How important is sexuality/gender? Can a story be compelling with a gender-neutral protagonist?


#1

Will readers be turned off by a nameless, genderless hero? The popular Choicescript games seem to have some element of sexuality, or at least have an option of selecting a gender. Is this because readers/players want this feature, or is it just because choicescript simply lends itself to that?


The Underground Society-WIP
Is gender of MC important?
Gender switching characters
#2

I always liked how Choice of the Dragon handled this - one of the options under ‘Will you be male or female’ is basically, ‘shut up and leave me alone’. (Well, actually, it’s ‘Do not pester me with impudent questions!’, but, still).


#3

I would, as a player, prefer knowing and/or being able to choose my gender as it helps my immersion.


#4

I second this view. Without this input I personally feel like a blank slate and wonder why no one reacts to anything about me (going to hyperbole speed).


#5

I think one of the big reasons people play these games is because of the sexuality options in these games (romance is like 99% of the reason I play these games) and not being able to choose our gender kinda breaks the immersion if the hero is also nameless (there would be a lot of ‘them’ and ‘they’ thrown around)


#6

I like being able to choose. If the story’s absolutely amazing (the demo blows me away) and the protagonist has no stated gender or orientation, I might buy it. I might not. If the protagonist is locked to a different gender or orientation than my own (which is almost always a certainty in my case) , I’ll skip it.

Then again, I haven’t bought every CoG game that lets me be my own gender and orientation, either. I prefer story-based games, so the more RNG-based games aren’t really my thing. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes, so you’re not going to please everyone. I would say, though, that one of the greatest strengths of CoG games is in the name: choice. The more choices you take away, the more people you’re going to alienate. Or not. Who knows.


#7

You know, using “them” and “they” is entirely grammatically incorrect in that case, unless there are multiple protagonists, which is a reason playing a genderless character always irratates me in these games. That’s always the go to. The grammatically correct form would be “he or she” over and over again. It’s a pain in the ass, but that would be the right way of doing it.


#8

I think the short answer is yes. In my personal opinion is a BIG, YES, I role-playing and gender identity, it’s a great part of it as in real life. I play two great gender lock games, but you modify sexuality and personality in them . A genderless nameless hero It’s just a creature there that does stuff and I don’t give a damn about it at all. Neutral gender It’s for me a gender too, so I really think should include more in games. But force a lack of gender to everyone It’s to far-fetched, almost no one will felt attached to it.


#9

The Fleet was a good game where because of the nature of the story, you never needed to clarify whether you were male, female, or other. You could imagine yourself as you without needing to make a choice out of it. People talked to you, not about you, which made the pronouns easy. I thought it read well.

That said, your question is about importance, not possibility… And I think the response you’ve had so far indicates how many people want the choice.

@Doctor, I was also raised to find it clunky, but with “Addison, Austen, Chesterfield, Fielding, Ruskin, Scott, and Shakespeare” on the other side, I can’t call it entirely incorrect. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they) Like split infinitives, the “singular they” is something that 19th century grammarians got their knickers twisted over… but where there’s no compelling reason to be as absolutist as they were.


#10

Can a story be compelling without giving the main character a gender or a name? Of course. However, the kind of story this lends itself to is not usually the kind that we see here - though maybe I just feel that way because having a completely blank slate as a main character makes me think that the game would be very abstract.

For me it would depend on the story itself and the ‘feel’ I get from the main character. Regardless of intention, I found that most main characters that do not explicitely state their gender (and even some that do) feel very…‘male’ to me? It’s hard to explain, but many main characters feel like they have been written with a man in mind.


#11

I was identified as female at birth, and I identify as a mostly-straight female who’s reasonably aware of gender bias in society. I’m so, so often caught out by the innocence of my three-year old daughter as she picks up a toy and just assumes it’s female when I’m assuming it’s male (for absolutely no reason, often eg it’s a baby, therefore it’s female. There are two wooden figures and the other one is pink so this one must be a boy).

So yes, I drift towards male in my assumptions and I’m working on weakening that assumption in myself, my daughter, and my readers. It’s particularly heinous when I find myself drifting that way as a writer! Eauch! (The one time it’s okay is when Ursula LeGuin does it. Someone asked her why, and she said she liked writing from “the alien perspective.”)

It’s incredibly empowering to be able to read stories here and say my character IS FEMALE. Definitely, absolutely female. The next-best thing (in the world of IF; CoG demands a higher standard) is non-specified gender, but with our society the way it is a lot of readers will simply assume male, so a lot of the goodness is lost (particularly where it’s most needed).


#12

I like the option to create my character. Even in bigger video games than CoGs, I tend to gravitate towards the one’s that let me make my own hero. There are exceptions, of course.

Trying to dance around the issue of the protagonist’s gender just seems like lazy writing. It’s one thing to ask me to mentally fill in my hero’s appearance, hair and eye color for example, but there’s no reason to not fill in a name and gender at a minimum.


#13

Seeing how drastically outnumbered I am on this subject, I feel a bit of clarification on why I feel differently is in order.

And first, because this post has gotten a bit lengthy, an article that touches on similar ideas. I quite liked it.

I find, in most of the countries where I’ve spent any length of time, I’m constantly running up against this image of how I must act, must look, must think, on account of my gender. It’s madly frustrating. I constantly fail to meet this societal image, and then I’m either chastised, or questioned endlessly, or just labelled ‘eccentric’ - though that last is probably true, to be fair.

Therefore, in a choicescript game, I’m absolutely delighted when, just for once, all the other characters do not care about my gender, or how I conform to their image of How Genders Must Be. It’s such a relief. I think that having a genderless Broadsides would have been rather peculiar, given the setting. But Metahuman, for instance? I could easily picture that game functioning well without specifying my protagonist’s gender - and there are plenty of other issues in the world-building that introduce all kinds of nice biases for building narrative tension.

And I can build a very specific character without needed to define gender, I believe. Am I cranky? Shy? A person of action? A scholar? Tall? Purple-haired? Do I like puns? Or green tea with pearls?

Like @Felicity_Banks, I also have a small child - two young children, actually. I’ve made quite an effort with them not to promote needless gender images, particularly as we are currently living in one of the more progressive-ideology countries. No, I tell my children, your gender does not define which colours you must wear. No, your gender does not indicate which of your toys, or your friends’ toys, you must like the best. No, your gender need not define the length of your hair. No, you are not permitted to only play certain games.

And so far, my younger child also insists that every character she comes across must be female, because she is female. Now that she’s five and can usually guess what the author or artist intended, she just remakes all interesting characters as female, to match her own gender. Especially fun when we break out the children’s books published in, say, 1920.

Her older sibling, six, spends a certain amount of time looking at the old or international art prints that we own, or whatever I happen to have lying about in books, and tries to figure out what gender is intended by the artist. Learning to more or less correctly identify gender of anime characters was considered a huge triumph, to my amusement. And then there are the old paintings and illustrations, from the first and fourth centuries and various cultures. So many perspectives on gender and its role.

So, there’s a rather long explanation about why I’m happy when I’m not forced to define my gender in a game where really, it makes little difference to characters’ reactions anyway as often as not.


#14

I definitely would be.

My preference is for a game that let’s the player choose your gender, but a gender locked game is preferable to one where you don’t know the mc’s gender.

One of the challenges a CoG writer faces is making the mc feel specific, detailed, and well developed while still general enough to let the player make choices about them. Making the mc genderless, and nameless sounds like they’d have no personality. They’d be boring.

Of course if you have a brilliant idea all rules can be broken.


#15

It’s a difficult question to answer.

I agree that a personal name and gender would make the player easier to RP for some people, but I don’t think either is necessary. Take the Mass effect series and Dragon Age 2. Yes you pick gender, and are referred to as such with pronouns, but both are only called by their surname (or title) and except for some few instances, it never felt to me like your gender made any real difference on the character. What made the characters interesting was the personality, actions and interactions with other characters.

To me it all comes down to how the writing/story is. I don’t need a personal name or specific gender (or even be the main character) but I need my character to actually feel like a person. This was one of the main reason why Skyrim bored me. I was the dragonborn, had a character with designed looks, picked a name, race, gender etc. But I didn’t feel like I played a character. To me I could just as well have replaced the character with a scarecrow with a bucket for a head with a drawn on face and nothing would have felt different.

TL;DR:
Not really, it depends on the story/writing. ^^


#16

In most games which include romantic relationships gender is an important thing for me and I was first drawn to COG in that most of their games let you play a gay male protagonist, something few other game and media companies (besides Bioware) ever seem interested in doing, unless they do something such as “queer as folk”, which is a bit too over the top for me.
Gender, in most cases is also pretty hard to miss just by looking at someone, sure there are androgynous individuals and people who don’t quite fit into the current binary, but with most people you can tell quite easily. Oh and you can thank the British Empire for many of our current sexual and fashion hang-ups since high heels, thigh high boots and many other things were proudly worn by men first. Still even if I were to wear a skirt and high heels it would not make me look or feel any less male imho.
After all the Romans conquered Europe in skirts and Louis XIV wore high heels long before any of us were even alive (though I suppose I shouldn’t discount the possibility of ancient beings lurking on these forums).

In game terms not defining the gender of the character would just serve to make me feel detached from them, unless there’s a very good reason for doing so, such as having us play alien characters, as even with a robot who starts out genderless in a human world I’d eventually want to upgrade to a more male appearance.


#17

I much prefer to choose gender and orientation - the few non-specified demo’s I’ve played have become mind-numbingly boring very quickly for me.

From a business perspective: if your game is non-specified or gender-locked male I’m very unlikely to even look at it, even less likely to buy it.


#18

prefer knowing and/or being able to choose my gender as it helps my immersion into the story.


#19

Write what you want to read. If what you want to write is a nameless, genderless hero then write a nameless, genderless hero.

However if you want to write that because you think coding a name and sex option is super hard, relax. It’s actually really, really easy. Surprisingly easy.

Now as you’ve seen in this thread, many people say they won’t read something if the hero has no name or sex. Well there’s somewhat of a solution to that problem. Open your game with a fucking beautiful intro that captivates and interests the reader. Make them care about who they are playing as, even if that someone is a no name, no sex someone.

If people enjoy the game, they’ll play the game. While some people won’t play a game no matter what if their name/sex options are taken from them, some people will put that urge to not play aside for an orgasmic experience.

@idonotlikeusernames What is “queer as folk”? I’ve played a lot of games, never heard of that before.


#20

That Bilbo article opened my eyes when I read it a year or two ago.

I’d prefer non-specified gender to gender-locked.

After reading this thread, I suppose it was foolish of me to consider that as a “higher” standard, however. It’s “higher” in terms of diversity (depending on the imaginative capacity of the reader, which is of course a flawed assumption) but does remove some personality, which is a problem.

However, CoG has “taught” me to imagine a neutral character as female, so now I can read that into a gender-neutral protagonist. That makes me squicky about being forced to play as male.