"Escapism" vs "realism" with regards to NB MC

I wanted to have a poll (and page to discuss this) to get a general take on this. It’s hard to know what the general public thinks without a poll, IMO, so this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Especially as I’m making a game with an NB MC choice, and in a historical setting.

The terms aren’t perfect, but I can’t think of anything better right now.

This is lumping together things in some ways, but as a general way to make a poll, it felt the easiest way to get the actual preference. This is personally how I’ve often seen it done in games, but it is, of course, a considerable simplification. But if you’re still able to find a preference for this, please choose one choice—

Please answer only if you would ever realistically play an NB MC in an IF game.

With regards to an NB MC would play or prefer if the game used:

  • Realism
  • Escapism
  • Either
0 voters

Realism is defined here as:

  • NPCs can’t automatically know your correct pronouns.
  • If NB pronouns or individuals are rare or prejudiced towards in the setting, it may add complexities and game world consistent reactions, which may not always be positive.
  • Choose AGAB ( = assigned gender at birth)
  • You may have to correct NPCs based on either your AGAB or your assumed presented gender.
  • May include more detailed specific representation in the form of masc or fem NB MCs rather than the more typical gender-neutral representation.
  • May include more negative or neutral related NB content.

Escapism is defined here as:

  • NPCs automatically know your pronouns (might rarely, and, if so, welcomely, ask).
  • Even if there are few or little recognised NB individuals in the game world, the player’s NB status is usually not brought up or discussed, or if it is, it’s quickly accepted or swept under the rug.
  • Usually not choosing AGAB, but it is instead kept vague or explicitly sex-less.
  • You do not have to correct NPCs based on either your AGAB or some assumed presented gender.
  • Usually, NB and gender-neutral representation are tied together.
  • Usually only have neutral or positive NB content.

Based on what I’ve heard discussed, I assumed that “escapism” is preferred. But I wanted to be sure.

Please let me know if the phrasing can be improved and clarified :heart:


My general opinion is that unless the story is specifically about being non-binary, or being more broadly trans, I would prefer to keep most of the negative aspects of the realism section out of it (unless the author goes to great lengths to add a lot of trans-specific content, so it feels as deep as it would in a trans-locked game).
Especially the getting misgendered and needing to tell people your pronouns parts.

The higher level of customization is really nice, but only if the author actually does the work to make sure it’s acknowledged in the text, in relevant situations.
I greatly prefer being able to choose my assigned gender, over being assumed to be gender-neutral and everything being vague.

It also depends on the story and setting.

I guess I want the positives from both, and the negatives from neither, if I could choose that.


Things that make no sense like people magically knowing my pronouns is what takes me out of the game when playing as NB the most. It makes me feel like the game just added the nb option as an empty platitude.


This is an interesting question and my main answer is that it really depends on the game, the story, and the way it’s written - which is a horrible cop-out.

A slightly more helpful answer from me, hopefully, is that for me, my preference would be a combination of both.

Here are some additional thoughts that I had about some of the bullet points:

Having to give my character’s pronouns a lot, especially if it’s in response to another character making a mistake, doesn’t bring me particular interest/joy. Bluntly, it’s tedious and/or stressful enough in real life, I’m not very interested in it in a game. I’m sure it could be written and presented in an interesting way, but I struggle to imagine it off the top of my head. (Would a cis person enjoy repeatedly being asked their name in a game and having to click or enter it each time? Probably not, unless there was a really compelling story reason for it.)

Either of these are OK for me if they are thoughtfully written. I am broadly less interested in exploration of negative nonbinary experiences, especially from a cis author, but although it’s a harder sell, it could potentially be of interest. I don’t know, though… I think I would generally prefer dealing with in-game hardships that aren’t related to being nonbinary.

I think this is potentially interesting. That said: I would be interested in what the intentions are when talking about masc/fem in this context, and what exactly is meant by those terms. For example: when talking about “a masc nonbinary person” is it referring to an AMAB person who dresses or does their hair in a certain way, or a transmasculine AFAB person who dresses or does their hair in a certain way? Either, both, or neither person might use that phrasing so does it need to be labelled - could the outfits simply be described and the player can bring their own baggage when playing? Who is implicitly included or excluded when using those terms? Are “masc/fem” terms that a nonbinary PC can choose for themselves, or are they terms that the game/setting/other characters is imposing on them? Are the phrases “masc/fem-presenting” just making another binary with an extra step, when for a lot of people the point of being nonbinary is that it… isn’t a binary? (If a PC wants to play as a nonbinary person who looks and dresses like this photo of Jonathan Van Ness, are they supposed to choose “I’m masc-presenting” or “I’m fem-presenting”?)

I don’t expect you or anyone else to answer these questions off the top of your head right now! - But they’re worth considering.

When “should people being nonbinary/queer/etc be brought up in a game”, comes up, as it often does, there tends to be a focus on the negative experiences in the name of “realism”. When we talk about “realism”, I think it is worth thinking about the joy that can be had when a nonbinary person can discuss how they feel about gender - with a cis or a trans or a nonbinary character - and be accepted, listened to, and celebrated, especially if they’re in a setting that includes prejudice. For me, that is a moment that can feel authentic and escapist.

I would suggest considering how a small, marginalised number of nonbinary and/or gender-nonconforming, and/or queer people in a rigid, sexist or cisheteronormative setting can find community with each other as they have throughout history (although of course people didn’t use the same terminology that we do nowadays), and how you could show a nonbinary character and MC encountering each other. Regardless of whether the setting is treating my character positively or negatively, it feels lonely - and unrealistic! - to be the only nonbinary character in a game or setting.

On this bullet-point, and just in general, if you have not played Heart of the House I recommend taking a look because it portrays a world - Victorian England - which touches on prejudice without making it an overwhelming part of the game and story, and there are moments in which, for example, a nonbinary PC can express fellow-feeling with a nonbinary character and share some experiences. The Eagle’s Heir also has a nonbinary character with whom a nonbinary PC can express fellow-feeling.

I think it really depends on what will be relevant in-game. Not choosing and keeping it vague is completely fine for me if none of the genders of PCs have detailed descriptions of their anatomy (just as most games don’t). If cis PCs have detailed anatomical descriptions where it becomes relevant, I would rather have some sort of description because it feels odd for it to be less detailed.

However: if, for example, I am playing as an AFAB nonbinary person who hasn’t had medical gender-affirming treatment, I am unlikely to find an explicit intimate description written for a cis woman MC joyful/affirming/hot even if the anatomy in question is identical. (While some people will - no one group is a monolith, etc.) This is something that I have not seen taken into account very much, so I decided to do it. But it takes a lot of work, humility, and research.

I don’t think this is related to escapism/realism, I would suggest it’s more about the characters that are being written and how the author wants to write about them.

Finally - I would suggest reading nonfiction from nonbinary people discussing their experiences, or academic work about queer history. Trans Power (ed. Juno Roche) which contains a lot of modern voices and Before We Were Trans by Kit Heyam which discusses transness in history may be of interest. There is no one perfect way of handling this that will fully satisfy everyone (though it is worth thinking about who you are aiming at: realistic/escapist for whom?), but exploring further and investigating one’s own assumptions will be really beneficial.


Think it comes down to how much work you want to do. Escapism is easier, especially when gender is not very central to the game. Realism is harder and requires more code and research. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable, but hell, it wasn’t easy to code and deal with in FH, and I don’t think I did it perfectly for everyone. I can’t.


Like others, I think context matters. I answered “either”, though I wouldn’t mind clarifying.

While I do like realistic depictions, I dislike when an artistic work promises to explore an idea, only to disregard it. I lot of WIPS I’ve read have had NB options, such as listing AGAB, whether the character has undergone HRT or surgery, and then never bring those traits up again later in the work. (Could be because they’re still WIPs, but I don’t think this is entirely the case.) There is just something a tad off-putting about a 5+minute character creation that doesn’t seem to impact the text, dialogue, or plot in any perceivable way.

I think a lot of WIPs default to escapism if only because they aren’t exploring themes or experiences in being non-binary and this is entirely fine. Again, (personally) I dislike it when a WIP seems to promise the exploration of this identity, only to disregard it immediately after the character creation process.

I would argue that there can be some mixing between the realistic and escapism w/o falling outside of escapism altogether. A low-fantasy WIP I had once been reading had a tidbit of world-building wherein it is custom to introduce one’s name and pronoun, and I didn’t find this as being disruptive to the escapism otherwise present in playing as a non-binary character within that world.

In more Earth-adjacent settings, having a brief scene wherein the MC corrects someone or introduces themself in a more ‘realistic’ way wouldn’t disturb the escapism (for me) either, if only because it if brief. This does the work of explaining why other characters know the MCs identity. I’d say the escapism comes in where they choose to remember afterward and don’t make mistakes (and obviously, are accepting of it).

In more fantasy-heavy stories, with non-binary side characters, I can even overlook random people knowing w/o introduction. I feel it is sort of implied that there is some fantasy reason why others would know.

I think, in short, I prefer WIPs that lean more towards escapism, if only because there aren’t any unmet promises being made. While some escapist WIPs can feel jarring at times (being the only NB character and still being referenced with the correct pronouns w/o any sort of introduction or ‘coming out’ scene), it feels easier to accept this (as a reader) than a WIP that pokes at the identity of the MC in ways that only ever feel inconsequential. I would be interested in a more realistic portrayal of NB main characters, I’m just not sure if any of the WIPs that I’ve read could really be classified as such, so it’s hard to make an honest argument for one or the other. (And I only read WIPs that include NB main characters/only play as such, so, idk.)

Feel free to suggest WIPs to me that focus more on the realistic side, 'cuz if they exist I must be stumbling away from them somehow XD


I do feel that a poll like this doesn’t really… cover the nuances of the subject and different writing approaches. I would be really interested to hear more what people enjoy about the idea of correcting characters about their MC’s gender or telling people pronouns more than once, because I struggle to understand where the enjoyment is in that experience, especially if it’s repeated.

There is a discussion thread here from a few years ago which may be of interest that talks about writing nonbinary characters. Some similar points were made, but there are more details in the responses than can be got from a poll. (I was amused to notice that even back then I was banging on about moments of community and recognition - nice to know that I’m consistent in some ways four years on.)

In my games until now I was firmly in the camp of “not making a huge deal about gender because I want to show that the setting treats nonbinary people as unmarked”. For Honor Bound, partly because I feel better-equipped to do it, and partly because I want to include opportunities for recognition/kinship which isn’t possible when it’s completely unmarked, plus more explicit intimate scenes, I am including:

  • some details about a non-cis MC’s transition (whatever that looks like, medical or otherwise)
  • chances to talk about it with other characters if they want to
  • unique interactions with non-cis MCs
  • optional intimate scenes that describe characters’ anatomy in more detail than I did in previous games, including for nonbinary characters, and nonbinary MCs if they want (basically attempting to avoid either physical blank-slates or cis/binary-focused descriptions in explicit scenes for nonbinary MCs and characters)

I am not including moments of misgendering, inconvenience, talking an NPC through confusion, an MC explaining their gender to an NPC, the MC having to explain to someone what their body is like, or transphobia, because I’m not interested in exploring that for this project. Of course, I am writing in a setting where I’m not restricted by concerns about historical authenticity. (but - I am a broken record on this, I know - researching queer life in historical periods will likely turn up some fascinating people and communities that will bring authenticity and, dare I say, realism to games in historical settings!)

None of which is to say this is the right way to do it, or that I’ve done everything (or anything!) perfectly - @ChibiKittens may be referring to Honor Bound when talking about games which include character customisation that doesn’t get followed up on enough. I am certain there are plenty of gaps and places for improvement. But I think it’s important to bear in mind that when writing about these characters and subjects, escapism/realism is not equivalent to positive/negative and does not have to be… drumroll… a binary.


I’ve been thinking about this since the thread was made.

I would only realistically play an NB MC in an IF game if the game warranted doing so. Every once in a while, a game is made and released that I do not mind the gender identity of the protagonist.

So, what makes a game compelling enough that I would play it?

It is execution in making that game.

No game is pure realism, nor is any game pure escapism.

It is the game-maker’s ability to execute the elements of both realism and escapism that drives my desire to play and replay a game.

The “general public” really has no clue what it wants and doesn’t want until they experience it first-hand.

You can draw from prior works and how they have been received; the evolution of such work over the years is remarkable to see, and I, personally, have a lot to learn from those, like Hannah, who break new ground in executing better play.

I think you have the talent and skill to pull off whatever NB MC writing and mechanics you set your mind to…

More importantly, I believe you have the awareness to execute your game design decisions well enough that your audience will both appreciate and embrace your implementation and narrative.

I feel I should let others speak to the granular details of realism or escapism; in this particular subject, I feel they have more useful and relevant things to say than I do.


I apologize if this has been addressed already and I somehow missed it, but I think it should be pointed out that what is “escapist/unrealistic” for a historical or contemporary setting might plausibly be entirely realistic in a fantastical or futuristic one. It’s entirely possible that people in a different society would naturally sort people into masculine, feminine, and nonbinary categories on the basis of visual or linguistic cues.


I always prefer realism in games. Even stuff that most people hate. Homophobia and the likes sadly exist and can’t be wished away. I also understand when people don’t want to deal with this in their games. To each their own.


But a big part of the problem with the “realism” approach is the fact that what we think of as “realism” is not in fact actually real. If I was to write a story set in America while Washington was president, and I included a nonbinary preacher, who spoke out about gender and racial equality, everyone would think it was unrealistic, but this was a real historical figure. Oftentimes, discussions of “realism” forget to check what actually is realistic.

As for queerphobia, sure, that’s realistic. That definitely happens, and happened, but even then, it’s often overblown, especially in historical contexts. The Medieval Catholic Church wasn’t really that homophobic, and indeed, certain parts of Europe had “brotherhood” ceremonies that were essentially used as a form of gay marriage.

But more importantly, unexamined depictions of bigotry only serve to normalise that bigotry. People see the bigotry, and even if they’re not bigots themselves, they still see it as “normal”, “just how the world is”. A world free from bigotry is seen as unattainable, and thus not something worth striving for. Heck, even the poll at the top (likely unintentionally) is buying into the bigots’ point of view: “Would you like Real, Proper (bigotry) or Fake, Escapist (lack of bigotry)?”

And one of the problems with depicting bigotry in IF specifically, is that how well it’s depicted will depend on the reader. Unless the story forces the player to deal with the bigotry in a way that actively refutes it, that bigotry is just set-dressing for probably most readers, and thus, is normalising it. And this isn’t even about “fight against the dark forces of bigotry”, it’s about “constantly correct people about your pronouns”, which just sounds annoying.


I’d already be super happy about getting the realistic option to choose other pronouns than they/them for my MC.

Otherwise, I mainly prefer escapism, though I’d certainly love more variety in the way NB characters are represented (masc, fem, gender-neutral, or genderfuck). I just don’t care about the things that will make me feel bad. Wouldn’t mind other characters asking for my MC’s pronouns as long as the MC is not singled out as ~other~. For example, because it’s simply considered good etiquette.

Would hate misgendering, even accidental. Plus, how would that even work when, under the principle of realism, we assume that NB people use different pronouns and have different gender presentations? For the author to make sure that every MC is being misgendered here (even the NBs who present in a masc/fem way and use the pronouns befitting their presentation), the writer would actively, maliciously have to code that in, and that’s just… not good.

I’d rather see “NB realism” make useful observations about the variety of the NB spectrum. Not all NB is white, skinny, and androgynous, for example. NB is not just “a trend” for young people. Just because two people are NB, that doesn’t mean that they have to share similar experiences or a particular kinship. Similarly, being NB can mean sharing similar experiences/a particular kinship with queer, binary-identifying trans people.


Some queer people want to experience catharsis from facing similar struggles in fiction. They want to read about their experience, not @{gen man|woman|nb} and feel seen. I very much disagree with this theory that the portrayal of bigotry is an affirmation of bigotry - instead, I think locking ourselves in our perfect bigotry-free worlds can easily convince people who don’t face the same struggles that all fights have already been won.


I think you’re missing the key word of their argument: not depictions of bigotry, but unexamined depictions of bigotry. By simply reproducing bigotry without examining it or how it impacts the characters/world, just regurgitating it for the sake of it being “realistic”, that does imply that bigotry is a core component of reality. Not for any social, anthropological, or psychological reason, but an ontological one. Plenty of stories are able to depict bigotry critically (and they should!), but that’s not what Parrot was talking about.


I’m a NB player. I’m supporting another person’s reponse to the poll, which makes a good point about what we even consider realistic re: bigotry, because ultimately, what I want, again as a NB player, is nuance.

I didn’t say that, but despite the bad faith paraphrase, I also fail to see why this is supposed to be a bad thing. We have a word for when bigotry is uncritically reproduced: bigotry.


It wasn’t bad faith. I reacted too fast, I apologize.


I definitely didn’t mean to imply that, and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. Queer stories about queer struggles are very important, I agree, and we need more of them as well as more stories about queer acceptance. I just don’t feel that adding bigotry to an otherwise completely cishet story is a good way to achieve this.


I agree! It depends so much on the setting and even the MC on how it can be done well or badly. But I think maybe I can use your name comparison to explain how I think it could work in a good way, IMO, in some games:

Usually, one is asked one’s name, or it is ignored, because it isn’t needed, or there’s a reason for the NPC to know the player’s name for some reason. Usually, games don’t get away with a random character knowing your name without reason. It would cause alarm bells if anything, and one would expect a choice of: “How do you know my name, stranger?!”
I’ve heard similar issues with NPCs magically knowing MCs’ pronouns—
Having previously discussed this with @Sel_Lee , this sort of “magical-esque” hand-waving explanation for knowing the players preferred pronouns doesn’t always work (in all settings / with all MCS), and I’m looking to solve it before any other “issue” that is discussed here.

I think one can work on rules with pronouns in most settings similar to those used with names. If we explore the “realism” perspective in other settings, I think maybe it could be good to give this “reason” for the NPC to know the MCs pronouns, or even, in some less otherwise welcoming settings, why these NPCs would care to respect the MCs pronouns. However, I know that sometimes, this doesn’t fit the otherwise world logic / isn’t consistent with the game world. Some lean more into “realism” in some harsh settings. In that case, ofc one should discuss why that isn’t the case. Still, if harder topics are somehow integral then one can get into how to do more complex things, such as misgendering in ways that aren’t generally a negative experience for the player.

If the poll preferred “realism” (which it looks to, which honestly surprised me, but fits what people have said to me lately), then I had this idea on how to solve this in my game. But it’s pretty unique to my setting and MC, so I’m not sure it would be helpful to say. But maybe I’ll ask in my game thread with that specified.

I agree. It’s partly on purpose. One of the main reasons I asked was because last time I had asked around on the forum and Tumblr, on my game thread, etc., people posted they strongly wanted the escapism approach—but I have met many since who wanted realism—but were less willing to speak about it as loudly. I wanted to make sure I got the quieter voices, too.

Yes! Absolutely! That’s why I tried to repeat “for the setting,” etc, so many times haha :laughing: You said it better tho—

This is true; that is why I tried to hammer in the part about the setting. Failing your setting, and your audience for that matter is a failing as a writer/developer/creator. It’s a problem to remember more than most, but it doesn’t automatically mean the topic is off-limits, in my opinion.

I promise you there was no such intent. I did say, at the top, that I knew the terms were less than perfect. I am also less than perfect, and it comes with being human, sadly :smile: But let’s not dismiss the discussion on account of that. The point of this is to find the preferred NB solution for NB players. That is all this is intended for; it would be a lot less work for me personally to change nothing about my game. I simply wish to improve myself, my games, and possible others who see this thread in the future.


Read the post. “Realism” isn’t just about bigotry, it’s about game logic. You don’t have to be a bigot to not magically know someone’s pronouns and assume based on their appearance — that’s just most people.


I respect other nb folks’ preferences but idk why you assume the author will be “maliciously” ensuring that every nb gets misgendered and that it’s an inherently bad thing to code in misgendering.

I would prefer something — And it depends on the setting and world logic/culture, but lets assume it’s modern world in relatively nb accepting society, like a left leaning space in an english speaking country — where you can choose the pronouns you are normally assumed to have by people who just met you, including an option to appear so androgynous that it could be 50/50 or have the stranger genuinely confused, which is my experience as an androgynous nb. If the game is even more detailed than that, you could have a system where you can change your appearance in terms of feminine-masculine scale. Maybe one morning you wear makeup, dress, and pitch your voice higher for the day to be read as fem etc (which is also smth I do). With the simpler system of choosing your assumed pronouns though, you can still play the no-misgendering route if you prefer.

And once misgendered you can either correct them, ignore them, or a person who already knows your pronouns will correct them etc. And keep in mind that this sort of situation isn’t too frequent in stories. Some IFs only have the mc interacting with people they already know for the entire story.

And even if it’s a game where you’re never misgendered, I want there to be a world consistent reason for it. Like the “magic program that lets everyone know your pronouns” system in Fields of Asphodel. Or maybe you’re famous and everyone knows your pronouns.

I feel much less given a fuck about from games that seem to just put in the bare minimum of letting you play as they/them pronouns or have “nonbinary” in your character profile only for it to be never referenced to than games that care enough to add a misgendering system.