Is gender of MC important?

Well, it would be good if more people reacted that way, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t… :disappointed_relieved:

I mean, I could even imagine a matriarchal society in which they believe that only women are worthy of actual love (sort of a gender flip of some of the most misogynistic Ancient Greek attitudes), and relations with men would be more of a secondary thing to relieve desires (for those so inclined) or for those who want to reproduce :thinking: such a society might even allow more independence to men who pair up with each other, being outside the direct control of a woman. There really are a lot of ways to arrange social dynamics that would look unfamiliar to what we’re used to :thinking:

Ah, true, though that would take a considerable amount of retrofitting to turn into a matriarchy :sweat_smile: (though its geneder roles are at least rather different from traditional Western ones) as of right now, I’m just brainstorming.


I was thinking more that you could start with one of the nations further away and then we could come into contact with it through traders and other characters from those regions, no? But yeah, since I play male characters by all means keep the main society gender egalitarian. :sweat_smile:

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I’m new here, but one thing has me thinking. The concept of ‘gender choice’ in IF seems to go against the notion of good fiction. In fiction the point seems to be to experience a life other than your own. So I’m Huckleberry Finn floating down the Mississippi River. Or I’m a man called Ishmael in Moby Dick. Or I’m Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. Even in games I am Lara Croft in Tomb Raiser or Frisk in Undertale. If I were given a choice? I could be Becky Sharp and not Huckleberry Finn. But that’s not the same story at all. Or Indiana Jones instead of Lara Croft. Is IF more about being the character? Rather than experiencing someone’s journey. Can their be good fiction in IF without solid characters that are not based on a whim? What do you think?


It is called Interactive Fiction for a reason. A choice of gender doesn’t make something bad fiction. It’s all about letting the reader tell there own story. A gender choice allows the reader to put themselves into the role.

It is easily possible to write good fiction with gender choice just check out Tin Star and Heart of the House for just two examples.


Nah, it’s like “I’m Thesisthysestes the crazy Argonian at Skyrim” or “I’m McEvil Shepard that likes to mess up my companion’s life.”

Being able to play as yourself (or role-play, to an extent) is the advantage an IF has over traditional fiction, but by no means make it “less good” than traditional fiction.


It’s funny that you mention Frisk, a character whose gender is explicitly undefined… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

While it makes sense that a story set in a culture with very strict gender roles (e.g. Pride and Prejudice) would be very different for a male protagonist, I can’t really understand why that would be a problem for the other stories. I mean, would the stories really change that much if you switched Lara Croft and Indiana Jones (again, aside from cultural things)?

Can you tell us any CS games which you feel are lessened by the players choice of gender? (I’ll admit that Affairs of the Court is probably one, especially when playing as a gay male, as its gender roles are at once both strictly-defined and all over the place, but do you have any other examples?)


Interactive fiction uses choice to allow the reader to relate to and bond with the main protagonists in a story better then they would otherwise able to.

An example you use is Huck Finn - a lot of us have read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer in high school but of all those that had there are those that did not gain a lot out of it, or as much as others had. A scene that I was able to relate to in Tom Sawyer was the scene where the boys go into the town dressed as girls and in doing so, they get called out for not reacting as girls are “supposed” to when trying to catch a lead pipe thrown at them. (Or was this in Huck Finn… either way, the point remains) - as the story is written, I was not able to relate to a boy’s adventure as much as I could have if the protagonist was a girl.

The story may change on its face but in its core, it will (if written well) remain the same. The difference is, the author may be able to reach more of her/his audience in a way that creates believable and relate-able connections where none may have existed in a normal fiction …

“Solid characters” is so subjective its not even funny. A solid character is defined by its reception by the author’s audience and a customizeable protagonist is one of the most powerful that can be created. This does not mean the character has to be totally malleable by the reader - Samurai of Hygorai(sp) is a wonderful series of three games which has a popular and somewhat fanatical following and the character has non-customizable traits.

If you ever attempt to write an IF CS game, you will learn, quite fast that a protagonist that is customizable and involves a lot of choices is anything but “whimsical” - I would say it takes much more skill and writing creativity to create a protagonist full of choices then it is to create a normal fiction protagonist.

The story itself is about connecting to and allowing your audience to experience it to the fullest of their ability. If this means it is slightly different every reading, perhaps that is a greater good then trying to fit your entire audience into a structured unyielding story that they may not connect to at times or relate to in critical moments.

One other thing - great character creation really has to do with so much more then identifiers such as gender. I hope you learn that lesson by participating in this community.


By that logic, OP, you could say that giving any choice over the protagonist lessens the strength of their character. Surely being able to choose major personality traits, which many games do, should have even greater repurcussions than the choice of gender? So why single out gender choice?


That’s actually the good question to ask. Which would be better without gender choice? And which fixed gender ones would benefit from not being fixed? I don’t think there’s many that have suffered from allowing gender choice since the player is the MC and is directing the story.

It’s difficult to keep an MC personality on track unless you’re playing a very specific, predefined type character where some of your character traits are already assumed. So lets say you wanted to write a story about Lara Croft (or Indiana Jones for that matter). Your using her background, her personality, responses etc. You’ve got a predefined character (which can sometimes be a down side as it can restrict what options you can give to players.) They’re not playing as themselves, they’re playing how they think Lara Croft would react.

That’s not a wrong way to do it, but in this situation, you’re telling a specific story- it has downsides and benefits. And it can be limiting which many readers don’t like because you’re telling them what they must do, instead of letting them choose. Lara Croft and Indiana Jones are two very different people, with two different personalities. But, if you look at the basic story between these two, it can be pretty similar, (Enter scary tomb probably full of reptiles, find artifacts, get out without dying). Gender isn’t the important aspect here. It’s how people react to it that gives most of the story, rather than a normal novel that goes in a straight line.

The same with others like Moby Dick/Mary Dick- with a little adjustment, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be a woman hunting down the white whale instead of a man. Sure, men were usually the ones on whaling boats traditionally, but if this particular one happened to have a woman on board, why would the story be so different unless you made a point to make it that way? (Ie had the crew trying to kick her off the ship at every turn because woman on a ship were bad luck or some silliness like that). If she’s been accepted as captain, (and there’s precedent, look at cases of female pirate captains etc) the story could be adjusted without a lot of difficulty I’d imagine.

The only other cases I can think of is where you have a very specific and defined world creation. (Like in your example if you really wanted to do Pride and Prejudice: The sequel, and really don’t want to flip the world like choice of romance) Or you’re going for ultra real historical, where gender makes a big difference and don’t want to write separate male/female tracks to deal with that.

But let’s face it most of the choice games here lean towards fantasy to one extent or another. It’s not a large jump to move gender roles around, or just let people play the accepted exception since after someones flinging spells around, or riding on dragons, that usually seems like kind of a small thing. Basically if it lets people relate to a character better, why not?

BTW: Didn’t we just have this conversation recently?


It’s a monthly tradition.


That seems like a false dichotomy to me. Heck, I’d challenge that gender choice is a mean to play yourself - nowaday, I actually tend to pick the opposite sex of mine, and when personality can be defined, I also tend to play characters very different from how I perceive myself.


First of all, welcome to the forum!

Personally, I quite enjoy stories with pre-defined protagonists - then again, I’m generally more interested in the “story” than the “game” side of interactive fiction. More broadly, I think it’s fair to say that there can be a trade-off between breadth and depth (or verisimilitude) when it comes to character customisation.

There might well be times in a story when it might strain credibility for other characters to interact with a male and a female protagonist in exactly the same way. The Choice of Romance series offers a few good examples of this. And that’s especially true if your story happens to be set in a historical period with rigid gender norms.

Of course, gender is by no means unique in this regard, and there are plenty of other instances where a writer may want to limit the extent to which the reader can customise their character’s background. For example, if you were writing a Medieval story then you might choose to restrict the reader to playing a peasant, rather than allowing them to play a noble or a merchant instead. It might strain credibility too far to have other characters react to the protagonist in the same way regardless of their caste background - to the point where you’d essentially be writing three different stories. That said, one of the reasons Choice of Rebels has been so successful if because it includes fully fleshed paths for a range of backgrounds - although I don’t think it would be unfair to observe that this may also have been one of the reasons it took six years to write.


Hello, friend! Time for a discussion on the merits of :rainbow: Interactive Fiction :rainbow:

Interactive Fiction – as well as games with similar conventions like tabletop RPGs and Western-style CRPGs – is about both creating and embodying a character. Some wish to create and embody a character that is entirely different from them. Some wish to create and embody a version of themselves that is appropriate to the fiction. Either way, the ability to choose personality, gender, appearance, and more helps this experience. Sometimes, there are holes in the fiction – like you being literally the only nonbinary individual in Empyrean, apparently – but these are often coverable by a hefty dose of imagination. Or by an author actually preparing for these eventualities, a rarer but far more cool outcome.

And… that’s it.

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Gender Choice Vs. Good Fiction

is a strange choice of words, it’s not like it is mutually exclusive. :thinking: It is, after all, not.

But do note that it is easier to write a story ignoring such a choice, much more so when it comes to IF - that is part of the challenge IF authors face.

In the end, it is up to the author, but of all IF these days, my choice of games are, uh, Choice of Games, because they do take this consideration into, uh… consideration. :grin:


Interactive fiction may have its (popular) roots in choose-your-own adventure games, but the main appeal in CoG is being able to play as a character that you define. There are very few games outside of a very niche market that have playable characters outside of the “norm,” such as nonbinary, LGBT+, or non-Caucasian characters. This, I think, is what draws many new players in, almost as much as the premise of Choicescript and narratives being defined by player choice.

While it is true that many IF works have the so-called “blank slate” protagonists, there are many engaging stories that can be told even through the lens of a character without personality. Many books and works of fiction have a protagonist without clearly defined personalities or even clearly defined characters at all, but they do not seem to do worse commercially. Also, since this is a narrative-driven medium, it is possible for players to define their protagonist’s personality and actions and have these affect the story.

Well, some would say that it is both, and I am one of those people. It depends on if the game has a clearly-defined protagonist, but I think that CS games tend towards the former. CS games feature choice as a main component, so simply experiencing a character’s life is not as engaging. The ability to choose makes up a lot of the appeal in these games.

Also, I agree with the people above that the thread title seems to be a false dichotomy. The two are not mutually exclusive, after all.


As someone who’s also far more interested in the story side than the game side, I still prefer stories where I get to play as a character of my own choosing. I certainly would be far less likely to play a game that I can’t play as a gay guy, for example.


Hmm…a cute if a bit aggressive male adventurer archaeologist in very skimpy outfits. Thanks for that image o watcher of parrots. :joy:

Even then you might be able to pull a Broadsides style world- gender roles flip Though no silly dresses for the guys please. :sweat_smile:

Being able to play as a gay guy is what drew me here in the first place, so count me in on that sentiment.


Alas this thread has been subsumed under ‘Is gender of MC important?’,
which is not where I was headed with my line of questions. I am more concerned to discover whether IF can be turned into something more artistic. But I’ve
read your comments. So new questions. I can see that the
issue of choice, pure and simple, gender aside for a moment, is
critical in game creation. Should the variables of a protagonist’s
character be chosen based upon the desires of the player not the
author? Or put another way does the ‘author’ only have control over
the world, subsidiary characters, and possible events? Does author
have to forego the right to create the MC in order to create
excellent IF? Should IF be exclusively the domain of the RPG?

Okay I’ll stand back and let the bullets fly again.

One of the greatest powers an IF author has is controlling what choices are offered to customize the MC. Creating a Protagonist sometimes limits the customization options an author will allow.

An example from my own project - My protagonist or MC is an individual in the Navy. Navy regulations dictate what the individual is able to wear - to have otherwise would be to take the MC from this world into some other.

This is a huge exercise of power over the gamer/reader and I should be aware of this power when writing. So, when I tell a non-binary person that they must chose between the full male or female uniform, I try to explain that as a writer, I know this may affect the non-binary person in ways it won’t touch a binary individual.

The author will always have control over the creation - exercising that control in an as much of an inclusive manner as possible or with a shared knowledge with the gamer/reader will work to provide more connection and more chance to relate to your game. This is why I feel it takes a lot of skill and creative ability to write a well designed MC or protagonist in an IF game.

There are many games in the CS library which limit customization of the MC and some are as far from RPG as you can imagine - in the sense of genre. United We Fall is a game where the reader is taken through the journey of four different individuals during the Spanish Civil War. The gamer/reader can not change who these people are only shape the individuals within the story.

To this day, the author is one of my favorite authors and United We Fall is still one of my favorite CS stories. The author has a new WiP where you play a Fascist or a Socialist in pre-WW2 small nation-state in Central Europe - the realities of that world and time apply but the author still tries to allow as much customization as possible to reach as wide as an audience as he can.

If you really wanted to write an IF story that allowed the MC no choices, the question is, would that qualify for publication as a CS game? Under this publisher’s rules for getting published it would seem such a story would never get approved. If you write a story that allowed choices within boundaries set - well the successful publication of other like stories seem to indicate that is possible.


It should be possible to strike a kind of middle ground, shouldn’t it? Keep certain elements of a character fixed while still giving the player enough leeway to feel that they’re contributing to the story.

@Eiwynn provides a good example - you can presume that a character with a Naval or military background has a certain kind of mindset. For example, you wouldn’t give the player a choice to mouth off to their senior officers because you can assume that the character either just wouldn’t do that, or wouldn’t have got this far if they were the kind of person who would.