Disdain for Set Main Characters

Infiction has become more open. There’s a lot more love happening for choice based games (twine seems particularly common over there, but also see CS, ink, bitsy (etc) and even parser coded to emulate choice based games more strongly on occasion) happening. I’ve entered a few game jams and comps that have a forum presence there and there’s been a good variety of games from linear to more branching, story to puzzle based.

I do fully agree with you that IF means different things to different people though. It’s inclusive of everything from linear fairly preset visual novels to tricky puzzle based parsers. There’s really something to suit everyone’s tastes out there which is nice :slight_smile:


Umm… no. I am not accusing anyone of anything, I am simply expressing the impression I get from these game design decisions, personally. That’s why I used

But my personal opinion is an accusation apparently? Idk why these opinions are being lumped in with

Unless you’re not referring to me, I have no idea when I said anything like this. Ever. And especially not in this thread. Also, I’m not sure what preset character games winning at IF competitions has to do with anything? I never said preset characters are only in bad games or that no one should like them, so how is that relevant? I also don’t follow IF competitions, I just read summaries and play what sounds interesting.

@Havenstone How are two people expressing this sentiment in a thread about disdain for set main characters “a discourse” about the IF writing landscape or authors :neutral_face: My sentiment might make y’all sad, but I’m speaking strictly from the impression that I get as a reader; that doesn’t make it an accusation. I am not claiming to speak authoritatively or even attempting to make it a topic of discussion. Or even insisting it’s a fact. Expressing something that might feel accusatory to you is not the same as making accusations, which again is why I wrote:


Try to find the academic definition at some point. Fun times.


The feeling you’re describing is a pretty accusatory one:

Couching it as your personal feeling doesn’t change what made Jaci (and me) sad about it: this discourse where authors are supposedly deceiving, pretending, passing off novels as IF.


Not to mention the broad definition of IF. IF does not mean Choice of Games, and it does not mean you get full or thorough customization of the MC. This is just what the ChoiceScript community particularly has come to expect of it.


This is gold.

But this makes me curious—what are the important parts for people?

What does a game need to have for you?
  • Prefered gender
  • Prefered pronouns
  • Prefered Sexuality
  • Prefered (full) Name
  • Prefered (partial*) Name
  • Prefered personality**
  • Prefered looks
0 voters
  • I don’t mind a game lacking all of the above things
0 voters

*A partial name can be: only a first name, or only a last name, or that you are sometimes or often referred to by a secondary name/title/nickname. Think of Mass effect’s “shepard” or Wayhaven’s “detective”.

** Personality includes behaviour.

– I know it sometimes depends on more specific things like: the game doesn’t allow me to RP in a very specific way, or this particular name or look doesn’t work for me. Simply use your own judgement and vote based on games you have played or general feelings.


Poll should include a none of the above, IMO.

Nothing there is a dealbreaker for me, at least.


Ah–alright I’ll add it–the current votes might get wiped tho.

Seems I can’t edit it. hmm

I’ll add a one choice poll under

tbh I see this happen frequently in threads that are basically just asking for opinions and opening discourse on a topic, that people who then express their opinion are accused of accusing authors of this and that. To me it makes it difficult to participate in these discussions because even with extensive padding about how it’s only your own opinion, people still feel personally targeted.
I remember in the thread about ROs who are romantically involved with one another people expressing that to them it felt like the hypothetical author was pushing a canonical couple which is why they disliked it, leading to authors being upset that someone would accuse them of doing so because “that’s not my intention”. Like I don’t think that was the point, sometimes people just feel a certain way and finally have a space to express that where it’s NOT accusing anyone of anything.
(BTW wanted to add that I fully understand why authors react this way, I’m no stranger to reader/consumer entitlement and never-ending demands that you should change everything to suit one specific person’s specific wants, but from a reader perspective there’s like no space to just talk about the way you feel sometimes without it potentially being taken like that even when that’s not what you were doing. A thread separate from any story, any creator, is just such a space for readers imo.)
Anyway, personally I agree with your comment and have also felt like that previously, and am now more picky with what I choose to play/read. I like to feel like part of the story, that’s why I enjoy IF, and if it’s done well enough then I actually don’t mind my character being semi-set, or set in every obvious way. Buuut the simplest way to feel like I’m going to be more involved (without just diving in and potentially spending time on something I may not enjoy) just begins with seeing if there’s customisation.


Though I would prefer all of these, it’s a deal breaker if I can’t

  1. Be a women
  2. Be straight (if there’s romance)
  3. Have some control over the characters personality (some things need to be there for the plot, but everything else should be in my control)

Personality isn’t as much of a dealbreaker as getting to name my characters—I believe that one should create the character that wants to go on the adventure (similar to TTRPGs, and also why I wish more games did character creation like Tin Star), no matter what their reasons are, and if that means that some of the PC’s personality traits are set then so be it—but at least some of it should be customizable (ITFO’s Marshal can definitely “feel” like a different person depending on your choices even though the Marshal always has a baseline personality shaped by their life experiences).


I think it really does depend on the game and the expectations being set up for me, so I’m not sure I can answer a poll to cover everything. I like playing IFs with more “set” character backgrounds or personalities that are less typical in published ChoiceScript games (or in the longform Twines inspired by CoG/HG structures). I also like creating a character of my own with personalised gender, orientation, motives, and responses to game events.

Where problems arise for me is when there’s a mismatch in expectations. If the game has set the expectation that I’m playing a customisable character whose personality and actions are malleable, then it will feel weird if, for example, the game keeps putting my PC in a position where they’re never given the option to assert themselves and when they speak, it’s in a very nervous way.


Hannah hit the issue on the head of the nail … an individual game’s expectations and execution.

A perfect example for me is the Crusader Kings series … the 1st game was basically a map painter with characters as window dressing.

By Crusader Kings 3 you have player characters with barbershops and activities as varied as going on a hunt to going in tour with all your household …

The expectations of the original Crusader Kings were a lot different from the third version of the game, and to go back to the 1st or 2nd version with current expectations would be disastrous.

Series (such as most on Hosted Games) have expectations and execution change from one story-game to the next and this is just one more thing that makes writing them hard.


There’s an important difference between feelings about a book and feelings about an author. I wouldn’t want to restrain anyone from sharing the former; that’s what a forum like this should be for. It’s reasonable to expect authors to be able to listen to negative reviews of their work.

But when people start sounding off about authors’ intentions, they’re speaking about the person more than the work. That deserves more care. It isn’t enough to just say, e.g., “Hey, it’s only my personal feeling that authors like you intended to deceive and cheat us by disguising your novel as IF.” Saying that’s just your feeling/opinion doesn’t remove the risk of being (a) wrong and (b) recklessly and needlessly hurtful to authors.

Edit: I should be clear that I’m not feeling personally hurt by any of this; my game’s MC is anything but set. But I’m allergic in general to the style of fan discourse that presumes to know and judge the author’s mind, rather than just the work itself.

Edit edit: I used the word “jerk” when I first wrote this post, which was (in a sad irony) an example of reckless and needless use of hurtful language by me. Sorry to hotmess, Keller, and anyone else who might have been hurt by my jerkiness.


To be clear, when I spoke of my personal feelings, I was referring to the importance of various forms of agency within a story, not trying to shield myself from criticism for making an observation about authorial intent that is clearly shared by several others. Authorial intent is controversial, this isn’t new. I’m not naming or shaming anyone because I’m not trying to deride authors or change their methods or demonize them. What I’m trying to express is just my response to the question set forth by the topic creator.

“Why are people less forgiving towards set main characters in text adventures versus visual rpgs?”

I can’t speak for others, so I speak to my own reasons.

-I prefer to have as much agency within a story as I can, so more agency is better.

-Agency of identity is the first thing that comes out the gate and sets the tone for the whole story. If there is none, I do not assume there will be other forms of agency later on.

-Some forms of agency of identity are much easier for text adventures than for visual rpg’s. You do not need a voice actor to say a bunch of different names the player might choose like is common in sports franchises, you don’t need to generate character models that can interact with all of the other graphical elements of your game, you don’t need to hire voice actors to perform the MC’s lines for different genders or intonations or pitches, et cetera. This isn’t to say there is no work involved in accommodating agency of identity, just that it is significantly more difficult to do so in a visual rpg and thus players who enjoy that are more forgiving when it isn’t present in a vrpg vs a text adventure.

-When an author makes the decision to remove player agency, they are saying a few things. “I don’t want to invest the energy in these options because other aspects of the project are going to need that energy” is valid. “I am trying to tell a specific story that is only going to be authentically told from a certain perspective” is valid. There are many valid reasons that an author might choose to restrict player agency. I have no interest in maligning those authors.

-Every medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. Interactive mediums have a particular strength: Interactivity. The ability for the author to allow the participant to have agency in their experience. One might say that a book is interactive because the reader can choose to turn the page or not and has to physically do so. That’s not what I’m talking about. A book or a movie or a tv show are all very capable of telling linear narratives with set characters and they each have different strengths in doing so.

Films, tv, and video games can use visual effects to dazzle the viewer and communicate action and engage the viewer visually and auditorily in ways that other mediums can’t compete with. Novels can take us into the minds of the characters and stop, reverse, slow, fast forward in time as much as is needed to weave the story they want to weave.

Interactive fiction has only one strength over novels: agency. Engaging the player and accounting for them in the fiction. When an author releases a work of interactive fiction wherein the only choice the player has made is to turn the page, they have released a novel, disguised as interactive fiction. I have played such titles, as have others. It’s not what I’m looking for in interactive fiction, it’s what I’m looking for in novels. And I guess I have to reiterate right now, simply having agency over the identity of the main character is not the make or break that separates the novels from the interactive fiction. It involves the other elements of agency being absent as well. A work that purports to be interactive fiction but offers no agency is a deception. It might literally be the Lord of the Rings, an epic that could stand the test of the ages long after the author is dead, but if all you’re doing is turning the page, it’s not interactive fiction. It’s just fiction. And that doesn’t make it a bad work, or the author a bad person. But it does break from my expectations within the medium.

-I cannot know that a work will provide me with no agency at all until I complete it. I also can’t give every work of interactive fiction my money or time. What I can do is read the description of the game, and sometimes a demo of the intro. When I get through that and realize I haven’t been given the agency I’m looking for, and the author hasn’t hooked me with the character I’m to play, I put the product away and keep looking for the experience I am willing to pay for. I don’t write a bad review, I don’t send angry emails to the author, I just realize I’m not the intended audience and go find the author who is putting their energy out there to engage with me.


Written with thought and care, and there’s lots here I’d agree with both when it comes to matters of fact and matters of taste. But the unpleasant core is still here too:

Now, I haven’t myself played games where literally the only choice is to click “Next” or close the game. If there are lots of those out there, maybe we should start a new thread to talk about disdain for that trend. I have played games that give more choices about how the player feels about events (with no effect on the text of the game besides, perhaps, some post-choice flavor text) than stat-affecting choices. I’ve played games that are more about exploration than agency–ones where the choices let you understand rather than change what’s going on around you. And of course I’ve played plenty of games with set MCs.

I can understand being frustrated with those kinds of games and feeling they had wasted your time/ money. If all you were saying is “That’s not real IF,” I wouldn’t be griping. You’ve got as much right to propose a definition for IF and what makes it great (or terrible) as any author does.

But as soon as you say “deception” you’ve moved from a statement about IF to one about authorial intent and motive. You’re not just saying that you don’t see a meaningful difference between this IF work and a novel – you’re saying that the author also recognized that, and still chose to falsely market their novel as IF anyway. If that’s not what you meant to say, a word other than “deception” would be needed… plus not speculating confidently about the oversaturation of the market for novels being the motive for said deception.

That’s the point where you’re assuming that your definition of IF isn’t just the one people should adopt (which would be fair play) but that it’s the one they already hold. Otherwise we’re not talking “deception,” which can only be done intentionally; we’re just talking “failure to meet my expectations for the medium.”

You can say that an author shouldn’t be upset when you speculate about their deceptiveness, that it doesn’t make them a bad person… but some people think that lying is a bad thing to do, and will be unhappy at being accused of it.

Of course, you’re not naming and shaming individuals, so you could say no one should be upset or feel personally accused. But there are a lot of fans who say “should have been a novel” about a lot of CS games, especially those with set MCs or that make heavy use of flavor/feeling choices. It’s a well-established trope in CoG/HG fan discourse. If that discourse rounds the bend into “author deceived us,” there’ll be a lot of authors getting hit by it.

I think it’s worth some pushback on that. Instead of using language that presumes authors are lying or cheating or disrespecting the medium, why not stick to language that implies they’re trying (perhaps failing) to do something different with the IF medium than what you like in your IF? Or if a charitable assumption is an ask too far, then best not to speculate publicly about their motives and intentions at all.


Would it be fair to say it’s a misuse of the medium, then? Or at least a mislabeling of medium, because I think the severity of Keller’s wording about intent comes from the authors that don’t let the reader know what they’re getting into, which then can make it feel like a betrayal when it’s marketed the same as other, more interactive, offerings.

I guess as an example, there’s a subset of visual novels (which typically have an expectation of some choice like the text-based interactive fiction we are talking about here) called kinetic novels. They’re very explicitly without choice, just using the medium to tell what amounts to a book with visuals. But, at least from what I’ve seen, they don’t generally market them as “true” visual novels, since they wouldn’t be fulfilling the expectations that less specific label holds. Perhaps that’s what’s needed, a different sort of name for those types of stories that can let potential readers know what there is to expect, or at least more consistent clarification from the author that their story is extremely set with maybe some favor choices. Some authors are good about that, particularly the twine authors who make it very clear that certain things/traits/whatever are immutable (often it’s the authors from here who want to make more set stories and know how people can get about that), but for CoG stuff in particular there’s a very strong format to the descriptions and what’s set is rarely mentioned at all, if ever.


I agree with these points. However, please try to ensure that the discussion remains tactful and on topic.

Also, I think one should differentiate between criticism of the author and criticism of the author’s work.


I’m glad we can reasonably discuss and try to see each other’s perspectives and assume good intent even where we disagree, that’s super refreshing. It’s a reasonable ask, easy to fulfill on my end, and it’s something I can work on extending to the authors of various works of fiction. I have indeed played games with 20+ clicks between even the attempt at providing multiple choices, only to have those choices end up being some variation of

“Heck no!”

And then go straight into 20 more pages with a single button to click to get to the next page. Or games where you are given 4 options, and in each of them you end up doing what option 1 would have you do, but the other options also insult you for choosing something other than option 1. I have read three of these from one specific author, and won’t revisit their works. I’m not conjuring these from the Aether, they certainly exist, but I wouldn’t want to imply that they exist in large numbers in the hosted games catalogue, and can confidently say I’ve not had the experience with any “CoG” games.

I suppose I can extend the author enough credit to say that they either don’t understand the medium or the market or are trying and failing. Maybe that will help reduce the tension in the conversation. Kinetic novels, when marketed as such, do not bother me at all. It’s having my expectations subverted so severely that causes the ire, and probably which has made me so dismissive that I’ve ventured into being unfairly critical.


I echo the statements Havenstone has made, and I applaud his politeness, but some of these comments are downright troubling.

The very idea of feeling betrayed or ‘tricked’ by a creator when what they’ve made isn’t what you expected it to be…there’s no nice way of saying it: it’s entitlement. To a level I haven’t seen in a very long time.

For the record: these game all have demos. You can and should play before you buy, and make your own decisions about whether or not it’s for you. Not every choicegame will be, and the idea that those that aren’t ought be altered, or that they’re “misusing the medium” is, among other things, immature.

@ElliWoelfin I’m not sure how a labeling system for something so subjective would work. Kinetic novels don’t have choices, period, and that’s objectively what makes them different than VNs. I think a better (and healthier) approach would to be to try these games out, decide if the level of interactivity is right for you, and go from there. Without feeling like you’ve been swindled.