Good day Choice of Games community and I have been working on a story lately and I have a couple questions for writing for a player who chooses to identify as non-binary.
Disclaimer: I have no problems whatsoever with people who identify as non-binary and I sincerely apologize if any content in this post if seen was seen as offensive for non-binary people
I am currently working on a superhero book wherein superhumans are discriminated by society on a large scale and the player is a person who developed superpowers (which will be selected by the player) during their college years. After surviving a dreadful final year in college due to the prejudice they face as a superhuman, they are sent to a well-known training center and school for superhumans where the player can be trained as a superhuman paramilitary unit (which is the only job where superhumans are not discriminated in). This is where some problems arise.
Problem One: Dorm Choice
My first problem is that the player gets to select a dorm. In an attempt to keep the story as grounded as possible, I made it clear that the dorm areas in the training center were built before the concept of non-binary people were even conceived, and that the center has never gotten an nb student until the player arrived. The player (if non-binary) will have to select whether they will stay in the girls’ dorm or the boys’ dorm, or have it be randomly selected.
Although I tried to make it so that the characters say that the dorms are divided by biological gender, I have an underlying fear that this will offend some folks eve though I have no intentions to do so. I am asking for any feedback on this part just to check if anyone is offended by it.
The player’s dorm will dictate who their superior will be, and both superiors have their own personalities as well as events and I feel as though incorporating a third, non-binary superior somewhat destroys the dynamic (sorry if this offended you) because of my plans for the two dorm superiors in the story.
Problem 2: Name choices
Probably the least of my concerns since this just deals with the name choices for the player (of course the player can type in their own custom name). Do I put in masculine and feminine names (ex. Elias, Peter; Brittany, Holly) or do I give gender-neutral names (Kiran, Alex).
I am overall unfamiliar with the concept of non-binary people since I have never met one in real life and I even learned about non-binaries in the first place through choice of games and any feedback will be appreciated.
1.) Don’t divide dorms by gender. Instead, ask the player whether they want to room with men, women, or non-binary folx - or whether they don’t care. Gendered dorms might be a reality in reality, but they cause more problems that they’re worth in interactive fiction with non-binary characters. Don’t force non-binary players to have a unique experience if that experience is negative and binary players don’t have to face it too.
2.) You can do whatever you want for names. Creme de la Creme, a recent release, has multiple characters their either use one unisex name or gender-variant names.
Since each of the dorms has a superior, couldn’t you introduce those characters early and then just ask the player whether they’d rather be under Alice’s or Bob’s supervision? Then I wouldn’t mention at all the dorms being gendered — there’s the room where Alice’s trainees are staying, and the room where Bob’s are. Let players assume what they want. Or if you’re going to be able to interact individually with some of the other trainees, introduce those characters first and ask the player whether they’d rather board with Lily and Catherine or with Tom and Alan.
So, to sum up, I’d say give players a choice (all players, not just those playing as a non-binary character) but don’t make it about gender. The player is free to make the decision based on gender if they wish, but also on personality, who they get along with better, etc.
Let me just start by saying that I don’t find this question offensive in the slightest. When you’re writing about something you’re not familiar with, the best practice is to always ask people who have lived those experiences. Which is what you’re doing here.
To address Problem One:
The easiest solution would be to not divide dorms by gender. It is becoming increasingly more common for dorms to be coed. When I was in university, only one hall wasn’t coed, and by my final year its use was phased out completely. You could just have two coed dorms that a player can choose from based on something that isn’t gender. (Maybe they pick based upon who the dorm superior is. Or maybe each dorm has an LLC associated with it that the MC can choose from.)
If your setting is traditional enough where you really can’t imagine the dorms being coed but still liberal enough where a nonbinary student won’t be forced into a dorm that matches their sex assigned at birth, the easiest way to avoid problems would be to 1) specify that the dorms are divided by gender–not sex (this eliminates the suggestion that binary trans students will be forced into dorms that misgender them) and 2) do what you’ve already suggested: allow the player to choose which dorm they would prefer to stay in. (I actually do like the possibility of randomizing it, but if you do that, I would add a little bit of narration clarifying that they weren’t assigned by their biological sex.)
I would maybe do something like:
Due to your unique situation, administration has asked you where you’d feel most comfortable living on campus. You told them:
I would like to stay in the male dorm; I am male-aligned.
I would like to stay in the female dorm; I am female-aligned.
Although I am neither male or female-aligned, I would like to stay in the male dorm.
Although I am neither male or female-aligned, I would like to stay in the female dorm.
I don’t care where I’m housed, I tell them I’ll take an assignment wherever there’s room.
Whatever you do, I would consider having at least one other student in the dorm be nonbinary, as not to single out the player for their identity. Being the first nonbinary student in a college may be an interesting idea to explore, but it may not be for the best due to you being cis and not having a lot of knowledge of the trans community.
To address Problem Two:
Honestly, it’s up to you! You could let them choose from a list of traditionally male (e.g. Elias and Peter), traditionally female (e.g. Brittany and Holly), or gender neutral names (e.g. Kiran and Alex). Or you could just give them a list of names that are a mix of traditionally male, traditionally female, and gender neutral (e.g. Elias, Peter, Brittany, Holly, Kiran, and Alex).
Also, a small note on terminology: it’s typically best not to refer to nonbinary people as “nonbinaries”. “Nonbinary people” or variations of it works just fine! Making it plural is like calling gay people “the gays”–it just generally comes across as offensive.
First of all, thank you all for the feedback thus far.
Okay so I will first go over the answers for the first problem
I like this idea because I am currently working on adding more RO options because the range of ROs is rather narrow right now, so your feedback will be put into heavy consideration during this process. As for the room (I assume you refer to a roommate), I have made the characters say that the student body (at least in the player’s batch) has 15 members, the dorms were designed back when the academy had a larger number of students because back then, superhumans were not discriminated against. The player will likely be a special snowflake and have a room for themselves. It also kind of clears things up a bit when it comes to gender.
This may be a good second choice because although I am currently leaning more toward the dorms being divided biologically(The dorms and universities in my area tend to be divided between girls and boys). If I were to apply this to the story, it will most likely depend on what superior the player chooses (I forgot to mention the more specific responsibilities of the superior. Your chosen superior will act as a team leader during the player’s superhero operations and somewhat like a prefect back at the dorm).
This is the most likely direction: the dorms are based off sex, a person’s biological gender. I am pretty sure that every human being has organs so I will probably give no option for it to be random since it pretty much makes zero sense. I will make sure that the game states that these are by biological gender and include a non-binary character who will automatically be part of whatever dorm the player chooses.
Okay first, I have to congratulate @RoAnnaSylver for being the first ever nonbinary I have met.
Thank both you for telling me the proper way to show a nonbinary person in plural form before I could embarrass myself. I will make a quick edit on my post. My only question is if you spell it with a hyphen between ‘non’ and ‘binary.’
Hey, thanks for listening, and I’m not going to spend too long on this, but deciding the dorms based on “biological gender” is… likely going to alienate any nonbinary players. I promise, there will be nonbinary people playing your game, and we really don’t like being categorized by whatever others may think is ‘in our pants.’ I would strongly suggest having the dorms just be by gender and letting the players pick which one. (Can’t there be 3? Male, female, and nonbinary? Seems like that might solve it right there.) That’s all!
ALSO: I see in your synopsis that the dorms were built “before the idea of nonbinary people was conceived” - this… does not make sense, realistically. We’ve always been around, in every culture (until white/western colonialism happened, erasing much of our history). We’re being more accepted in the mainstream thanks to mass communications, but I assure you, we’ve been around.
Thank you for your for the heads-up, perhaps I will go for the second option: dorms being separated by the player’s choice of dorm superior. The dorms will be co-ed and the only difference between them will be the superior who oversees it’s members. I have though
I specifically chose this because I have already have some plans in place for the dorm superior and yes, I have considered a non-binary dorm superior, but I felt as though they would look like some sort of third wheel in my plans who feels like pure filler, and I know that nonbinaries deserve a better character to represent them. I will perhaps make two non-binary characters (who are also ROs) to match with the two male and female characters (Not including the two superiors).
I will do my best to give a story that nonbinaries will enjoy because my story is about discrimination and prejudice, and closing it for nonbinaries would otherwise make thestory rather hypocritical.
That sounds like a good solution. Thanks for listening. (Honestly though, I’d be fine even with a 1-dimensional nonbinary character as well as the 2 others. We contain the full range of the human experience too, and it’s just nice seeing us in the background too, treated as entirely normal, boring people, lol)
I do see in another reply you’re more likely to go with MC choosing their preferred Superior, which is great, because the above would also alienate trans identities, whether that’s PC or NPCs.
I remember @HannahPS having a lot of back and forth when initially planning Crème, and in the end the only trans-and-nb inclusive option she was happy with was totally mixed dorms with gender just not being a considered factor in the setting. A couple of players have commented on that but only a minority, most seem happy with that setup!
Ah, Creme De La Creme! I bought that game yesterday and I absolutely enjoyed it!
Going back to the topic, I can confirm that the current direction of the dorms will be not have gender as a factor at all just like how Hannah did it. Thank you for the feedback, because I am (perhaps) in a similar stage of trying to make it inclusive for a wide variety of readers