Disdain for Set Main Characters

I also note that this disdain seems absent from Guenevere - though that might be just because I haven’t heard the haters yet (and I imagine that a large amount of the shit Jean’s going to get for it will be straight-up misogyny, which is an unfortunate hazard of being a woman on Earth and especially on the Internet).


For me it’s 2 things: Interactivity and writing tense.

In a “traditional” video game, the player “physically” interacts with the player character and world through a KBM/controller, on top of it being an inherently visual medium. For ChoiceScript and other IF games, the only real player interaction is in how that character acts, reacts, and interacts with the world, with no real physical input. Choices and how the player can make them matter much more as a result, which in my opinion, doesn’t work as well if the player character is completely pre-set.

I’m not a self-insert player by any means, but when the writing is done in second person (i.e., “you”), the character is still “mine”. If I’m not in control of what limited choices I have to control the character, then I might as well just read a book or play a different game or type of game entirely.


Adding to that two other very popular HG series Fallen Hero and Samurai of Hyuga also have very set character main characters, especially for their background


True but even in those there is still a degree of character customization,
and in fallen hero especially people are able to choose their appearance, gender and sexuality, ect.


I am curious if COG and it’s associated partners has a predominately female audience in this type of situation, seeing as there is typically a more dislike towards games with male set characters than games with female set characters. Though this might have something to do with the idea that it is easier to come up with game ideas if set where the protagonist is feminine than definitively masculine, or the notion that male set games are more common than the other (at this point I think female set games have caught up, in particular thanks to Hearts Choice).

AAA games with visuals have seen a growing trend of games that both features a female protagonist and games with the ability to select much of the characters gender, sexuality and basic background, which is a interesting comparison.


I think the “more dislike” you’re hearing comes from a vocal share of the fan base, not from a company looking at the demographics of its readership. And it’s hard to miss the fact that “male set games are more common” than the alternatives in the gaming world as a whole, despite slight movement toward rebalancing in recent years. Personally, even as a cis male reader, I’m more interested in the growing number of games telling stories with a female or femme protagonist, after so many masculine game MCs for so many years.

Some of my favorite ChoiceScript games are genderlocked – Guenevere, Study in Steampunk, and the Infinity Saga leap to mind – but as I’ve said before, I don’t personally feel that adds anything to my enjoyment of them. And I’d class Sabres of Infinity’s protagonist as a genderlocked but not a set MC; to my mind, a real “set MC” is an Aloy or Geralt, whose history, personality, and pre-game relationships are all given rather than chosen.

I’d quite enjoy seeing more of those in ChoiceScript… with or without a genderlock, which is for me a decidedly secondary feature of a “set MC.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone express this idea, and certainly not experienced it. The history of gender in games doesn’t suggest that game writers have on the whole had too much trouble coming up with plots for men.


Personally not a fan. I’ve played so many ifs on Tumblr that completely lock the player into a personality, taking away meaningful reactions to characters actions, oftentimes the heart of a choice game, and rendering player choices totally redundant outside of branching paths.
I might as well just read a book, with a proper main character. That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t read a story like that, one of my favorite ifs has its main character locked to male and his personality is semi set but the way it was written felt fitting to the setting and there was enough leeway for player input to shape the character. So in the end it all boils down to: Do I agree with the set personality of the MC? Do I think the personality fits the theme/setting of the if? Is the writing sound? If the answer is yes, then sure why not.
But in general I believe there is a huuuge distinction between choice of games and rpg games.


Respectfully I disagree. It’s actually MUCH easier to write meaningful choices that aren’t purely cosmetic with MCs that have some degree of preset. The more preset they are, the stronger you can make the choices because you don’t have to attempt to account for every possibility that anyone could possibly think of like a blank slate MC. By their very nature, adding since preset characteristics allows the writer to make a more focused storyline.

It’s more a matter of perspective. If you only want to play self inserts, then a blank mc will be what you’re looking for. If you’re open to guiding the actions of a character then more preset characters may be acceptable. You don’t even have to agree with the actions of the preset character, just decide how you’d like to see the story play out. IMHO neither is good or bad per say, just different.

Many forms of IF use preset characters. It’s more the expectations of CSGs that they will not be so they tend to be much less accepted overall.


I mean

The company has “CHOICE” right in the name


That doesn’t mean that everything is open to choosing, however. Even in the games with the greatest customizability, the author has to set some parameters.

Nor is character-creation the only kind of choice that exists. “Choose Your Own Adventure” books have “Choose” in the title, and they don’t allow you to customize a character at all.


Also interesting to note that, although customization is popular, when you talk about choice, customization is many times, rarely, if ever mentioned after you created which means that a lot of times, it’s just a series of fake choices


I would not say i hate “set” mc’s but im not a fan of them either but really this is kinda hard to answer since everyone has a different definition for what a “set” MC constitutes so its more of a spectrum rather then a definable singular thing. We all also tend to have different lines in the sand for when a MC is too “set”. For me personally, my line in the sand is the characters name and their personality/feelings on the things taking place during the time the story takes place(because those are the things i associate with identity i suppose). Im happy for the author to define their background/past and pretty much everything else(even their appearance, though i would prefer to have input on that) but the two above mentioned things i feel i need to have a say in if im to enjoy the game as IF.

When i feel like a MC is too “set” im not frustrated at the author or the story but rather that the potential of the story is held back by the constraints of the medium. What i mean is that often these stories would be better as traditional novels imo rather then IF since the authors clearly have a very vivid/specific idea of how they want the story to go and mc to react etc and it being IF seems to get in the way of that vision.

On the flipside im also not a fan of MC’s that are too “blank”(would that be the word for it?) since they feel like less of an actual realized character and more of a amorphous mouth piece for the player. The feeling of potential going to waste is the same since in this case its like the author is focused more on giving the player as much agency as possible despite what it may do to the overarching story.

The best IF in my opinion find a wonderful balance between the two extremes in order to leverage the pros and minimize the cons of IF as a genre/medium.


I feel that most characters in CoG and HG books could be referred to as set. Their backstory is usually set and when it’s not, it usually is only used for skillchecks, they have certain traits… and honestly, when they don’t, it feels weird and makes character feel like a plank.

A main character is main character for a reason. He or she are supposed to resonate with story themes, they are a core upon which the foundation is built, they’re the spine of the story. They should feel like their own character you can guide, not as a cutout you can dress, fashion and sorta-kinda affect their decision making until you suddenly can’t.


Yes, one could argue that every main character is set in some way or another. Some characters are just more set than others. In my case, I like to have control over name, gender and stats, as they are the main things used in games. As a previous poster said, many of the other things aren’t even mentioned.

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This reaction comes up a lot in these conversations, with a more or less explicit critique of authors for not picking the medium best suited to their vision. I’d just like to pop up a note that from my own taste and perspective as a reader, IF with a set MC can work very well as IF, not as a failed novel.

The aspect of IF I enjoy most is exploration, and fiction offers lots of different things to explore. Variable plots and subplots; different possibilities for character development and growth; a rich and interesting setting (which as I’ve written before is I think an underpraised pleasure of good literature).

IF with a set MC can still offer me that chance to explore all of those things. Horizon Zero Dawn, one of my favorite AAA games of the past few years, had a terrifically rich story and setting. A CoG that let me explore a similarly narrative-rich world, even without graphics, would be well worth my time. Aloy doesn’t change much as a character, she’s just set loose on the world to explore (and becomes more herself as she does so, intensifying characteristics that she clearly had from the beginning), but discovering it through her distinct perspective as a marginalized outcast moving to the heart of power is part of the fun.

And when it comes to exploring character development and growth… that can work with a set MC too, often even better than with a customizable MC. Geralt in Witcher 3 is a character you can explore and (to a meaningful extent) develop through your choices in game. With lots of IF, there’s nothing of the MC for a reader to explore or learn because it’s all in their hands; which can make it hard for the author to write an arc that emerges satisfyingly from the character’s past. Often custom MCs end up just being a viewpoint from which to explore the plot and setting, rather than themselves being a character worth digging into.

And that can work great! I don’t at all think a customizable MC is bad, as you could see from my own IF work so far. MC customization (like second-person perspective) can be a great authorial tactic to get readers fully engaged with the story and world – and in the context of the wider gaming world, it has the additional benefit of “not othering” readers who until recently have had few opportunities to play protagonists who are like them. I just also think that a great IF can be written with a set MC.

In a case where the protagonist is set, and the plot is on hard rails, and the setting isn’t one I’m particularly excited to run around digging into (even if it’s otherwise a perfectly fine setting)… then, sure, I’d have the “why isn’t this a novel” reaction. But if any of the above are genuinely explorable, I’ll understand why it was written as IF.


This makes a lot of sense - I’d add that there’s a swathe of very well respected, high quality IF with genuinely “set” MCs - I think immediately of inkle’s work like 80 Days. It perhaps runs into the same thing as Study in Steampunk in riffing very successfully on a well-known work, so it does have a head start, but Overboard is also acclaimed. On the other end of the commercial spectrum, a ton of non-commercial IF has set protagonists - off the top of my head, Birdland and its sequels, and a lot of what you see in the IF Comp, are very praised for their well-realised main characters.

I find that the MCs I get most attached to in ChoiceScript games are the ones where I can direct their actions and personalities, but they don’t need to be an entirely blank canvas because if they are, I don’t have a frame of reference about who my character is. When writing, I allow myself a few assumptions about the MC - if I’m writing about a spy, say, I can assume a base level of stealth or deception ability even if it’s not their main strength. When I was writing about romance-related reality TV, I assumed a base level of extroversion and interest in being on such a show. I wouldn’t call any of them “set”, necessarily, if the player is able to personalise the character and make choices about what they do in the world.

The novel vs IF is a really interesting question. When I was coming up with game concepts recently, I came up with one that I realised would work a lot better with a set character or a linear story - it was to do with being a teacher saving a school from peril and I struggled to think of other goals for the MC. For a CoG, those multiple end goals are vital - for an action/adventure game, or a novel, not so much.


On the other hand, it can give the player the power to decide the MC’s character arc. (One of my favourite ones went through a lot of hardship… and learnt nothing. Which wouldn’t happen with an author who wants to build a satisfying character arc. But sometimes you just want it that way.)


Love it. :slight_smile: Yes, one of the bonuses of the “co-authorship” of IF is that you can have possibilities like this.


I believe this is key to understanding the genre of Interactive Fiction in general, not just a Choice Script game.

First-person shooters have stories written for them. Sometimes these stories are very well-developed and often written by experienced and acclaimed authors. Tom Clancy is the author that comes to mind immediately, but there are others as well.

What differentiates a First-person shooter story from an Interactive Fiction story are the end-goals and “end-states”. A First-person shooter’s goal is to shoot and loot. No matter how complex or in-depth the story you are following, in the game, the goal will always be to shoot and then loot your way through the story.

Don’t get me wrong … Tom Clancy’s Division and Division 2 stories are well done … so well done that they are being adapted to streaming series on Netflix. The Last of Us is a genuine hit on HBO, and up to the most recent episode, the show followed the game’s story without deviation.

The First-person shooters often offer MC customization, and the level of customization rivals, if not exceeds, the level offered in Choice Script games. You would think that such a feature in a game would attract almost every self-insert gamer that can buy the game.

Yet, because there is a singular goal, these games do not appeal to most who seek interactive fiction in its many forms. No matter if the gamer chooses a virtual novel, or a choice script game, the multiple goals baked in is what attracts, hooks, and retains the gamer.


Personally, I don’t mind set backstories (they’re usually the crux of the story). And I don’t mind a set personality trait, if the story requires it (ex. I’m not an adventurous person, but some IF requires my character to be, and that’s fine). But I want to grow my character up from that starting place. There are lots of aspects of a person that don’t directly control the plot, but indirectly affect it (ex. The adventurer can be a rough cowboy type, or a bubbly party girl. The plot would play out the same way). You can’t get this with a purely set MC. So I’m on camp “set what’s required for the plot, leave the rest up to me”