Consolidated Gender Lock Discussion Thread

My understanding is there’s a book in the works from that series that’s going to be from a female perspective. Might what you’re hoping for? (I don’t know the specific details of the sequel.)

I know I’ve said it before, but I think you can get sometimes get stronger storylines by locking protagonists to a degree (at the cost of customisation) and there’s a place for both. Not just regarding gender choice either, that’s just one that comes up a lot, but there’s a lot of other background kind of things that can be locked in to give a MC a particular character or backstory causing them to have particular skills or personality traits. Outside of CSG’s having character locked games is quite common and accepted. The recent IFComp was won by a female character locked game, so they can be popular if well written and implemented. There’s other examples by Inkle as well which have male and female protagonists that are very popular too.

I can see why in a romance focused COG this would potentially be adventagous as you could get more RO scenes written with this particular purpose in mind, and I’m assuming most games would be specifically tailored around the romance genre rather than being added in onto a different sort of storyline (that sometimes doesn’t really need it). For people who want a romance game specifically, this could be a good thing.

Anyways, I’ll be interested to see how HC’s goes and if it’s something that proves popular or not. Still early days, hope that with more games there’ll eventually be something there for everyone looking for a particular combination and genre, and if the storylines do turn out to have better developed relationships from a RO’s standpoint, it might end up being a good thing. Sounds like straight people have played the wrestling game and enjoyed it, it’s just whether someone can enjoy playing as a character rather than yourself that is probably going to dictate if you can enjoy character locked games or not I guess.

I might be misunderstanding this part. Regardless, it made me uncomfortable to play the wrestling game. Being a mostly gay booksmart woman who hates sports, and detests fighting I could not finish my playthrough. It was too far removed from how I view myself.

However, just because I am unable to put myself in the position of such a character doesn’t mean the rest of the community is unable to.

Yep, but I think the key part here is that this game didn’t hold any appeal for you personally in the first place rather than it being only a particular locking problem. If you were a keen wresting fan but didn’t connect due to the male protag that’d be one thing, but this sounds more like something you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed whether it was a game/book/movie etc? I haven’t read it either as I have no interest at all in wrestling, and don’t generally play games for their RO’s. (I’ll play a romance game if it’s otherwise interesting, but am unlikely to pick up a romance genera game that I’m not likely to have a strong interest in other parts of the storyline to make it interesting enough for me to consider reading.)

Anyway, I’m pretty live and let live when it comes to this sort of thing. Just because that game isn’t going to interest me, doesn’t mean I won’t get others that will :slight_smile:

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It doesn’t matter since I struggle to play romance games as a different gender or sexuality. It always feels strange. At least from a first person perspective. If it were third person it would have been fine for me since I would not be playing as ‘myself’. If that makes sense.

As for genderlocks in general I don’t really care. My personal preference should have no bearing on the thoughts or feelings of other people.

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My sister writes about romances between women, and nothing else. She turned her hand to erotica a while ago. I showed her this thread and she just looked me in the eye and said that if I showed her how to write about a male lesbian, she’d be happy to do so. She hasn’t stopped laughing yet.

An important aspect that a lot of readers tend to forget is that every choice of this type, unless it’s totally superficial in which case it probably shouldn’t be there in the first place, adds a LOT of extra work for the author.
The financial rewards for writing IF very rarely justify that amount of work which means you’re relying on people writing it for the enjoyment of doing so and if they’re being castigated for not catering specifically to every new gender based definition that seems to appear each month, they might just not bother.

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Well, yes and no.

It depends on the author’s intentions. For instance, Natalie Cannon wrote Moonrise with a specific audience in mind, so it wouldn’t make sense to appeal to wider audience because of that.

You also have to keep in mind that it’s a lot of work to write an IF, let alone including romance subplots for multiple NPCs. Off the top of my head, I can only recall three IFs that were co-authored: Highlands, Deep Waters, Breach: The Archangel Job, and Diaspora. Almost all stories are created by a single author who may or may not be experienced in using the Choicscript software.

As someone who’s been on the forums since 2012, I disagree. I have rarely seen this sort of positive reception to gender-locked games, even if it’s not gender-locked to male.

If you check out the gender-locked-female tag, the most popular WiP is Donor. But if you compare Donor to a gender choice game that was published roughly in the same time frame, such as Shepard of Haven, then it’s clear to see that the latter blows the former out of the water.

Now keep in mind, there could be multitude of reasons - besides the gender lock - that Haven is much more popular than Donor and that is a completely different conversation.

Keep in mind that despite being members of the CoG forum community, we’re not a monolith.

@Eiwynn phrased it best in this post. As evidenced by this poll, stories that are gender-locked to anything but male are met with a mixed reception at best. Overwhelmingly yes, gender-locking to female/nonbinary/etc. just because you can is accepted, but there is a significant chunk of people who believe that that is not above criticism.

For what it’s worth, I find this dissonance to be particularly peculiar. Perhaps it’s because people have different ideas of what is criticism and what is not criticism, but I find myself agreeing with Mary_Duffy’s post when it comes to this contradiction.

You cannot personally believe it is acceptable for an author to gender-lock because they can while also holding the belief that you should be able to say “it’s not for me”. If you believe it is acceptable for an author to gender-lock on a whim but then turn around and say the story is not for you because of that factor alone then I will begin to doubt that acceptance.

If someone refuses to bake me a wedding cake based on their religious beliefs, I am not going to waste my time demanding they bake me that cake and will happily take my business elsewhere.

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While I agree that if a story has no reason to be genderlocked, it probably shouldn’t be for inclusivity, I do kind of disagree that you can’t hold both the beliefs above. Taking genderlocking out of it for a moment, let’s look at another thing that can turn people off a game: genera. If someone wanted to write a gory horror story, I’d probably pass since I’d have no interest in reading it. However, as long as it otherwise met COG/HG’s standards for publishing with regards to other factors I wouldn’t tell them that I thought they shouldn’t be writing it either. So yes, they’d lose my purchase when they published because “it’s not for me” but it could be for someone else.

The stores are often different to the forums. There seems to be less push back over male based games on the stores, while female ones have done better on the forums. Additionally locking orientation also seems to have this effect. This is tricky to rate though due to other storyline factors and few female/nb published games at present.

I agree that genderlocking almost always cuts down on your audience, and ones that buck that trend tend to have done well because people have really liked the storyline. (A possible example of where character locking for world building could be argued might be warranted.) It is a huge shame about the stores and female/nb locked game reception, but I wonder if this could change with heart’s choice as it sounds like there’s some really positive reviews coming in about their current games. It’s also not universal. IFComp was won this year by a female character locked game, so the IF community in general seems pretty open minded.

Donor is seriously underrated at the moment in my opinion. Unfortunately that’s what tends to happen when you character lock CS games. (Donor is character locked, not just female locked.)

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I’m only referring to whenever someone goes out their way to comment on a gender-locked game and say “this isn’t for me” or the like, especially if they believe that gender-locking a game on a whim is perfectly acceptable.

To me, it points towards hypocrisy. If you feel compelled to comment in a thread and criticize something that is related to the core gameplay mechanics* that the author has expressly stated will not change then it erodes away at the validity of your belief that gender-locking on a whim is acceptable.

In short, the two beliefs and the action of commenting are mutually exclusive.

Buying or choosing not to buy a product is a completely different beast since that, usually, makes the assumption that the product is ready for public consumption.

Taking your scenario with the genre of a slasher story, I wouldn’t consider that to be hypocritical since you’re not going out of your way to voice your displeasure for the product beyond letting your wallet speak for you.

*side note: would gender-locking/gender choice be considered a core gameplay mechanic?

Fair enough. The original comment by @Urban did not specify where they’d seen that pattern and I naturally assumed that they were referring to the forums. I can see the possibility of a pattern of male-locked games being praised in places outside of the forums.

Related to Donor’s character-lock, I’m starting to wonder if we should start a game development discussion about character-locking and what types of characters (besides the ones that violate CoG publishing guidelines) would be boo’d by the community.

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Simplest answer to this question is a solid ‘yes’. Either can draw the eye of a potential buyer, and both have merits as far as spinning tales for interested readers goes.

The single biggest hurdle I’ve noticed, at least with indie games that expressly note fem!MC, is that the character is very rarely defined enough for that to truly matter beyond the surface level of what’s being presented without resorting to tacky tropes in an attempt to more forcefully share the protagonist’s presented gender.

In much simpler terms–it’s hard to do it tastefully, without leaving their protagonist as a 1 dimensional blank slate with next to no defined personality. Not that this hasn’t seen considerable improvement lately, but it is still very niche as far as truly successful games of this type go.

Gender choice has the same weakness, but for completely different reasons. It may allow for more self-insert type creativity while playing, which all well if that’s all you want out of a game you opt to buy, but sometimes it really is nice to read alongside a character with more substance to their general makeup than “players can choose x, y, and z features!” making their own rules within the allowances of the author’s skill level at complex, layered storytelling.

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On the other hand, I assume the system for choosing an IFComp winner is a lot different from leaving a review or a rating.

I wouldn’t be surprised if female-locked games get an excessive amount of one-star review trolling by men who hate the idea that games might be of interest to women, which has a negative effect on sales.

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I don’t think so, as IFComp winners are chosen by voters giving each game they play a score of 1-10 (which is the same concept as google’s 1-5 rating). It’s not much different other than the votes/reviews could be anonymously placed in IFComp (which lets face it, can be done on any of the stores with a fake name anyhow.) The only real difference is you don’t see the current voted rating at the time of placing your own vote. Although people can write reviews, only a small proportion of voters do so publically. (The rest of the feedback can be delivered privately to the author after the comp anonymously.)

In saying that, if people who didn’t like genderlocking or didn’t like gender locked female games in particular were a significant part of the IFComp voting population, they could still skew the results to prevent games like this one from placing well by leaving low vote scores and poor public reviews. So if there was a decent push back against female locked games in the wider IF community, I’d imagine it’d be unusual for a female locked game to place in the top 10, let alone come first out of 82 entries.

Fair enough, I see what you were trying to say now :slight_smile:

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Here’s my problem with gender locking as it is currently utilized and talked about (and I think this ultimately encompasses how nonbinary ROs are conceptualized as well).

Keeping things flippable and open is very often the only way we can get gender role and presentation diversity injected into these stories. And speaking as a cis bisexual woman with a strong interest in androgynous/gnc (gender nonconforming) people, this is sometimes essential for my enjoyment of a game, and I am certainly not alone in my preferences. (I mention this to be transparent, and not to suggest that my argument for diversity is so my libido is happy. I am not part of the group I am advocating for, just an interested party in their visibility.)

Keep in mind I am speaking in generalization about a trend I’ve seen through many, many games and WIPs. There will obviously be exceptions to this (ones I am always very pleased to find), but I am focusing more on an overall repeating pattern.

As an example, while there is a valiant push towards diversity in this community, it is still the case that 8 times out of 10, the soldier/knight/fighter/stoic/aggressive character will be male and the mage/rogue/charmer/diplomat character will be female. Because that is the default, being able to flip the gender of these types of characters is often the only time you get any variation (even in only profession/skills! This example doesn’t even touch appearance.)

It is also often true that the male character will fall quite heavily on the masculine side and the female character will, in turn, fall quite heavily on the feminine side (in appearance but also mannerisms). Locked gender ROs often follow this pattern, even when the ROs’ sexual orientation stays open. But that same scenario with gender flippable characters? Now you can have a strong female soldier and a soft, clever male mage (something that is rarely chosen by the creators on their own). I tend to choose these options even when I have no interest in romancing either of these characters purely for diversity that is otherwise not provided by the games itself.

Some great examples of what gender flipping can produce would be Dandy from Evertree and Julia Ortega from Fallen Hero. Dandy feels quite femme to me, as if the initial template was Daisy, a very feminine woman, and then her gender variant was created out of it. Would Dandy have been as he was if it was only him from the beginning? I don’t know. I hope so, but it is also the case that I only see this type of gender presentation difference in flipped characters. Julia’s physicality, strength, and even the way she speaks and holds herself feel quite unique to female characters, and I know Ortega was originally only male. Gender flipping can give combinations of traits that creators wouldn’t initially think of (and even help in getting past unconscious bias). And maybe that alone is the main value for gender flipping as a continued creative tool. Creating two separate characters with the gender swap, as OP mentioned, could easily fall into the initial problems with locked gender characters.

Overall, these initial choices by creators and writers are still very predictably followed by the cultural standard. (I could easily go into a tangent here about how m/f romance is written and how they almost always quickly descend into standard gender role tropes no matter the characters’ personalities, but that’s another rant altogether.)

Which brings me to non binary characters. Right now, gender nonconformity in locked gender characters falls almost entirely on the shoulders of non binary ROs, which is itself a problem as non binary is not synonymous with androgyny but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from looking at CoG/HG games as a whole. As it stands, the default template is Female RO= feminine, Nonbinary RO= androgynous, Male RO= masculine. A little reductive, no?

Now, I realize game creators are not making these decisions in a vacuum and are a lot of the time reacting to what they feel their readers want. (I certainly watched this happen with Wayhaven as people gave advice on how to gender-ly touch someone’s shoulder. Did you know if you’re a man, you can’t touch your elbow when you’re nervous? It seems so, going by some of that feedback.)

I also know a lot of game development is feedback going in both directions. You want to make likable characters that the majority of readers will enjoy, and a lot of people are completely fine with the default template. I don’t have an easy solution to present with all of this. Do I wish creators made less gender role-adherent characters in general, whether ROs or not? Absolutely. I’d love to see more women in character roles and narratives that are traditionally given to men and vice versa. I’d love to see people questioning the gender they make a character before solidifying it. In the long run, that tends to make more interesting, unique, and memorable characters for the audience.

I’d love to see more diversity in non binary characters so we don’t run into issues like what @HannahPS mentioned about reactions to a nonbinary character being too feminine and masculine at the same time (which speaks to deep confusion about what a non binary person looks and acts like, which can be remedied with more diverse examples). I’d like to see us move away from non binary tropes like devious/wise tricksters always wearing neutral robes.

I think using gender flipping for diversity is not where things ultimately should stop, because I think that diversity should be within the writing at the beginning. All I know is until that happens, I will be protective of this option as a bandaid that lets me keep easily enjoying these stories (and putting my time into helping make them better, however I am useful).

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Perfectly summed up as always, Sh-sharkie-sempai

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You know I was going to write a long rant about gender, but @sharknap basically beat me to it.

@HannahPS description of the non-binary character in Sunless Sea makes me sad, because so few characters in Fallen Londen series even have names. They tend to be described by a mix of class, job and personality so I always got the impression that class and factions mattered much more than gender in Fallen London.

@DreamingGames I may have said it wrong, I wasn’t thinking the character felt gendered or binary - more that I found it interesting that a character who’s been written in a gender neutral way can be interpreted by players in such different (cisnormative) ways. (It’s the Alarming Scholar, btw in Sunless Sea. For what it’s worth there’s a lot more non binary and/or trans representation in Sunless Skies, and the creators did a lot more consultation with people with those lived experiences.)

@sharknap sums it up well! I’m interested in exploring more with NPCs’ gender presentation on top of pronouns. eg: Max in Crème de la Crème is a bit masc-presenting regardless of gender, but I don’t go into it in much depth. It would be cool to see more of that, basically!

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Oh, don’t misunderstand me. I was not critizing the writing. It is the perception of the character that makes me sad, because it is a daily reminder that people don’t really get non-binarity. The very fact that people think that a character can be too masc. or femme to be non-binary is what troubles me because a lot of non-binary people do lean masculine or femine.

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Ah I get you :slightly_smiling_face: Yes absolutely, it’s such a misconception. Hopefully we’ll see a greater variety of non binary representation in media that better reflects real life in the coming year/decade!

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I came across this star wars comic again today, an it reminded me of the recent discussions in this thread.

In my opinion, when you have an npc with a swappable gender, it’s in your best interest to only change small parts of them, not everything. That’s when you can get new and exciting character archetypes, and not just the same old gender coded stereotypes again. Sometimes people just want soft space princess Luke Organa and badass farm girl Leia Skywalker.

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I think the main part of people not playing gender locked is not only self insert as some people think, its also the fact that we are already used to have that choice, i probably whould have been forced to play as female even if i dont enjoy it at all at some point just so i can play certain games but when there is a lot of games that offer me that choice i will rather spend the money on something that let me choose, people usually dont like to be limited or forced to certains things when playing a game. Is also true some of us are more open to try certain games, having a consolidated gender in a game depending on the worldbuilding of such game can be a good reason to attract people that dont mind the gender they play and are solely in it for the story.
Same can be said about the ros, i prefer to have the option to choose the gender so i can enjoy the game fully but i understand it being more realistic if they are defined by the author.

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Bless you for introducing me to this comic, :rainbow: b l e s s. :rainbow:

And to stay on topic, ahem, I very much agree with that sentiment. I think Wayhaven did a fantastic job of only changing the gender, not the personality, of Unit Bravo and as a bi woman I’m very appreciative of that because what I find attractive in women isn’t the same as what I find attractive in men. Thus, I reveled in the option of being able to switch between ROs in different playthroughs at my leisure.

For any writer that's interested in an example of how gender can influence my opinions of an RO:

Adam:

  • Makes me Uncomfy bc angry or annoyed men always give me anxiety

Ava:

  • Ice queen who I will melt with my love

Nate:

  • H u s b a n d

Nat:

  • Mom friend. I want to go baking with her and talk about my deepest fears so she can soothe me, but not necessarily be in a relationship with her

Felix:

  • Brother, baby brother, baby boy, sweet baby, love the baby boy he’s adorable I will provide him with all the finest things and loudest of loudspeakers to mess with his teammates—precious son must protect at all costs

Farah:

  • I regularly walk into walls imagining her flirting with me, I am simply too gay to function around her. Love her. Queen. My Queen. God she’s amazing, somebody get her a loudpspeaker—

Mason:

  • hnnnnnnnnnnnnng my anxiety

Morgan:

  • sign me tf up :eyes: :ok_hand:
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