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 Interactive Fiction
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.
Gender Choice Vs. Good Fiction
is a strange choice of words, it’s not like it is mutually exclusive. 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.
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.
Even then you might be able to pull a Broadsides style world- gender roles flip Though no silly dresses for the guys please.
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.
Can Interactive Fiction Evolve Into Serious Literature
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.
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.
Can Interactive Fiction Evolve Into Serious Literature
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.