Is gender of MC important?

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.

1 Like

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.


It’s “United we Stand” and that one is shaping up to be one of my favourites.
The one you’re referring to is his earlier work, “Divided we Fall”, which is quite good but I personally really, really like being able to customize and define my mc.

Then again I ended up here because I was trying to find games with a gay male protagonist I could relate to and have since been spoiled by CoG to the point where I prefer to create my own mc’s.

Too bad US Navy regulations don’t dictate male divers wear speedo’s most of the time. :sweat_smile: :disappointed:

a) People change. b) If they’ve got PTSD and/or after a particularly hellish or senseless battle I can imagine such a thing could happen. It’s not used lightly however if you go for a serious tone. If you go for stuff like “Blackadder goes forth” that again changes things.


True. I was imagining in a general sense of ‘what if the player wants to be a jerk to everyone?’, not in a specific plot-driven situation.

Many of the CS games here allow the player to choose which stats to boost and which to neglect, such as Choice of the Dragon and the CoG games in general. But there are also CS games that already have a set protagonist, usually under the Hosted Games label. I think it depends on whether the story the author wishes to tell can only work with a set protagonist or can work with a wide variety of protagonists.

That said, interactive fiction, at least in this forum and the affiliated companies, is mostly about the player’s choices controlling the story. So, if you wished to create a game that had a very set storyline and the player could only use a character with a specific skillset, personality, and cannot control how the character responds to situations, it might as well be a traditional novel. If the purpose of a game is simply to guide the PC through something they have no choice over and the player cannot decide anything, I think it shouldn’t be grouped under “interactive.”

The author still has power over what choices they offer to the player, but the player should still have some sort of say in what happens to the protagonist. Since IF usually does not contain graphics, there is no way for us to deliver the sort of RPG that many people play.

The author does not have to give the player absolute free rein over everything about the protagonist. But the player should still be able to have some choice and some control over the protagonist and the protagonist’s actions/thoughts, since it is interactive fiction.

Excellent IF is subjective, but since the author still writes the consequences of every choice, they still have control over the possible MCs that the players can create. Authors don’t have to forgo anything. The market, however, is another story.

Which definition of artistic are we using? IF is artistic in its own right, I think.

Feel free to start a thread on whether IF can be good/artistic/lilterary fiction–I don’t think there’s an existing one, though some of the writing/content threads touch on it. Any thread titled “gender choice,” on the other hand, is likely to be rolled into one of the majillion existing discussions on the topic, as yours was.

There’s room in IF for a wide range of approaches, all of which can produce good fiction. CoG’s standard approach is to make the choice of gender (and race and orientation) as unimportant to the plot as possible. As Jason recently said, CoG publishes IF in which

This seems eminently artistically defensible–unless we’re narrowing our vision of what is “artistic” or “literary” to a particular idea of what main characters should be and do (probably borrowed from a particular set of ideas about what makes a good novel).

The broader issue of author agency versus reader agency is worth a separate thread. But briefly, I don’t think there’s one true way or that IF should be “exclusively the domain” of anything.

Some authors will treat their readers as co-creators, posing choices that affect not just the MC’s actions but the MC’s history and certain features of the world. Others will stick to letting the reader choose only the things the MC would in fact control.

It would also be possible, though perhaps not popular, to write an IF where the reader doesn’t change anything but merely explores an existing set of characters–where the purpose isn’t to change the outcome but to understand it.

I don’t think any of these are inherently artistic or artless. They’re different approaches, any of which could be realized artfully.


@EclecticEccentric thanks for taking the time to answer me. I don’t actually think that IF should just mimic the traditional novel. But it should learn some serious lessons from it. I do think that the character at the beginning should be a stable author created creature. I think the interactivity should come in the choices and in the outcomes and that that character should lose (or gain) something as a result of choices. I’m not going to defend this now. But I am going to take Havenstone’s advice below and start a new thread. So look for that soon. I think my intentions will be a little clearer then.