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

Yes, this is only downer in Diabolical.

Yes, a story can be compelling if the protagonist is not specifically defined. It’s worth noting that most traditional interactive fiction did just that; for example, Zork. (The fact that I played Zork and got eaten by many grues in my youth probably shows my age…)

Sexuality is, of course, completely unimportant if there is no romance. However, if there is, and there’s only romantic partners of one gender, that’s definitely going to be problematic for players not interested in that gender!

I think a lot of genderqueer people would disagree with you on that…

I’m just going to paste part of a conversation I had with @snoe about that very topic. We were discussing the issues humans have with labels, especially with people that, while being biologically one or the other gender, found themselves having physical attributes that left them in a state of ambiguity before closer inspection, or psychologically either opposite or fluid on the gender spectrum.

On to the paste:

The issue of labels is tricky, though. What do you call a chair without its “chair” label? What about wood? You see the problem with wanting to avoid labels?

The same is true of gender. For most of history, if you looked like a man, you were a man. If you looked like a woman, you were a woman.

Then we come to accept that the brains gender can be the opposite of the body. This lead us to transgender men and women. I’ve never made the distinction. Once medical assistance was completed they were the gender they wanted to be and defaulted to man or woman depending on the direction they went.

Then I come to CoG and discover people sit at varying points on the male <—> female scale. What do I call them? All these fancy made up words like xe/xer/xim/xeir, etc pop up that I have no idea how to pronounce.

These are in effect still labels. Labels made up by people not quite male, not quite female and finding themselves bumping hard into the fact that not a single language on earth can accommodate for them not being either male or female.

My preference, purely for ensuring smooth communications is to default to the binary option a person is happiest with. This shouldn’t diminish how a person feels about themselves and while it can certainly be used to attack and abuse people by those less confident in their own identities, it shouldn’t be taken as an attack by default.

So when it comes to yourself and your characters, you should pick the label you and they would be happiest with for communication purposes and for people you deem worthy of the extra detail, you explain how you really are as a person. Your characters should follow suit.

There is no wrong when it comes to personal identity. People on occasion just need to squeeze into a label briefly to make communication work.

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As someone who’s known to be a bit vague when it comes to my own gender. Though I find it fun to play both sides of the coin. And even the narrow edge between.

I remember saying that the choices only matter as much as the writer can make them. That goes for gender neutral characters although you’ll find as I did through the prodding of others that people will assign these labels themselves.

People don’t like the unfamiliar at large so they associate with the things that are familiar. But on that statement you can use the unfamiliar to your advantage. Say if the main character wasn’t human… that frees up a lot of that elbow room to play with common conceptions. The further from human it is the less likely they are to think of its gender as opposed to its species or race. Thusly making it easier to a accept. Who here can tell or cares to be able to tell a male snake from a female? I mean it’s a snake!! Dogs on the other hand familiar but it’s different if it’d your dog or someone else’s. Then you see an ambiguous type person and your brain can’t help but try and solve the puzzle and assign that label.

But that’s kinda dependant on one’s point of view and the story you’re trying to tell.

Good luck by the by.

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I prefer gendered characters or acknowledgement that my character is third-gendered. I prefer the same extension to companions as well; gender flexible companions never translate well to me.

Well, very few games explore sexual orientation as an identity marker beyond who you choose to pursue romances with. Usually, a PC’s sexual orientation comes out in the romantic choices they make (unless the game genderflips love interests), and other characters’ orientation either comes out in their availability or lack thereof, or they’re bisexual or playersexual.

Maybe I need to check my privilege (it may be easier for someone who’s theoretically heterosexual to not care about fitting in with the heterosexual “tribe,” and it may be easier for an autist to not care whether I fit in anywhere), but I’m okay with seeing sexual orientation in a game only be relevant to romantic choices.

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@MoHair, disagreement builds character.

The Fleet did a gender-neutral protagonist pretty well.

Well put, @LordOfLA, and I personally agree with you completely. By nature, we categorise what we see before us, most likely stemming from the basic need to survive (and procreate). No offence intended by that categorisation, as you said, it is later, conscious actions (or lack thereof) that may indeed cause such, when our bias and opinions weigh in.

Times and society change and we must learn to change with them or be left behind, but change does not always come easy. :relaxed:

Well the MC of Undertale is gender neutral so I’d say it can be very appealing. Then again it’s a game in which your gender doesn’t really matter.

That and playing a robit would be awesome.

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Yes but traditional English grammar reinforces binary notions of gender, hence the need for genderqueer and a gender people to choose new pronouns. Personally I recognise my cis-person privilege here and I’m more than accepting of people who need to use non-binary pronouns… Even if that offends traditional ideas about grammar :wink:

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Writing is what lends itself to having names, genders and other identifying characteristics. It makes things easier (at least in English, and the languages I’ve studied so far.) Easier, however, does not necessarily mean better.

A game where you can’t select traits to model a character (whether after yourself or to create someone new), where they’re completely meaningless, would be unconventional and unusual.

Someone really should make it. For reference, this is the closest thing I’ve seen to it:
https://forum.choiceofgames.com/t/i-am-everyone-storyfire-thread/11785

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There are games where you play as an invisible MC. Meaning, in case of a VN, the MC has no character sprite and you are either addressed by name or with ‘you’ or the game plays in first-person perspective. In a few scenario’s this is combined with ‘unreliable narrator’ and leads to ‘the big reveal’ where the MC isn’t human or you were the killer all along. In some cases the ‘big reveal’ actually spoils it for me.
Anyway I think a story can still be compelling without focus on gender/sexuality of the MC. Most games tend to handle romance as a sidequest anyway so it shouldn’t make much of a difference when you cut that part out and play as a gender-neutral/genderless character.

A few games that have FPP with an undefined MC (until the ending that is) would be:
The Moon Sliver
Master Reboot/ Soul Axiom (SA actually has multiple MC’s but you don’t know who you play as)
Starship Damrey

Creatures Such as We offered the option to pick gender but for me it was completely unnecessary. It would have been fine without it for the game itself was more about esthetics than definitions and facts (at least it was for me).

Gender helps intensely with immersion whether you are playing as yourself, or a character you’re making up. I would not mind ENTIRELY if I couldn’t choose my gender, but it’d definitely be annoying converting sentences in my head to match gender I’d like.

As for sexuality-- I love it. Even though Choice Of Games commonly looks over romance, and don’t bother much with it, I plum need it. Honestly, every choice game I’ve purchased so far has been for romance! Though… I’d like to choose what gender my character is attracted to. I think its a major turn off for most people if they’re stuck getting romantic with a character who has a gender they’re not attracted to in the slightest. I’d understand if the book wasn’t meant to be an immersive sorta series where you inserted yourself in, but none of the stuff here is like that LOL

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Diabolical handled that quite well, at absolutelly no point in the game did it ask you about your geneder or how you looked, because you already had a mental image of your character before anyway, so the only thing it asks about is your name.
but that game also does something that I HATE about some choice games, that is having you choose if you are interested in men or women in the start of the game and then have all the romanceable characters change gender to match your preference, it feels like everytime I run into a woman in a game like that the game is saying “hey, did you know you could date her?”

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I think that the answer to the OP’s question is a qualified “yes”. A story can be compelling without ever mentioning anything about the protagonist but immersion can suffer. I think a good style to write in would be a first person narrative if you want to go this route. In this case it is taken for granted that you are looking out of the eyes of the MC so you can project yourself into the role. Maybe something like Total Recall: the Game? One where we, the player, is allowed to live a fantasy in virtual reality but events cause our perception of reality and fantasy to blur. Austrian accent optional.

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If the story is well written I don’t mind not a gender or having to choose sexuilty .

Austrian accent mandatory, one of the best things about the Governator was that distinctive accent.

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