Is gender of MC important?

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.


@Havenstone thanks for the thoughtful reply. I think you are right. I should start another thread dealing with the creative merits of IF as a separate, yet related, art form to standard fiction. I am well aware of the roots in paperback books several decades back. I am more concerned about the quality. I am coming from writing, not gaming or coding. Before possibly diving into this I want to weigh the time expenditure for non-writing functions versus the creative integrity.

The idea that fiction is co-created has a few problems for me. It would be like have co-created painting. An artist might make the sketch, then allow others to fill it in. This sounds interesting until you consider the skills and motivations of the other ‘artists’ involved. Or lack thereof. So in the end unless you have quality control of some sort you will get something that might satisfy the last brush strokes of the last person to finish the painting. But it will prove to be a pretty pointless exercise for the original painter who laid the framework. Likewise, if the characters are left up to the choices of whoever comes along they might not have the depth that the author might have wanted. Fine for a game maybe? But not for fiction. Anyway I’m going to think about it a little then come up with my new post. Thanks for suggesting that.


Some very good fiction is co-created with the reader. If you think about something like Pale Fire, or Infinite Jest, or House of Leaves–these books ask the reader to make important choices about what order to read the narrative in, and in some cases, whether to ignore or disobey a narrative voice, and those choices create a significant interpretive difference. It’s not the same as a reader creating their own character, but it does put a good deal of control into the hands of the reader. These narratives are designed to require a lot of choices.

To consider your metaphor, if you get something that satisfies the last painter, that’s not necessarily pointless for the original painter if the original painter’s intention was to create a collaborative painting.


Some authors have also opened up their characters and created world to be shared with fans and potential co-authors. Eric Flint has done so with his 1632 Ring of Fire worldverse. Allowing another to add to the whole may enrich the artistic value. Mr. Flint by opening his creation both to fans and co-authors has made a richer more detailed world that perhaps one author would not have done on their own.

There are authors and their heirs that try to control the creation from birth onward as well. The difference here is that by definition an IF work of fiction is defined by interaction of one nature or another.

Ignoring one aspect of that genre’s attributes turns the work into something else entirely. A Virtual Novel has little to no gaming elements to it, that makes it a different genre then a CS game. Ignoring the mechanics of the game will detract from the artistic value of such an endeavor. Just as an If work of fiction should take from its novel heritage, it should also take from its gaming heritage.


I actually disagree with you about House of Leaves.

Danielewski implies that there’s interactivity, but (to my eye) there’s actually a very specific order that the text is to be read in. The fact that he jumbles that order across pages doesn’t change the fact that the order exists.

(I found it terribly frustrating once I realized that.)

It’s been a while, but I first read House of Leaves by looking through the chapters and seeing what caught my eye, because I had heard that this was a feature of the book. I read a big chunk of the middle, then the last third, and then picked around in the early middle and the beginning. I found it a bizarre, but interesting experience. Very, very different from when I read it from start to finish. It definitely works best as a narrative in one particular order, but I’m really glad I had the experience of the other way.

I haven’t really enjoyed any of his other books.

Look forward to that thread.

I have a lot of sympathy for what Kevin Gold wrote on a related topic:

and I suspect we’ll end up disagreeing on the idea that a single set of standards applies to all “good fiction.” But I reckon it’ll be an interesting disagreement. :slight_smile:


Interestingly enough my legal ethics/philosophy prof back in college believed a 10 on anything embodied a theoretical ideal of perfection, thus he only ever gave out a 9.9 and even that was a rare occurrence.
Consequently highest I ever scored in his classes was an 8.5.
Of course I did and do agree with him on the subject of grade inflation, but that is a whole other topic.

@Havenstone I’m going to formulate my thoughts carefully. It’s not so much about attacking or defending an art form as understanding what it is and can do. And what it isn’t or can’t do. Thanks for the encouragement. I look forward to healthy dialogue.

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Can I just say that I very much appreciate that there are ‘Official’ and ‘Hosted’ games and that each has their own merits?

So to answer the title, I do think that the gender of the mc is important and I think that importance can be, and is, in different ways.

The Official games label have spelled it out clearly that these games are for everyone, but more specifically - for people who have been underrepresented time and time again. And so the importance of gender here is that there are games where you can…actually play as a girl.

To expand, I play both male and female protagonists in games where there is an option but I no longer play games where only being a man is an option. As a gamer you will start to notice a very obvious pattern - the default hero is almost always a guy. Even in generic shooters with no dialogue, the little graphic avatar and hero of the game, with no influence on the situation, is most often a dude. And up until a recent point, if there was a rare female protagonist, she was often very sexualized and usually there for a certain group’s gaze (I am a big fan of empowerment, but I don’t think scantile clothing options for the sole female character amongst heavily armored soldiers and a focus on traditionally sexualized parts of her body were supposed to be a statement of women’s freedom of choice, unfortunately). I do fully support developers vision and artistic choice, and have no qualms with them choosing a male lead for their games, and luckily there have been more and more games as of late with female leads who are simply characters who happen to be female, but it does become a problem when that is the only vision available and basically - that’s exactly what is has been.

So the Official games allow people who want to play female characters to do so and to do so without heavy discrimination for simply being born that gender. There is great merit in that, and kind of a godsend in the industry.

On the other hand, I fully support games that want to embrace the imbalances and either lock the protagonist to a set gender or to have your choice have some influence on the game.

Humans tend to have a track record of being oppressive and generally horrid throughout history. (For you gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, horrifically abusing and exploiting other living beings simply because they ‘aren’t us’ even though they are the exact same in every single criteria that actually matters like being alive and sentiment with a conscious experience and feeling physical/emotional pain and having a want to live and…okay vegan tangent rant off)

I don’t want to say it trivializes it by ignoring it, because having an escape from it all is again very important and sometimes that’s just want you want - escapism, but I do think there can be value in, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with, acknowledging the injustices to these groups of people in games that do want to tackle that instead of erasing it completely. Like a Victorian set game could ignore the fact that women were meant to be ‘Angels of the House’ and could be sent off to mental institutions for something as trivial as anxiety, and could do an alternate history where none of that ever happened or happened to men instead… But, I personally love playing games where not only is that acknowledged, but in which you get to fight against that. Or in which one of the minor or major antagonistic forces is a society that is against you. Or if you were to play a male in such a setting, you get to see the advantages you do have compared to others and then you get given the opportunity to meet these amazing and strong female characters that do face oppression and that have made it just as far as you.

I also don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to draw from real world history. (Even if you add magic, or dragons, you don’t have to eliminate or change the social and political influences of the time being emulated) I personally did not like the Broadstyle flip at all, but there are people who do. I see why there are male-locked games, and though I will never play them, I support wanting to acknowledge a basis in history and fully support these authors. Or to play an established historically important figure who has certain expectations given things they can’t control and again, acknowledges the struggles they have to face. Especially if that figure is say, a women that held power in a time where they traditionally didn’t. (I love Guenevere so much! And one of my own games has you play the role of Persephone.) But again, I also fully support people who don’t want to bring that history into their escapism and don’t want to have to face challenges based on that because they still face them today.

Basically, to reiterate everything I said in the beginning - I love that there are brand standards, and I also love that authors are also given a chance to persue a different vision if they so choose. Everyone has options here, as do the people who want to write said options. So yeah, it’s great. This site is great. These games are great. :yum: And mhm, I think gender is important.


I wonder if it would work to have a game where if you play as a woman, women are oppressed, but if you play as a man, things are changed so it’s a society where men are oppressed? It would at least be equal.

Which is why I support more scantily clad guys in video games. Lara Croft’s hypothetical male cousin or brother should have had outfits just as skimpy. :grin:


It’s my plan for my version of First in @Snoe 's wip too, since First’s modus operandi literally requires them to soak energy/damage to get stronger combined with the fact that he likes to wear very expensive leather and silk clothing when lounging around between missions, now that he’s free from the lab. Since he wants to try not to get his new regular clothing damaged too often he’ll likely strip down to “battle undies” or outfits suspiciously similar to what a male Lara Croft would wear for the super powered mission and stuff, whenever he has advanced warning and preparation time.


My motto is sexiness for all! That’s true equality.
Guys gals and everyone between should feel sexy as opposed to current video game media’s goal of “no sexy for anyone”

No one wants to feel bland and unnoticed. Makes things dull and the player/reader feel less involved.

That being said one persons version of sexy is very different from another. Heck a woman in full plate armor can look pretty attractive just not in the traditional en-femme. Victims of popular opinion on whats attractive.


I agree with this as long as they are wearing real armor and not those armors that have those silly crumple zones meant for looks and not purpose. Trying to do that makes you look slightly less attractive
wearing armor is kinda sexy regardless of the gender of the person or the type of armor
Video game sexiness is great just wish they spent more time on most characters personality than blowing most of their extra budget making zero g boob physics better.
And maybe give guys more than one of 3 personality traits please?

Genre is both important and unimportant I suppose.
For me I don’t really care who I play as as long as It’s written in a way I can integrate myself and imagine I am them.
For other people it likely is important
If I’m given the option to choose 6 out of 10 times I’ll likly choose male but that’s just what Im used to.

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