The Outer Worlds’ asexual moments continue a proud Obsidian tradition

There’s a lot to love about The Outer Worlds. Even outside its place as the heir apparent to Fallout: New Vegas, it’s a game full of memorable missions and innovative gameplay. In just a handful of small maps, Obsidian has built a world that’s easy to explore, all thanks to a masterful grasp on character writing. It’s amazing how much great characters enhance gaming experiences and how few games get this right. From one-joke wonders to your well-rounded companions, everyone has a story to tell. However, there’s one story that stands head and shoulders above the rest, at least for me. (Spoilers ahead!)

Meet the Engineer

When you first meet Parvati Holcomb, she’s directly under the employ of Reed Tobson. Reed is the first representative of the Board you meet, but he’s ultimately small time in the colony’s corporate structure. He loans Parvati to you as a guide to the town of Edgewater and the surrounding area. Parvati does her best to help out, but she quickly sees an opportunity to have an adventure. When you leave the planet for the first time, she asks to join your crew. Since it’s an Obsidian game, you can refuse to have her join, but you’d be a monster for doing so.

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All this setup seems inconsequential, but it’s really key to the character and her storyline. More than any other character, Parvati grows and evolves throughout the entire game. When you first meet her, she’s shy, unsure of herself, and socially repressed. She only shows interest in her work as a mechanic, going on and on about gears and gizmos. It’s all subtle character building for what comes next. Aboard the Groundbreaker, Parvati just wants to see the engine room of a giant starship. She instead gets way more than she bargained for.

When Parvati met Junlei

Once aboard the ship, you lead her to Junlei Tennyson, the engineer turned captain of the Groundbreaker. She has a strong will but remains soft-spoken, an almost perfect leader for the station. Of course, Parvati immediately falls for her. A few niceties between the two turn into a back and forth over email. The next time you talk, Parvati invites you out for drinks and spills her guts, revealing herself to be uninterested in getting physical with her new friend after some prodding. Basically, if you’re kind enough, she’ll confide in you that she’s asexual.

If you’re familiar at all with the concept, it’s not a surprise, and that’s part of the genius. If you’re not, you may wonder why an asexual would want to go on a date in the first place. You wouldn’t be alone, as the concept itself is painfully underexplored in all of media. The fact that it’s so insular makes it that much harder for other folks to get a grasp on it. Unless you’ve run into it in your personal life, it’s easy to have misconceptions. However, it’s pretty straightforward once you know the facts. All asexuals share a disinterest in getting physical. Some still want to have romantic relationships that forgo sex, and others are happy with platonic bonding and a solitary lifestyle. It’s a spectrum like anything else.

In even the most well-written games I’ve played, a character with alternate sexual tendencies tends to stick out. But Obsidian is a bit different. Much as the team did with Arcade Gannon‘s sexuality in Fallout: New Vegas, Parvati is more than just representation. Her companion quest stretches throughout the entire game, chronicling her courtship with her newfound partner. Each part plays out beautifully, but it’s all completely skippable if you so choose and completely missable if your conversations go one way or the other. Parvati is still your companion even if you don’t pursue the quest. She still has opinions on your conversations and she can still bash robots with a hammer real nice.

Familiar and new

However, if you choose to engage with her quest for romance, you get to experience one of the most pitch-perfect representations of asexuality in gaming. Everything from her awkward conversation skills to her behavior on the ship nods towards someone of this nature. Once you get to the actual reveal in the bar, nothing feels out of whack or overblown. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Parvati’s tales of friends and partners calling her cold rings so very true, as does her reaction when you call her warmhearted. It speaks to an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, and it’s just not something you see every day in a game where you shoot giant lizards with laser pistols.

Of course, nothing’s perfect. For her part, Junlei is so perfect that she lacks humanity. It’s completely understandable why Parvati would fall for her, as she acts angelic to everyone. In a game filled with rounded characters, she’s basically a cardboard cutout, a prize for your companion’s taking when the quest wraps up. In a funny kind of way, that’s kind of fitting considering how romance quests usually go in games like this. Perhaps a game with a bigger scope might have provided the resources to flesh her out, but what we got is a mar on an otherwise groundbreaking side quest.

Outer Worlds, inner demons

In the last half-decade, gaming caught up with its diversifying audience. Representation has always been important, but it’s only recently that we’re really seeing characters of all stripes emerge in what we play. Many frustrated “gamers” have bemoaned the prevalence of female protagonists, shunning of accepted norms, and removal of the type of overt sexualization that the ’90s lived for. While a decent portion have far more nefarious intentions, it’s easy to fall into these traps and mourn the past, especially when you grew up in the thick of it.

After playing The Outer Worlds, I now have a reference point, and I finally truly understand the cause. I saw myself reflected in the words of Parvati, a self that I’ve never seen in gaming before. Content in its own little corner, this is my story perfectly playing out in a mainstream game played by millions. It’s a good feeling, something I won’t soon forget. Every time I get that pervasive urge to complain, sigh or huff at something outside the norm, I can now go right back to Parvati’s space tryst. Not everything has to be for you, and everyone should get their moment in the sun at some point. If I didn’t know that before, I certainly know it now.