Released in 2010, Fallout New Vegas is a classic of the FPS-shooter RPG genre, bringing forward the Fallout 3 engine’s integration of real-time FPS combat with the previous Fallout game’s turn-based mathematical combat, and integrating them into a sort of ‘second parse’ at the let’s politely say rough execution of Fallout 3. In this game, which I have reviewed in the past, literally ten years and a much more closely-hewn Yahtzee Impression ago, you play a character called The Courier starting at the point in their story where a traumatic head injury gives you an opportunity to intervene in the existing story with a potentially all new, all exciting direction.
The story is a sort of noir cowboy steampunk fantasy – there’s the trappings of modern technology and post-apocalyptica, but the world that was and its infrastructure isn’t really important as much as it just sweeps aside a lot of options for progress. Technology is chunky and heavy and there’s a durability to everything, where things break, but they can always be fed more technology to make them un-break. Everything has an independence to it, a scrounging, foraging, make-it-work, it’ll-do-for-now technologism all typified with a gun at your hip and your duster fluttering in the hot wind.
Also, I guess, Content Warning: Drugs and violence, because that’s a thing that happens in the game and kinda comes up in this conversation. A bit. I just want one person at least to be more comfortable reading this, going on.
And it is notorious for being a game beloved by trans women. So much so that it’s a meme unto itself, a joke about being into Fallout New Vegas being a gateway to the experience of being a trans woman. And as an investigator of games, I thought I could, this Pride Month, explain to you, why all trans women love Fallout New Vegas:
They don’t, largely.
Oh, sure, there are trans women who are fans of Fallout New Vegas. A bunch of them! And they tend to describe ideas in Fallout New Vegas that excite them, it tends to be things like:
- I get to shoot Matthew Perry in the face
- The story is all constructed such that everyone’s story is somehow ensnared with the dam
- There’s a meaningful dialectic between Caesar’s legion and his own ideology
- You can do drugs and shoot baddies
- Cazadores are amazing
- Cazadores suck
- The Courier has a backstory, has a meaningful life and narrative that you have to reconstruct through play
- There’s an anti-nuclear thread running throughout the whole story
- Spurs go jingle jangle jingle
- The final building is exciting and beautiful and engaging
- The idea that Las Vegas strip is the kind of thing that survives our worst end is darkly funny and what we deserve
There’s more. When I compose a list of this kind of thing reflecting on feedback, I’m typically trying to collapse together similar responses, and there really isn’t a lot of commonality between these unless you start to get really broad. And when you get that broad, what it tends to come down to is:
- It’s an enjoyable game and I find it engaging.
What’s more there’s some feedback I got that doesn’t match the feedback given. Now, I did ask explicitly only to trans readers to respond to this question, so I have assumed that everyone who responded did, but normally, when I ask a question like ‘what’s something about this gam that excites you’ and you find a way to structure your answer to be a dunk on the question or complaining about something unrelated, I think of that as not answering the question and not being helpful.
But still, in the sense of completeness we also got:
- The game is buggy and I don’t like it
- The game didn’t leave an impression on me
- I’ve never played the game
And okay, was this what you were expecting? These are all pretty distinct opinions, some fine enough to be about individual mobs in the game, some are big and expansive about the metatextual structure of the story, some are about the values of the story and some are about the storytelling devices and some are uuuh just about the sheer enjoyment you can get out of shooting racists while high off your face. Every explanation I’ve heard from trans people about why they personally like Fallout New Vegas has been specifically about liking the game as a game.
Not as a piece of Trans Media. Not as a piece of Trans Representation. It’s not even a game with a blatant expression of Trans Rights – you can turn the lens of this game pretty easily to see it making fun of ‘man in a dress’ narratives, if you want. You could also play the whole game and never notice the bit I’m talking about! Missing Cazadores or the Dam or the Nuclear themes? That’d be a lot harder by comparison. And Fallout New Vegas is also just a very popular game, that lots of people like.
The idea that trans women love Fallout New Vegas is therefore a kind of floating signifier. Lots of people like Fallout New Vegas. It’s not a secret mysterious cult hit. It doesn’t need special trans significance to be a beloved game in the trans community. Coming out in the right chunk of time for a community with common interests means that of course a bunch of them would relate to it. You might as well point out the common thread of trans women using Windows 7, because in the same general band of time they probably did.
Now, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but memes are not, in and of themselves, all that complex. They’re sticky, they’re reduced coagulations of meaning, but the real thing a meme is is a unit of communication. A meme transmits meaning, and that meaning needs to be shareable. You might be familiar with some memes already like this, such as, y’know, words. The purpose of memes is therefore not so much to be explanatory in and of themselves, but to be useful for explanation. The fancy term we use for this, in describing a network of memes with related meanings that indicate a communal space, a sort of ‘meme dialect’ that a community holds to, is the word memeplex.
There’s also the potential of a sort of permissive diagnostics of it. The nature of being trans is often an end point of a series of conversations with the self and with others that are entirely about undoing a series of mental hurdles that are meant to stop trans people from considering themselves trans. Some folks have had a rock-solid ironclad long-term consideration of their gender in one way, and for some folk it’s a lot more complicated. Maybe you think ‘I would be a trans woman, but’ or ‘I mean, if I was a trans woman I’d be unhappy because I wouldn’t be attractive’ or ‘man, I’m jealous of trans women getting to solve something so simple about themselves and becoming happy,’ and those thoughts are often part of this same trapping matrix of ideas.
Maybe there’s no special reason trans girls love Fallout New Vegas, but maybe you love Fallout New Vegas because you’re a trans girl. And if that sounds like incoherent nonsense to you, then don’t worry about it.
It’s not a message for or about you.
Now join me next time for why I talk about so many trans dudes own a short-sleeved collared blue shirt with a repeating pattern of something like white dots on it.