LGBTQ vs Realism

I have noticed, in quite a few threads, a rather worrying tendency for people to assume that a realism automatically makes a story good (often with LGBTQ issues, but I’ll get to that later). The first thing I think we should ask is not “Are realistic stories good?”, but rather “Are good stories realistic?” and I don’t think they generally are. A good story will have an intriguing beginning, a compelling middle, and a satisfying end. Real life has a generic beginning, an unplotted mess of a middle, followed by an end that never allows a sequel. This is not to say that you should avoid realism at all costs; if you’re writing a story about the American military (for example), you should know how the American military works, or at least how the average army works. But blind adherence to “realism” is also not good for the story, especially where LGBTQ (and potentially other minority) issues are concerned.

For a recent example, see the discussions in this Demon Mark thread, in which several commenters have complained that the presence and public acceptance of a non-binary character, are unrealistic, and thus bad. I’m going to ignore the questions about whether it even is unrealistic (that’s not the point, and I don’t know enough about mediaeval Russia to say one way or the other), and just concentrate on whether this makes it “bad” for the story. I’ll look at both the presence of the character, and the positive reaction (or rather, lack of a negative reaction) to them, and I’ll be discussing the topic more generally, not just how it relates to Demon Mark.

Firstly, and I hope I don’t need to belabour this point, is it wrong to include LGBTQ minorities in a work, even when “realism” suggests that they wouldn’t be there? Of course not; representation is important, both for LGBTQ readers, and for non-LGBTQ readers. And, yes, if this means that LGBTQ people are represented more in your story than in real life, that’s not a bad thing. (This is especially true for gay and bisexual ROs; if the only option for gay males is a bi guy who obviously prefers girls, then it may be realistic, but it’s hardly fun, and likewise if the most important or nicest ROs are exclusively straight.) And, lets face it, when compared to all fiction, LGBTQ characters (both gay/bi and transgender/non-binary) are still significantly underrepresented, so having an overrepresentation here could be seen more as balancing than anything else. And this is true even in cultures that didn’t/don’t acknowledge LGBTQ people; the fact that there was no word for it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.

The second point is about bigotry, and here the question comes down to: should we depict an intolerance to the aforementioned LGBTQ (or any minority) characters? My take on the matter is this: a story about bigotry needs to address that bigotry, to make it obvious that it’s wrong, or else it’ll appear to be normalising, or worse, glorifying, that bigotry. And even then, such a story won’t necessarily be as much fun as one without bigotry, especially for a member of the minority, who most likely is looking for an escape from the real world’s bigotry. Saying “a story needs bigotry to be realistic” isn’t too far from saying “I feel uncomfortable accepting this person without bigotry”, at which point you’re basically saying “I am bigoted against this person.”

What are people’s feelings on the matter?

(@moderators: I don’t think that this topic has been covered before, although there were a couple of similar topics several years back. If you disagree, feel free to stick this into one of them.)


Thank you for opening up this topic.

“Realism” as you define it isn’t the issue all those in the Demon Mark thread are up in arms about. It is more the issue of “cultural custom” and “cultural norms” that is. The argument is that because in our culture “non-binary” gender is not discussed or addressed traditionally in folklore, it shouldn’t be discussed here either.

In that Demon Mark thread, I already stated I felt this criticism was not a valid stance and gave my reasons why. The actual evidence in fact supports the possibility that such a person did exist in the 2,000 years worth of Rus-Slavic history in question.

What I am disappointed in is the execution of that character in the story. The poor implementation of a non-binary character can do more harm then good in advancing all the good things the authors were trying and unfortunately this has borne out to be the case.

This could have been mitigated by a pro-active CoG stance as publisher or by the authors themselves with changes during the projects writing. It wasn’t and hence the harm was done unmitigated.

It is not easy writing a character of this nature into a story; if you ever tried, you can see some of the problems encountered. Nevertheless it is the author’s responsibility to do an adequate job if they chose to do so. If this character was not working, then it needed to be re-worked, re-imaged or re-written. If none of the testers gave feedback regarding this character then that is a failing of testing adequately. Since I know several testers who did provide feedback and I know their testing habits, I’m sure feedback was given

Either the editorial system or the testing system broke down here. Improvements should be addressed so that this will not happen in the future.

Again, thank you for writing this post.


I haven’t read Demon Mark so not going to comment on that, but in terms of other stories:

The idea that “a story needs bigotry to be realistic” would be an understandable comment to be made for a story that is clearly realist or attempting to model a version of present society (most WiPs and CoGs I’ve seen so far do not fall in this category). In such games I personally, as someone who doesn’t identify as hetero, would appreciate an attempt at including bigotry in the story, as it is acknowledgment that such attitudes exist. It would be a stretch to suggest that this basically implies that I or the author am bigoted. I see no problem with “normalising” it in a way as in many places it is an enculturated attitude (again, if the story is a realist one). It’s a fine line, of course, between aiming for a close representation and having any textual attitudes reflect upon the author, but personally I don’t believe it’s good practice to view any [relatively objective and realistic] depictions of discrimination as glorifying it.


As someone who likes his escapism I think stories need just enough verisimilitude that feels consistent with a well-crafted game-world in order to feel realistic without being actually realistic.

No, the best stories are never 100% realistic. They are often set in profoundly unrealistic universes to start with and even for the ones that aren’t. Well I’ve just spent some time arguing that the author of a new Roman Gladiator game better not make the possible manumission of our gladiators entirely realistic as that would be an inevitable downer ending due to the historical differences between the sort of “manumission” gladiators could sometimes get and the partial citizen type manumission some other slaves got. Where the latter is good and a way to advance ones status in the Roman world, whereas the former was a gilded cage sham at best.

AAA gaming conventions we’ve both come to dislike, eh?


I think that this question really comes to two viewpoints; ‘historical accuracy’ and ‘historical authenticity’. I don’t think that games need to be realistic to be fun but I do think they need to be authentic to the times they are situated.

I think this is a no-brainer, if your games has something to do with things based on reality it is not unreasonable to expect some accuracy in it. I’ll give an example of a visual novel I just played:

The story is basically about a noble woman, you play as her, who receives two beautiful slaves. You can choose to court one and you eventually fall in love with one of them. The problem here is not that a person in the noble class has fallen for a slave, we are people after all, rather it was something that happened after. The noble girl then proceeds to inform her father (who is a councilor), that she wants to be with the slave. Shockingly, the father seems to be okay with this. This is grossly unrealistic even in the alternative world that they live in. We get informed earlier on how the father views the common folk as lazy and should be grateful that nobles are there to guide them. Then how does it follow you can be okay with your daughter going out with a slave! A slave, a position, which is seen below then the free folk who he seems to to as ungrateful.

Maybe this example is extreme but it gets the point across. There are somethings that can be so unrealistic that they remove the immersion one finds in a game. I haven’t played Demon Mark so I won’t comment on it.

The LGBTQ community has been victimized since forever is something that is part of our history. I do not believe you need to include bigotry in a fantasy world. But a world, like a nation like Rome, based on our history does have to still be authentic to the times. The acceptance of non-binary persons is something that is new, even though today there is still resistance to the idea. If you were writing a non-binary character who is gay and marries another gay character and this story is set in the middle ages, and the people around them are not fazed by this. Yes, that is unrealistic and can remove the immersion the reader is in. That is not to say the author agrees with the bigotry but rather should acknowledge that it did exist and was thriving back in those day is not too much to ask.


Look, the point is that “realistic” might not be the right word, a better term would be “believable”.
You might be familiar with the idea of “Suspension of disbelief”, right now I don’t want to discuss the whole concept, but the basic idea is that a storyteller pretends that the story is real and the audience pretends that they’re believing it. It is considered a failure on part of the storyteller when some element disrupts this and the reader needs to remind “well, this is just a work of fiction”. And this has nothing to do with realism, any story can fail to be believable whether it takes place in real life or in a fantasy land.

You might also have noticed that this can happen the other way around, a particular scenario can be considered unbelievable because “It’s impossible that no character in the entire place happens to be gay” or more often “It’s impossible that all main characters are always male”.

But to go back to your original issue, are there works where the inclusion of LGBTQ characters might disrupt the suspension of disbelief? Well, I’m inclined to say no. I think that part of the reason why some people may take an issue with this is that we are not very used to see LGBTQ characters in most scenarios, as you said:

However there might be some truth that in some scenarios, LGBTQ people is expected to be trated diferently, this sometimes entails the portrayal of discrimination. Some CoG games have adressed this, there are some differences in having a gay romance in games like Choice of Broadsides, Choice of the Vampire or A Study in Steampunk (I think, I’m not entirely sure right now). So I think, it can be done, it just needs to be done carefully.

Personally, I also want to consider some opinons like this one:

and this one:


You can take that too far though, having it be possible for gladiator slaves to get the good kind of Roman manumission is what made Ben-Hur work and it is what could ultimately make or break that game too in terms of getting a satisfying ending. The tweak to history and therefore 100% historical realism that needs to be made to do that is likely to be unnoticeable to most people too, after all only a tiny minority knows the Romans used different types of manumission for different categories of slaves (of whom gladiators had it the second worst, just above those who were prohibited from receiving any form of manumission at all).
Even with some gladiators receiving the good kind of manumission I submit the game-world would still feel authentically Roman enough.

Ain’t that the sad truth of it. :disappointed:

And the author can show that by giving our mc’s the creative ways to work around it that real people in those times no doubt used that were sadly not chronicled due to the bias of the age. Like Mara is fond of saying when playing a gay medieval Spanish noble, have a sham marriage to an insignificant, yet still (barely) acceptable wife, get son, proceed to stick wife in convent, live happily ever after with gay lover(s). Or if you can be that supremely lucky marry an understanding lesbian.
As @ParrotWatcher says there have always been gay people and I do think the stories should acknowledge that, even if that means in practice that you may be overcompensating.

In fantasy world and full on alternate history dealing with LGBTQ issues should be even easier.

Sure, consistent with the internal logic of the game world and the characters would be yet another way of phrasing it. Having a noble father who thinks of even free commoners as inferior come around to just embracing his noble daughter having a slave for a lover might stretch it if nothing significant happens to make the father, grudgingly, respect said slave in the interim or unless he’s a clear hypocrite for whom doting on his daughter always comes first. But then that should be shown through good and consistent writing.


Is this serious or are you trying to mock me?

It is not about the phrasing, my point is that unrealistic and unbelievable are different things, and while the first one isn’t necessarily a problem, the second one is.


You putted everything in a great way already, Tom.

I didn’t have the chance to play Demon Mark yet, but I played the demo and honestly, a big smile appeared on my face. It’s so hard to see canon non-binary characters, and I got so happy to play as someone who has a little nb sibling, 'cause I’d play being someone that I wish I had more in my life. People should understand that sometimes, players being happy is more valuable than “realism” (you know, being LGBTQ isn’t synonymous of being sad).
There’s many cultures which recognized more than 2 genders. Some Native Americans had two-spirit people. Navajo recognized up 4 genders. Just because it isn’t written or your teacher don’t tell you something, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. Nazi burned SO MANY books, people blinded by their religion and conservatism always do anything to destroy evidences of anything different from them.
I’m non-binary and my sister accepted me just fine. Some of my catholic cousins accepted me just fine. Having a family that actually doesn’t argue with you for being who you are isn’t always fantasy, and not everybody gets stuck into their conservative cultures and religion. As far I saw of Demon Mark we almost don’t interact with the other villagers, it isn’t even clear if they accept us, besides the MC’s family. But not every culture makes a Witch Hunt for things they don’t understand or accept. The thing is, this is not even relevant to the story, this game isn’t about modern social interaction in the real world, it’s about a kid who’s trying to rescue their kidnaped sibling. The sib’s gender doesn’t do ANY difference on the story, it doesn’t affect you in any way, it just gives representation to a minority who many people doesn’t even recognize the existence.
“This is not realistic” is almost always just a “polite” way to say that you’re biased. You’ve played space opera games, super hero games, sci-fi games and still to argue that ACCEPTANCE isn’t realistic? C’mon, many people play games for them not being realistic, to escape from a bad reality. And realism is subjective and variable for the kind of story you’re making.


Jason just posted a good post on this issue which I’m going to cross post here.


Wow; thanks for all of the replies. I would like to make a few thing clear that I may not have in the first post:

  1. This isn’t really about Demon Mark, which I understand may have had a few legitimate problems with how the non-binary character was handled (it didn’t seem that bad to me, although I have only read the first part). This is more about some of the arguments used in its thread, which I have also seen in several other places.
  2. I’m not saying you can’t write about bigotry and discrimination, but, especially in interactive fiction, it’s probably best not to, if just to keep the work fun and fair. (i.e. Don’t have the straight couples live happily ever after while gay couples are chased out of town and/or murdered. :unamused: And, yes, I understand that this would be easier for a fantasy or futuristic story than an otherwise-realistic 18th century story.)
  3. I do agree with @MockTurtle that believability is more important than realism, but I also think that this can be sacrificed to make the game more enjoyable, at least in some places.
  4. If you do want to write about bigotry and discrimination, there are probably better places to do so than CoG. Also be aware that even with the best of intentions, you can inadvertently end up glorifying bigotry and hatred (I understand that the anti-racism film American History X has a following among neo-nazis, who see the first half, at least, as a validation for their views).

Realism is an important tool to achieve verisimilitude, but it is just a tool, and it can be used either well or poorly when writing a story. On it’s own it has no value.

However all too often it’s used as an excuse to oust non-white non-heteronormative people from the narrative. If your setting has dwarves and magic elves cavorting about but you claim it’s just plain unrealistic to have a few humans with varying skin tones then I’m going to raise skeptical eyebrows at you.


Does any one else get the idea that there seems to be an assumption that we have to chose between “make a fair and healthy portrayal of LGBTQ characters” and “being realistic”?

Because I don’t think that both ideas are necessarily exclusive, granted that in some scenarios it can become quite difficult and it might require a level of nuance and complexity that would not be fair to ask from a IF game, but in most cases I think both can be included.


I would differentiate this issue into two very different things: historical/setting realism, and character realism.

Historical or setting realism will always be a tough nut to crack. We have a lot of written records that go back to a certain extent in our history, but historical literature is always inherently biased. Surviving texts will be those that have either been allowed to survive, or by chance been carried through time in some random location lost to everyone who might erase them. Also historians will always be a product of their own time and especially in the past centuries they would have destroyed or glossed over sources that would have disagreed with their view of history because they were clearly “incorrect” because they provided an alternative point of view. Plenty of written records have been lost in this way as well.
Yes these days we would like that this no longer happens, but I’m sure it does. All research has people doing it that wish to prove their hypothesis as the truth. Archaeology is likely not immune to this.
This setting realism is where the conversation is usually concentrated when discussing realism, quite often to the point where the points being made are unto themselves revisionist history on both sides. In an internet argument points are plenty, facts are few.

I would actually much rather have the discussion of character realism. While I want to make my stories feel realistic and throw in details that would date them to the correct time period, that’s not the focus of how I convey realism. My focus lies with the characters.
As stated above in the nobleman and his daughter who falls in love with a slave example, it breaks the setting to see the father suddenly switch opinion without any other input to his character. Definition and consistency of characters will prove an immeasurable aid in presenting a realistic interpretation of any setting. That is to say, if characters act and speak in a manner that they fit the setting, and interact with others in a manner consistent with a setting, they will either make or break the story and setting. It wasn’t until fairly recent times that we began defining identity as something to be shunned. Before that it was the acts, such as sodomy as an example, that would be condemned.
We don’t live in extraordinarily liberal times right now. People will always consider one another with the same lens no matter the time period. The younger generation will always be more accepting of change than the older generation, the foreign will always be considered a threat until it becomes the norm and a new foreign threat comes in to replace it, and so on and so forth. We can see the cycle of society roll all the way from Mesopotamia to us and human nature itself has changed fairly little The trappings change far more than the individual takes on issues such as LGBTQ.
So in short, make characters act like individuals, not some great mass of vitriolic idiots because “historically” society and culture was supposedly that way. In reality we know very little about how the average individuals really thought and interacted back in the day. Anyone who claims to know otherwise is lying.


No, (imo) the assumption is that representation to be “realistic” in traditional or culturally based stories must be suppressed

The setting and the character portrayal are two separate issues but they seem to be conflated a lot in discussions.

Edit: Ninja’d by @Goshman - well done Sir.


Yah, I’d also like to point out that even with the best of intentions, study into different topics or trends or facets of history is driven by funding. Essentially what’s seen to be relevant enough or misunderstood enough to be worth looking into. Which is why we such a lack of knowledge about gender issues in current historical thought, it’s getting better but hundreds of years of Western thought going “two genders one sexuality” plus a host of other fallacies like you mentioned book burning and censorship. If these issues aren’t be considered cultural relevant, or study into how societies treated or categorized gender and sexuality is lumped into one thing and simplified beyond any possible bit of reality, it’s really hurts the study of the subject and our advancement as people,


I have not read Demon Mark nor do I intend to in the foreseeable future but from what I’ve heard it’s a game where you’re trying to rescue your sibling from a mythical creature and you encounter various figures from Russian folklore. Now, the most prominent argument in this game’s thread was: “nb people were not accepted in medieval Russia”, so apparently magic and sh** is easier to handle than the inclusion of a non-binary character in a fantasy setting :unamused:.

I’m sorry, but if you’re arguing in favor of realism in a game like this you need to get checked for insanity.

@Sneaks this comment is not directed at you :slight_smile:


I agree with mostly what you said in your post but this is where I think the bone of contention is. I believe that Harry Potter is not realistic does not mean that I am biased to witches or wizard (if any exist), but I enjoy Harry Potter nonetheless. I think here we operating on a different definition of realistic. The one is about the internal logic of the created word and the other is about reality as what we know to be true in the real world.

I think here we might be talking about reality as in the historical sense. Using the Middle Ages as an example, you could play as a MC who’s family accepts them for whom they are. It fallacious to argue that everyone was against people who did not conform to social norms, as that will be a fallacy of division. Just because society does not like certain X does not mean individual B does not like X. What will be unrealistic is that because the setting is in the Middle Ages that people of the LGBTQ are accepted whole heartily. We get this from the surviving texts, while we can argue about the accuracy of historical texts there is little wiggle room to get around from.

Of course, one need not to base the Middle Ages on our history but rather a fantasy world. In this case, being unrealistic is nonsensical as the writer has the artistic license to write a world they see fit as long as its internal logic is consistent.[quote=“ParrotWatcher, post:11, topic:27311”]
I’m not saying you can’t write about bigotry and discrimination, but, especially in interactive fiction, it’s probably best not to, if just to keep the work fun and fair.

Yes and no. If you’re creating a light-hearted IF game then yes, i’st probably best to keep it light. And no in the sense that at the end of the day, it is up to the author what to do. I agree that it will be awful to have a straight couple live happily ever after and the gay couple not.

I just watched Disney’s Mulan, and I think that it does it well to illustrate my point. It touches on the historical themes properly. Mulan is independent and is not conforming to her what “society” tells her, we do get know during the movie that this is not what is considered social norm during this time era in China. When Mulan has been discovered to be a girl after all, we know (we were informed earlier) that the punishment is death even though the dude does not through with it, we know what society feels about it. What would have been unrealistic is that Mulan revealed in the beginning she was a girl and that everyone in the army is fine with that as though it happens often.

True, it is individuals that make the story but we must not forget the backdrop of what is considered social norm. We are social animals after all with customs and traditions that differ across the world. If your story is based on a real some culture that recognises four genders as @Nael pointed out, it will be unrealistic all of a sudden that in the game they recognise only two.

It needs to be said that the opinions of everyday folk while important sometimes is not available for us to know what they thought. The people in power wrote the laws and what people should believe. But we can infer many other things that are available to us.

All in all, when basing one’s game on a real culture or nation there is an expectation (which I argue is reasonable) for it to be as authentic to it as possible.


@Darkner if you said something directly to me, I’m afraid you’ll have to be more simple in your writting. I’m not a native nor fluent in English and I don’t think I fully understood what you said. For what I understand, I don’t see how you linked Harry Potter with what I said exactly. It’s clear that the type of witches and wizard that exists in Harry Potter, flying in brooms and studying in a secret school with alive books, doesn’t exist in fact. We’re talking about a real matter here, about people identies and how these people struggle everyday to be seem and respected for who they are. Although I think I understand what you mean by linking these two things, I don’t see how they’re linked at all.

But isn’t it at least curious how people only complains about lack of historic realism when LGBTQ matters appears? You don’t need to take many minutes of your time to notice that Middle Age has been romantized in everything and for decades, centuries. I don’t recall seeing anyone complaining about you beeing free to choose your romance in Middle Age-based games (and basicaly, nor in any other game that passes in a period where the marriages were forced by your parents), just about how unrealistic it is to have gay people in them. Everything is just about bards and legends, not about the hunger, the amazing number of diseases, the deaths, the dirty. And even so everybody loved these stories. If your intention is just to make a story BASED on some History period, it’s totally fine to alter it whatever you like.


I also played Demon Mark, but I’m not certain what exactly you’re referring to in regards to the non-binary sibling character. How was this character damaging exactly, if you don’t mind explaining? Or maybe you posted how you felt in the Demon Mark thread?