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

For me, I would generally rather choose my pronouns in game and go with the expectation that characters will just get on with it. I don’t care all that much whether it makes sense that characters know them. (I like the linguistics in The Dragon and the Djinn. If I had had the wherewithal, I would have explicitly done something like it in my fantasy games.)

I enjoy plenty of books, TV shows and games in which there’s prejudice, including against characters who share my marginalisations. But I’m struggling to imagine being excited about playing a nonbinary character where misgendering or bigotry (or whatever is meant by “negative experiences”) was looming on the horizon if it wasn’t a game that was explicitly focused on exploring that subject. Unless I knew that it was… I don’t know, written and put together in a way that blew my mind with how authentic and moving it was, and written with a level of insight that I personally trusted, I would probably just play a cis character.

There will be no one such thing, I’m afraid, because we aren’t a monolith.

I would gently say that if you ask people “do you want a more realistic game”, they are generally going to say yes, perhaps also including cis players who play nonbinary characters who may not feel the same personally-affected strength of feeling in either direction as a nonbinary player. I would be interested to see what a response to “hey, nonbinary players, if you’re playing a nonbinary character do you like there being the chance of your character being misgendered” might look like.

Regardless: I don’t think giving a nonbinary character negative experiences is the perfect, or the only, way of providing a sense of authenticity in a game. I would love to see more space in these discussions for other kinds of specificity that can bring that sense. And if negative experiences are included, then it’s worth considering what other, varied experiences can be drawn on. Being nonbinary (even in a transphobic setting!) isn’t just about people misgendering you.

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The problem is there are barely any IFs that deal with transness in a realistic (as in makes sense) and detailed way, let alone nonbinary transness. (And btw I don’t think I’ve ever heard people complain about those. When I wrote MC’s childhood as having faced queerphobia from their parents, I’ve had people comment that it was shocking to see something so “real” but also that they also felt seen.)

As @Eiwynn said, people don’t generally know what they want until they’ve got it. And if something is done well, it’ll be well received. But it needs to exist first for it to be judged.

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Ah - hello! I wasn’t expecting a reply from an author I recognize XD

I’ll admit I have read the demo for Honor Bound, and though I wrote my description as being as vague as possible, I may have subconsciously recalled your game at the time that I was writing it. (Love the WIP thus far btw).

There are certainly other games I remember playing that do similar, though. (If I remember correctly, I think Fallen Hero includes this in the sequel? I’ll admit, worth it if only for a scene I remember, wherein you can hijack a group of surgeons and force them to perform surgery on you. The imagery/scenario is just hysterical, ngl)

I’d say that Honor Bound includes more narrative moments that bring up the MCs gender than many other works I’ve seen, even if not yet referencing more physical traits. I’ve so far been pleasantly surprised by moments such as when Catarina makes an off-hand statement of her parent’s transition and we get the option to react/notice it. And then later on, speaking more with her parent and being able to chat about it (I believe during the camping scene…? If wrong then sorry, my memory is crap).

And while I love to complain (seriously, I’ll harp about anything given half a chance), I’d also like to say that… I’m honestly just happy for NB options at all. Even the ones w/ complicated character creations, or the ones that mostly overlook the identity. I feel like there are more and more published games that exclude nonbinary options entirely. Which I feel is a shame, because this is such a queer-dense platform for artistic expression. I may not have been here since the beginning of the beginning, but I certainly remember being drawn in by Choice of the Dragon, and recall when Choice of Robots was still mostly newish. The queer-inclusivity always seemed to become greater and greater since those starting points, only to seemingly dip with more recent games.

I wouldn’t want anyone reading from this forum to feel discouraged from including NB main characters, even for reasons that I may have mentioned, myself. Certainly not when tackling a project with branching narratives (seriously. I’m trying to write my own linear story and it’s not easy, I cannot imagine the challenge with some of the WIPs I’ve being reading O_O"). These forums are one of the only places I find books and stories including non-binary characters and protagonists, and I think that’s a truly special thing, flawed depictions or not.

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You mean the post that also mentions prejudice and mentions more negative nonbinary experiences under the “realism” column?

“Read the post” is never a helpful response in the best of times, but as a response to something that’s questioning the given dichotomy in the original post—something that could not be done without specific attention to the post’s contents—this is just dismissive without addressing the points about the framing.

We can disagree about the best ways to represent nonbinary experiences without acting like other people who also care about queer representation aren’t doing the reading. We’ve all thought this through a great deal and have varied and worthwhile perspectives. Let’s try to remember that and act like it.

I am also thinking that a series of more specific questions would be more useful, labeled based on what the situation would be rather than put together.

Especially as realism and escapism are rather loaded terms… which I realize wasn’t the intent behind the poll, but is liable to give different results than if a poll were given with the exact same lists but the options were stated as, say, “Discrimination” or “Community”… also loaded, but the opposite way.

I also want to point out that negative experiences can be included to some extent as options… like the queerphobic parents mentioned, there could be options where you can reference that in conversation, for example, but don’t have to; then people who are interested in exploring that can have that acknowledged, but it’s not forced on everyone who wants to play an LGBT character.

As for myself, I didn’t answer the poll because I felt like my answer to each subquestion would be different.
I’d also most likely only play nonbinary if it’s customizable enough that there’s a definite :demiguy_flag: sort of option, and I’m not even sure what such an option would do, so… :sweat_smile:
Or a game that’s actually fully nonbinary-locked, in which case I’d be quite interested in seeing what that’s like.

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I wholeheartedly agree with both these comments and it would be wonderful to have a larger banquet of metaphorical dishes to compare and contrast with each other. I do think there is a greater understanding and interest in writing about trans and/or nonbinary characters these days; when I was first making Blood Money seven years ago, there were very few CoG or HG games with nonbinary characters at all.

Yeah, the physicality is currently more of a thing when getting into intimate scenes rather than in the regular routine. I do have various interactions, but a lot of them are on branches so don’t get seen on every playthrough (and are mostly, though not all, with other trans characters). I have various thoughts about where I might want to add more things in, but there are a lot of decisions to make about what to focus on and how to pace it - which is where some of these discussions can be really helpful.

Unfortunately I’ve had transphobic comments sent to me about my WIP where I have never had that kind of thing sent directly to me before, but that’s absolutely not a reason to include writing about transness. Really, it makes me more determined to do it.
Edit: ah, think I misunderstood the context of the quote, as I think you were talking about nonbinary players feeling seen by the references to the difficult scene with their parents, rather than transphbobic people complaining at all. Still, I do stand by the point!

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No, of course. I’m sorry it was late, and I phrased it too simply.

What I meant was that most games seem to have the “escapism” route. But the poll above appears to, at the very least, imo, show that there is some interest in doing something else (whatever that may be). While there isn’t one preference, maybe there’s a general preference, or maybe there’s at least room for more “routes”.

I have talked to a few NB players who feel like this on my Discord and Tumblr.
Most of these people seem to talk about it similarly to how I sometimes feel about historical games where you can play an FMC, and gender is at least handled rather than ignored (purposefully or not)—

  • If gender is completely ignored, it can sometimes feel like there’s an unintended default. (usually, if it’s a historical world and you play a woman, and there are no mentions or obstacles, this can make it feel like you’re playing a man character in that sense because that is the only character that would not face any resistance/mentions/etc. The same thing could for example happen if you’re having an NB mc that’s more gender neutral—that might contradict what a masc-leaning NB faces and expects (or even wants) in a day.)
  • It can make it seem like your choice of gender is seen and validated and that there is content made for you.
  • It can be cathartic to deal with situations where you were otherwise not the one in control. Or maybe now can confront the situation differently than before / irl.

And I know I’m currently speaking for other people that there’s no way of verifying, or making comparisons to how I sometimes feel playing FMCs in game worlds where MMCs can feel like the default. So, if anyone who agrees with this who is NB, who has the strength to agree or explain further, please do.

No, I agree here too. I, I am sorry, I must be doing a very poor job of explaining myself. I don’t think “escapism” should disappear, there’s a place and a need for it. And there is definitely a place for positive and neutral content! I personally believe that should be the large majority if not all of the content, if the writer can make it work (which I think should be the goal firstly).

I know the phrasing isn’t ideal, I do. I said so from the very beginning. If anyone want’s to suggest better terms I’d love to add an addendum to the first post and we can henceforth discuss under those terms.


I don’t know if my saying this has any worth. But I promise I meant nothing bad with this post or my phrasing. I realise “realism” has been used by people historically to add or defend needlessly cruel content. And I also would never want to take away the joy some have from the “escapism” approach. I only wanted to explore this topic because of the urgings of NB players who have expressed a wish to have this type of content. That is all :heart:

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If the appearance of our main character will somehow be interpreted by someone, unintentionally or willingly, it is up to you how realistic you want to make it. I think our character’s appearance (despite being NB) in a historical genre will receive comments anyway. :thinking:

They hate because they love hate. Even in irrelevant arguments will spew out all their hatred towards lgbtq individuals. Not surprised there. Unfortunately, rationality is not something they can understand. :unamused:

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I understand what you mean and I do think that it’s a good thing to be curious and investigate different ways of portraying nonbinary characters. And it’s clear that you’re asking these questions from a place of good faith! I don’t want to seem like I’m saying “there must be no negative experiences of being nonbinary in games ever” because I don’t think that at all, it’s more my tastes and personal uncertainty about what it would look like/how it would be handled in a way that I’d enjoy.

I also don’t want to end up taking up disproportionate space in the discussion, (I know my preferences aren’t the be-all-and-end-all) and think I’ve covered what I would like to say on the subject for the moment, so will continue to read with interest :slight_smile:

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I myself have always been comfortable with my gender identity assigned at birth, so I can’t weigh in too much in that regard, but…

Reading through this whole topic and all of its replies, it almost feels to me like this is the kind of subject and theme where people might actually benefit from having a genderlocked NB or trans character.

What I mean by this: One of the strengths of genderlocked games is that they can fully lean into the details of the gender they’re representing without having to worry about coding extra variables and paths. And in this case, there seems to be so much variety in people’s experiences, gender presentation and wants/likes that if you want to make everyone happy, it might almost be better to dedicate an entire game to the subject.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying what you’re (@Doriana-Gray) doing it is wrong: better representation and making a genuine effort to listen to what people - and especially minority groups - want and like in a game and what makes them comfortable is always a good thing, and it’s always admirable. I’m just kind of musing on the intricacies of the whole subject here.

(Also, this is admittedly probably a subject that might be best suited for Are gender-locked protagonists an instant deal-breaker to you?, depending on where the conversation goes.)

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This is where each author must make game design and story narrative decisions that align both with their game’s purpose and their abilities to both write and code.

The “extra variables and paths” isn’t as much of an issue as it was a few years ago, because new ChoiceScript features like multireplace makes it simpler and easier to do both “variables and paths”

There is no singular “right” nor “wrong” answer.

Being both part of a niche market and independent (or supported by a “indie publisher”) thankfully allows us to better be able to ignore such pressures.

. :revolving_hearts:

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I’ve never played as a nonbinary character yet, so I decided not to join the discussion at first, but there are some things that I really want to address.

On a topic of assumed pronouns: as I understand, if NPCs will assume MC’s pronouns, it will be based on their AGAB or on their gender presentation/expression. I don’t think basing it on AGAB is a good idea since it may not be obvious, so let’s consider the second option.

Here’s the thing, gender presentation/expression is not something that is exclusive to NB people; binary people can express themselves differently from their gender identity as well. If we are focusing on so-called realism, wouldn’t it be realistic that binary people are misgendered too if their presentation doesn’t match their gender identity? So the question is: should we introduce the potential of misgendering for everyone whose expression is outside the norm (including binary nonconforming people) for the sake of realism, or simply let it be assumed correctly for everyone regardless of gender identity and expression in an escapist fashion? Otherwise, I think it would be a bit strange if choosing gender presentation/expression is available for every gender (which is how it should be, btw), but only NB people would be misgendered.

In any case, I think that if the author has a goal of adding NB-exclusive content, the misgendering issue is just about the least exciting thing they can add. I would rather NB MCs have other ways in which their identity would be addressed, such as, for example, opportunities to discuss their identity with other NB people and connect with them based on their similar experiences. Or perhaps they can talk about their identity with binary people who are interested in understanding other identities better.

Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if an NPC were questioning their assigned binary gender, and NB MCs could have unique interactions with them in which they can help them figure this out because NB MC have a personal experience of not fitting into the binary. This is the kind of unique NB content that I would personally prefer over misgendering if I were ever to play as a nonbinary character. I think these kinds of moments would make the book more realistic - it’s not only the negative aspects that add to the realism. And these moments would also ensure that it doesn’t feel like NB MC was added as an afterthought and that it’s a less valid choice than other genders.

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Another thought about the “NPC knows your pronouns” issue… what about games where, realistically, the characters aren’t actually speaking English? Ones where we have to assume that we’re effectively reading a translated version of their dialogue.

Say, something set in China… no gendered pronouns from old Chinese until relatively recently, and the third person pronouns in spoken Mandarin are still the same now (albeit written with different characters). In that story, in-universe, people aren’t trying to come up with which pronoun to use, but something has to be presented in the text that the reader’s seeing.
True also for many other languages (most actually, it’s just that a lot of the ones with many speakers have gendered third-person pronouns), and if you’re writing, say, fantasy or science fiction, that too might be using a language with different categories.

Or a language with gendered pronouns might include gendered first person pronouns, which might lead to a character getting how you’re referring to yourself with no need to guess.

Even a language like Spanish leads to different situations, from being able to drop subject pronouns and having gendered adjectives, so you can have sentences that don’t reference gendered pronouns that would in English, or sentences where you’re gendering yourself that wouldn’t in English…

So how does that change things around when the NPC realistically isn’t guessing or even using a pronoun, but it looks that way in the language it’s written in?

And for that matter, how do you write a pronoun choice if you know it’s for the reader’s benefit but isn’t the pronoun the character would use in-universe due to language issues? :thinking:

I get that, and I get that it’s really difficult to try to discuss this in neutral terms… it’s what makes polling in general often difficult!
I’m not really sure if there’s better terms for those categories as a whole; it’s why I think discussion is better focused on precise examples. Otherwise we run the risk of talking past each other where people aren’t talking about the same aspect at all.

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I would love to know this as well. I have a lot of characters who speak non-gendered languages. So far I’ve solved this by having the narration “happen” in English (or other suitably gendered language), and whe the non-gendered language is spoken the “live translation” is using “they” and “it” (and possibly “thon”, I haven’t quite sorted out the model for that one language yet, it’s a work in progress) but I also come from one of those languages, so I’m obviously biased. (And cis.)

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As someone who, uh, writes a lot of NB characters (heh) and usually plays characters whose genders don’t match my own, this has been a really fascinating thread to read through!

I don’t really have much to add to the conversation, but I really appreciate the nuance and depth everyone is bringing to it!

For a really great look at nonbinary characters in a historical setting that is just as complicated and nuanced, I would definitely recommend SL Huang’s The Water Outlaws. It’s set in a fantasy version of China during the Northern Song Dynasty (so around 1100 AD), and features mostly women in nontraditional* roles, as well as characters whose gender is much more complicated than even “NB.”

For example, there are several characters who are either “he” or “she” depending on the social context. (And are sometimes referred to using markers for male and female at the same time.) There are characters who crossdress but aren’t necessarily what we might think of as trans. There are NB characters who use they/them pronouns and one character for whom the text never uses pronouns at all.

While some people might put that firmly on the “escapism” scale, I think it actually hews closer to “realism.” Or at least, it feels realistic rather than escapist. (Fair warning that parts of it are pretty grim, and it has a fairly high body count!)

Which I mention here to reinforce the point that “realism” in historical fiction is very rarely actual realism. Our understanding of history always has a good bit of our own modern biases projected backwards. (In other words, it’s just a different kind of escapism, IMO!)

(*re “nontraditional,” I used that word without thinking but I feel like the idea of “traditional” is itself a great example of how BS our usual views of history are. The word in this context really means “reinforcing current societal expectations of gender norms,” I guess. History itself is usually much more messy!)

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To reinforce the point that most languages don’t gender pronouns:

Source, which also gives specific examples, some linguistic discussion, and ends with an overview of “Geographical distribution.”

Definitely something for worldbuilders to think about—things many people might assume are typical often aren’t!—though, yes, at the cost of a rather more confusing time trying to figure out how to write related choices…

Might be a little immersion-breaking…

Your language actually doesn't have gendered pronouns, but for the sake of reading this in English, what pronoun should be used for your character?
*choice

(Anyone have a more immersive way of writing that? :sweat_smile:)

Plus if you’re writing something where they’d be using a real language, probably worth checking how that language handles things, so you at least know… :thinking:

(You could have something like Sumerian, where the split in grammatical gender is “human” and “nonhuman,” but slaves were often grammatically dehumanized, which is… certainly not escapist… :cold_sweat:)

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This is fascinating! I didn’t realize (gender) pronouns were so unusual.

I think it could actually be really cool to read a story where literally nobody uses pronouns to talk about you and the text doesn’t really even use them for other characters, either. Although I imagine portraying that in a natural-sounding way in English would be a giant pain. :joy:

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To clarify, almost all languages do have some sort of pronouns (but I believe some get away with just having verb-marking), but most languages don’t have gender distinctions in them, so you’d use the same pronoun to refer to everyone.

Or you have grammatical gender, rather than social gender, like the Sumerian example where the genders are human/nonhuman, or systems based on things like shape or edibility, etc. Or languages with what are called “fourth person” or “obviative” pronouns, where you’ll use one pronoun for the first person you were talking about and then another one when introducing another person into the conversation, so you can continue to distinguish person1 and person2 without having to use their names, but it’s not linked to gender in any way…

Well, I’m not sure how much you could do with that in IF unless learning a language is a part of the story, or the main character is a linguist (these sound fun to me, though).

Also there’s languages where pronouns are more of an open class, even first person pronouns, so you can kinda just nab a noun and use it as a pronoun, even to replace “I” if you feel like it. Which you could show in English, though I imagine you wouldn’t want to overdo it :thinking:

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Right, that makes sense, I got carried away and used vague language. :laughing:

Japanese does the noun thing a lot, which makes anime subtitles sometimes way off base, when the translator tries to guess if an off-screen character referred to by some kind of noun (e.g. “teacher” or “upperclassman”) is “he” or “she” before they’re introduced. It also makes classical Japanese lit like the Tale of Genji confusing to read, since characters are usually referred to only by their titles and those titles change frequently throughout the book!

Which is getting a bit into the weeds here, I guess. But yeah: it’s complicated!

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You don’t have to go that far! That’s what Finnish does! Without the slave part though. But half the country’s dialects use the official “non-human” pronouns for everyone, and some use the official “human” pronouns for non-humans (usually pets, or especially intelligent animals, but that can be anything, and also situation-dependant) which causes… heated arguments.

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Considering how there are real languages that grammaticalize edibility, I’m now struck with the idea of an MC who’s traveling with a party that includes a dragon and is slowly learning the dragon’s language… and is then struck with the dawning realization that the dragon is using edible pronouns for half the party and inedible pronouns for the other half, and the MC isn’t sure what the criteria are or which one the MC falls under… :dragon::yum:

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