Consolidated Gender Lock Discussion Thread

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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If you had to choose between a gender-swappable MC or gender-swappable ROs, which would you choose (and this is open for everyone to answer)?

I mean, obviously, the ideal is to have both but, in games where the author is offering many romance options (more than three or four), it becomes a bit of a nightmare to write it in a way where the relationships can be deep and meaningful without ending up with a 2M word monstrosity. It is significantly easier if the ROs behave identically no matter their gender, but then people will probably take offense to them not behaving differently.

True enough, but it probably wouldn’t drastically increase scope to include some flavor lines that reference a gender difference. Whether it be appearance or small mannerisms or whatnot. It’s been mentioned already, but Fallen Hero does a great job of it with Ricardo/Julia and Dr. Mortum!

People who complain about gender variant ROs not being “feminine” or “masculine” enough usually have some own personal issues they need to work through and don’t understand what gender actually is.

Definitely rather have a gender-swappable MC—but I’m very attached to my gender so that’s a personal queer bias of mine. Although I do also really enjoy M/M and F/F (and NB) locked games because the representation is much needed.

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I’ll have to play again and check out Julia and a femme Dr. Mortum. My Sidestep is a straight female, so I’ve only experienced the males ROs.

Possibly. Or maybe they just don’t understand how personalities form and develop. For me, my gender is decided by my biological sex–I’m female and have a number of more masculine qualities (and have never been a “proper” lady or whatever the hell people want to call it), but I’m still female. I’ve met guys (a lot of them, actually) who were more “feminine” than me and met guys who could give Jason Momoa a run for his money in the masculine department. People are who they are, male or female or whatever. People aren’t meant to be mindless robots, all the same with the same likes and dislikes, so assuming that, because someone is female they are automatically soft or nice or weak (or don’t curse like sailors), is just laughable. Anyway…

Yeah, given a choice, I will play characters who are female (in video games, in the past, there were few choices to do that!). With Choice games, the story has to really appeal to me, or the characters have to completely blow me away, in order for me to buy a MC-male-locked game. If I want to play a dude, I can play old AC games and drool over Ezio, thank you very much. XD

I was just curious, though. A friend of mine and I are tossing around an idea for a game set in our world, which is very complex. We kinda wanted the MC to be a particular character, which would require a lock as a female. Because there are 7 ROs, we thought maybe it would make up for locking the MC if we allowed gender-flipping five of the ROs (two of them simply cannot be flipped because they’ll feature in our canon material). It looks like allowing the MC to flip may be a better plan, given some other input we’ve gotten.

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I prefer keeping ROs as one gender and just giving them a subversive personality from the get-go. It was previously mentioned that gender-flippable ROs that maintain the same personality can become subversive depending on the gender you choose That’s a double-edged sword because doing that creates the possibility that the same RO could operate on potentially outdated tropes/stereotypes when they’re another gender. That’s a risky chance to take since some players could get the short end of the stick because of the gender they end up romancing.

I think if you want the game to have a soft, feminine guy or a tough, masculine woman or any combination, just write the base character like that. Their subversiveness will be a universal experience among the players of your game. As long as there’s an option for everyone, then you (theoretically) shouldn’t need to worry about outdated tropes or not providing subversive characters.

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I believe we’re on the same page, actually! When people claim that men are too “feminine” or women are “too masculine”, it’s usually rooted in a view of gender that is either homophobic, transphobic, sexist, or some combination of the three. People are just people. We don’t all conform to traditional gender roles, nor should we have to.

As far as your story idea goes, it’s my opinion that if you and your friend want a genderlocked MC, you should feel free to write them as such. But gender choice does seem to be far more well-received (at least here on the forums), do with that what you may.

Interestingly enough I have not got a single comment or review that complains about Ortega or Dr. Mortum not being masculine or feminine enough. Not a single one. And that was considering I even got a review complaining about Anathema being described as ‘chubby’ because that was unrealistic for superheroes…

Another interesting thing is that people have made two completely different reads on who Ortega is depending on whether they have Ricardo or Julia. 95+ % of the text is the same (only the hair/mustache discussions differ I think) and yet Ricardo is the funny, goofy guy people likes to drag, while Julia is badass and cool.

It’s interesting. It really is.

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Let me choose my MCs gender. I can play a game while passing up on romancing anyone if none of the interesting seeming ROs are of the gender prefered by me, but take away the ability to play the gender I’m comfortable with and most likely I won’t play the game (there is like 1% chance left that I’d still gave a try to the game).