesn’t work. Parents do remember their children, making sex within families an impossibility. Instead, they just like to “hang out.” Even if you change their surname, it makes no difference (yes, I’m sick and I tried).
That doesn’t excuse the misogynistic baby-making morality at the heart of the gameplay. Fallout Shelter makes me feel like a real life Immortan Joe from Mad Max, cooping up his wives to ensure only the most beautiful women are allowed to procreate. Where’s Charlize Theron when you need her?
Family may be out, but everyone else is seemingly available. You can’t have sex with your mom, but you can just as easily sleep with her best mate now that you’re all grown up. And your daughter’s power station buddy? She’s fairgame. Or maybe this cult works more like a pack of animals, one alpha male impregnating all of the females? It’s like some post-apocalyptic soap opera sim: Wastelanders. And there’s no contraception here.
Add to this the 1950s cartoon aesthetic that means all of this goes on in a sea of oblivious happy-go-lucky smiles, and I can’t help but feel a little sick.
The scariest thing of all? I just can’t stop playing.