Gender and Characterization

This question came up in a discussion @princecatling, @HomingPidgeon, and I were having in the Choice of the Deathless thread when I pointed out that in the associated novels, Ashleigh Wakefield made an appearance, and was never referred to by any pronouns, which made me wonder if they could be genderfluid or nonbinary. @princecatling tweeted the author, and received this response:

The purpose of this thread is to discuss whether the encountered gender of CoG’s genderflipping characters changes our interpretation of them, how, and why, as well as gender and characterization in general.

Edit: Perhaps better formulated as “do and if so, how and why do the same actions and dialogue create different impressions for characters of different genders.” (A situation most often encountered in genderflipping characters in CoG).


In my experience (maybe to some extent owing to my agender identity) I don’t tend to register much if any difference between characters that change gender and those that don’t. It’s also possible it has to do with how common that concept is in these games, making it something I got used to pretty quickly. In general, especially given that the dialogue is identical between versions, the gender identity of the characters feels secondary to their role in the story, which really isn’t a bad thing at all.

That said, there is one character who I interpret incredibly differently between genders–Black Magic from Heroes Rise. I first played with the character as a woman and I enjoyed her use of her own sexuality as a way of keeping control where she felt like she didn’t have much, it made for an interesting character motivation and interesting growth (even if, granted, it isn’t the most unique concept in the world–i felt like she pulled it off better than most). And then I played with a male character, and cultural context happened.

Even if in a vacuum, two people’s actions in different genders should feel about the same, there’s a lot of scenes with the character that can feel almost threatening with a male iteration. I understand logically that the events are the same as well as the character, and really the interpretation shouldn’t vary this much, but it seems like when a man shows up in your home clearly interested in sex as opposed to a woman there’s a more pervasive, implicit threat. Especially in the second game, not being romantically involved, the female BM and her half-naked-room-entering ways always garnered sympathy or annoyance–she should probably zip her shirt up so we can have a conversation but knowing the backstory of the character I’ve always been inclined to want to help, to be sympathetic to the fact that she feels like this is her only way of being convincing. With a male BM, I was tense and on edge immediately in a way that didn’t subside until the scene was through.

And I don’t say any of this to try and erase or ignore that men aren’t the only gender that does these terrible actions, but it was something that just surprised me by how different my gut reaction was to what were ostensibly the same actions.


Because I hardly ever choose a different gender preference for my MCs, in my mind these characters are always male and thus are just like other characters with set gender. Of course I know that they can be female or non-binary in any other player’s game, but what does it have to do with my game and my vision? Nothing. So I can’t really see how the interpretation could be affected by the fact that they genderflip.
(That’s just my POV, of course).

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Ah, quick clarification: the question I wanted to discuss was the one in the tweet: do and if so, how and why do the same actions and dialogue create different impressions for characters of different genders. (Not “does genderflipping change our interpretation of characters” which I think already has a thread)

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Interesting question :thinking:
Well, usually I’m just used to the male versions of gender-flipping characters, but there are some exceptions.

Well, in Choice of Romance, I found the monarch much more… well, likable isn’t the word, let’s say “compelling”… as a woman than as a man. I think just seeing an athletic and unabashedly powerful woman felt a lot more interesting and kind of subversive. Plus she reminded me of Queen Christina (if she’d gone bad) in a way.

I think this is probably also why I prefer the female version of the barbarian in @Lucid’s Fall of Daria.

I guess that means I’ve been going more for what I consider to create stereotype-busting representation in my games, because I like to read that, which is a bit more of a conscious choice :thinking:

Oh, on the other hand, I definitely remember in @Gower’s A Midsummer Night’s Choice, I always got the feeling of the knight as “a sweet older lady with a military background,” and I don’t think the male version would necessarily have carried all the same connotations.


I usually make my NPCs male and my PCs female. But, I do think gender does impact how some people see the character. I remember people complaining about how the CoR female queen shouldn’t have been able to pick up the male MC. They probably pictured most females as smaller than males which is mostly true where I am from.

Gender can be seen in a social way if you know that historically males and females weren’t treated the same. This might be why people see differences in the same action in historical type games like CoR or in modern ideas about gender like females being more likely to be assaulted than males in a non prison environment.

There could be biological differences. In the Modern Majesty WIP, your prison gladiator roomate and friend died and you had to take care of the child that was left behind. This child seemed to be the result of a one night stand. I felt more responsibility/sympathy for the female’s child better because we actually knew it was her’s compared to the male’s which could have been anyone’s.

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I do miss the WIP, such an intriguing premise.

(Not chiming in with an opinion, just adding another factor that might not be considered enough). There’s also the aspect of people reading gender into places where it doesn’t exist. For example, two of the more common complaints of Congresswolf were “why do you have to play as a man?”, and “why do you have to play as a woman?” (We should see the problem already, but for the sake of clarity, the author specifically never genders the PC.)


I do agree that an effective way to approach gender is by considering the social angle. How is a character influenced by the way other characters treat them based by their gender? It’s less sticky than getting into the psychological differences between genders, without glossing over how men, women, and non-binary people are treated differently based on a setting.

I find it interesting to see how different games approach gender flipping. I just finished playing Slammed! twice, and the game does a good job gender flipping most of the cast based on whatever your PC is a man or a woman. One character especially comes off as more menacing due to his misogyny, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a couple new dialogue options pop up because of it.

Meanwhile, there was one Hosted Games demo that rubbed me the wrong way, because when it gender flipped the PC’s workplace, the gender dynamic didn’t translate smoothly, and I wasn’t convinced that it was more than a pronoun flip. I don’t know if I want to name names though.

And more on the player’s side, I sometimes encounter characters and wonder whatever they’re gender flipped or locked. Sometimes my intuition is right, but A Midsummer Night’s Choice caught me off guard with one twist that I should’ve saw coming, especially since I was playing a male character.


CotD has been out for a long time now but I’m still gonna put spoiler blurs anyway just in case. I replayed twice for this and I find it a bit funny how a lot of other people seem to have trouble not becoming a skeleton while I try to become a skeleton and somehow manage to fail and stay fleshy in the end (by funny I mean annoying because I need skeletons). Also just a bit of Craft Sequence meta

At first I kind of just felt like ‘Wakefield is rich, white, and conventionally attractive, of course they’d be a jerk regardless of gender’ but then I started thinking more about Wakefield’s psyche but I couldn’t really put my thoughts down in the right words until I read the beginning of this post on Max Gladstone’s blog last night and things finally started to click together (things about m!romanced!Wakefield first really and then I managed to figure out the other stuff after)

I feel like Wakefield’s behavior could be read for any gender but the reasoning for it would be different depending on what gender Wakefield is

For a male Wakefield, I feel it’s a toxic masculinity thing, especially when paired with a romanced male MC (which I’ll also touch on in a bit)

For a female Wakefield, I feel like it could be a combination of internal stuff and external (possibly workplace) pressure. The wizard lawyers as a whole are always called Craftsmen, not Craftspeople or even possibly Craftswomen. This probably wasn’t the intention, but it makes it feel like it might be a male dominated field. Through examples like Elayne Keverian (at least in Three Parts Dead anyway, I haven’t finished Last First Snow yet), Madeline Ramp, Tara’s former classmate Daphne, and Wakefield themself, ambition and disaffectedness seem to be desirable traits in Craftsmen, and those traits are also typically masculine coded. Since there’s pressure for real world women to act in certain male-coded ways but ‘not too much’ in those ways and the Craft Sequence mirrors reality in many ways, I’d imagine a female Wakefield (and Craftswomen in general) to have pretty similar pressures

For a nonbinary Wakefield, I’m not entirely sure how they’d experience the outside world because I haven’t put as much thought into it and also because I feel like a lot would depend on what gender they are specifically whether it’s genderfluid, agender, bigender, or something else (for clarification if anyone needs it, nonbinary is both an identity itself and an umbrella term. I consider myself male-aligned nonbinary/a nonbinary trans man and have friends who are genderfluid, more female-aligned, genderqueer, etc and, while there are some similarities, we have very different experiences with gender and how people perceive us)

Back to male Wakefield being romanced with a male MC, in the scene where you’re asked what Wakefield is to you exactly and you choose the option of being attracted to them, is says “You’re pretty sure the attraction’s mutual, but neither of you have done anything about it. Anything either of you said would amount to an admission of weakness, and he’s the last person in front of whom you’d dare show weakness.” This could be read in a lot of different ways, but, because of personal experiences, I read it as a combination of toxic masculinity and possibly internalized homophobia because of the typical societal expectations of weakness =
not masculine and attraction to men = not masculine. Even without the attraction to men bit, there’s also showing emotion = not masculine therefore showing emotion = weakness

Also, in the end if you both fail to save Wakefield and become a skeleton and you ask “You don’t mind what I’ve become?” Wakefield replies “People stare at you in the street. But, if you’ll pardon the language, fuck them.” Not something that appears explicitly in canon, but, while they’re talking about being partly skeletonized, I feel like if you interpret Wakefield as trans and/or nonbinary, that answer kind of has another level to it

Also, I share a lot of @HomingPidgeon’s views on Black Magic. As for Lucky, I never really got into their character enough to form much of an opinion so I didn’t see much difference in them between male and female. However, I read the interaction between Lucky and Black Magic in The Hero Project specifically as masculine. It’s been a while since I last played, but that interaction felt a bit like a contest between them on who can out-macho the other (not exactly the best description, but I at least felt like the situation (at least on BM’s end anyway) was more to prove something to themselves than about the MC) and get the romantic interest. I’ve also seen a lot more love triangles where two guys are fighting over a girl than vice versa in mainstream media so that also probably plays a part in how I interpreted it


People like connecting the dots, even if those dots don’t connect. The need to see a pattern in something random, (astronomy being an example, or seeing shapes in the clouds)

So when someone sees a genderfluid individual such as myself they struggle to connect the dots. They see my punkish clothes and overall style and weigh it against my waif-like frame and girlish face and come up with an answer on their own… which 50% of the time is wrong cause I tend to switch it up regularly.

Even a character within my RP that is non-binary is often referred to as HE by my readers simply because of the patterns presented . Manic behaviour, morally flexible, slightly murderous, among their many traits.

So perhaps the difference in a character when they’re genderflipped is the patterns our brain wants to associate with that gender as opposed to what’s written down?


I’ve just completed Last First Snow!

Regarding that book, have you noticed that there’s a character who was rarely referred to with a pronoun until the mid-point? Based on what happened later (which I won’t talk about further unless I knew you’ve completed it) and now that I knew about Wakefield’s appearance in Four Roads Cross, I couldn’t help but think that was a deliberate move by the author himself.

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I’ll keep an eye out for that character when I get back to Last First Snow! :open_mouth: Going back to Full Fathom Five before I get back to Last First Snow since I went all out of order. Gonna need to read it again from the beginning anyway since there was so much going on when I first started reading it that everything that happened at the time is just a blur and I hardly remember anything that happened in the book…

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A small correction: I skimmed through Last First Snow and did saw gendered terms and pronouns used. However, the character was referred to a lot more times by name that I misinterpreted it as it never used. I wonder if you would feel the same way as I did once you read what happened to that character.

I’m reading the books chronologically and gonna begin Two Serpents Rise soonish. I’m already excited when I saw who gonna be the main character, haha.

All right, I hijacked the thread enough since I don’t really have any opinions to contribute to the topic at hand that was different than what’s posted already. I’m gonna back out now.