Jan 09

2010

Gender in Choice of the Dragon

Posted by: Adam Strong-Morse | Comments (27)

We discussed the treatment of gender extensively as we were planning our first game.  I self-identify as a feminist, and I’ve worked to promote equality for the LGBT community in my non-gaming professional life.  So I started off with a firm commitment to the idea that our games had to be good on gender issues.

Many video games assume a male protagonist, and I actively wanted to avoid that presumption.  At the same time, our games require a certain amount of identification between the player and the character.  A game that’s written in the second person runs into problems if the player can’t accept that “you” means both the character and the player.

Once we settled on a dragon as the protagonist of our first game, “Choice of the Dragon,” many of the gender issues became easy.  No need at all for us to assign a sex to the player’s dragon—it’s perfectly easy to ask the player what their dragon’s sex is.  Likewise, even the mating scene could be done in a purely gender-neutral way.  Players who wanted to play a straight male dragon could.  Players who wanted to play a female dragon seeking a female mate could.  And people who wanted to leave that whole issue vague could as well.

The next step was simply being conscious about the genders we assigned to the various other characters that the player meets.  We (or at least I, without objection from the rest of the team) wanted to make sure that we didn’t apply patriarchal assumptions about the gender of a knight or a wizard.  We did end up switching around the genders of the dragon’s clutchmate and the evil wizard, but that was just because Dan thought that Axilmeus was more of a male dragon’s name.

The biggest sticking point was really the most iconic.  Dan was committed to the idea that dragons kidnap princesses.  From his perspective, that was a necessary trope in the fire-breathing dragon genre.  I was equally committed to the idea that kidnapping princesses but not princes conveys a message of dependence and incompetence about women that was not acceptable.  We ended up deciding to directly confront the player with it with a choice, which we thought was sufficiently amusing to put into our screenshots for promoting the mobile versions.  Working on balancing the issues between using tropes and avoiding the long and ugly history of patriarchy in fantasy ended up producing fun gameplay.

Handling gender in our next game, where the protagonist is human, is a much more complicated issue.  But that’s for another post…

27 Comments

  1. Chairman Wow says:

    I was linked to “Choice of the Dragon” today, and I’ve been enjoying it greatly! I definitely noticed the care you took on gender, and I really appreciated it. It’s always a breath of fresh air to see a game (or anything) that gets it right. Thank you!

    And I’m looking forward to your next game already. :P

  2. Blaze One G says:

    Funny thing: the issue of kidnapping princesses but not princes, is what drew me into this game… well that i the chance to BE the dragon ^_^

  3. Michael Corrigan says:

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the option of playing either gender, and being allowed to choose the gender of the mate I chose. It might seem trivial to some people, but it’s SO rare in games that when I see sane, fun things like that I just become very happy. The game is awesome, too.

    What’s the next game about?? :)

  4. Andrew says:

    I agree. The question about sexism was one thing that really pointed the app out to me. It seemed to be full of humour, which it is.

  5. Squirrel says:

    “I was equally committed to the idea that kidnapping princesses but not princes conveys a message of dependence and incompetence about women”

    SRSLY?

    • Adam says:

      Yes, seriously. Storylines about men consistently rescuing women send messages about dependence and about appropriate gender roles. They implicitly assert that the appropriate gender roles for women are passive and as dependents, whereas the appropriate roles for men are active and as protectors (often with an implicit message of protectors and owners). I view that as wrong.

  6. Dan says:

    @Squirrel, I think your point is fair that Adam’s remark sounds silly. I think it’s partly because Adam is criticizing something “normal.” Usually we only criticize things that are abnormally bad; we often defend our own behavior by pointing out that we’re doing something “perfectly normal.”

    People who try to hold us to an abnormally high standard sound “holier than thou,” by implying that they’re better than ordinary people who do normal things; all the more so when they have a rich vocabulary.

    The question is: does Adam sound silly because he’s wrong? Or does Adam sound silly because he’s right? :-)

    P.S. YA SRSLY.

  7. Elizabeth L. says:

    Another fan of how sex and gender was treated in this game! Not only was it refreshing to a play a game with that take on the trope (as well as having a queen, female knights and wizards, etc), but also seeing how the creators discussed it openly and honestly was also great. The way it was all handled was also wonderful.

    I was recommended this game by other friends of mine who told me about how it handled sex and gender – now I’m recommending it as well. You guys have done a great job making a fun, enjoyable game where I don’t have to pretend women are more than plot devices or objects.

  8. [...] it deals with sex and gender. One of the game designer self-identifies as a feminist, and he made a conscious decision to be progressive on sex and gender issues: Many video games assume a male protagonist, and I [...]

  9. Ed Guth says:

    I also really appreciated the variety of genders in the story – it actually added a lot of intrigue.

  10. A New Fan says:

    I just had to thank you for the gender considerations you made when creating this. You did a great job with it, and I liked the sense of humor you used in your approach. I was pleasantly surprised, and it’s little touches like that which made me love this little game so much! I’m often so frustrated by the patriarchial slants to games, that to see a little free online game try to correct that, actually gives me hope that more advanced games will take that under consideration.

    I wish you luck with future games! I hope to see more.

  11. Tomed Nor says:

    This is one of the few games I’ve seen that deals with issues regarded as stereotypical and sexist properly. Not only that, you nailed it!

    Most games seem to avoid the issue, treat something with the currently politically correct attitude no matter if it fits within the time and culture the game takes place, or word it vaguely.

    I love that not only did you let the player decide how the character is going to be, but you did it without breaking the role-play, and making it FUNNY.

    Great job on one of my new favorite games. Can’t wait for more!

  12. Alan says:

    Well done on what you’ve been able to achieve regarding genders and stereotypes. Allowing the player himself or herself to choose their own gender, the gender of their mate and even the gender of who they kidnap (heh) is definitely the way to go forward.

  13. Jonathan says:

    I really like the game, abit short maybe. Eagerly awaiting a followup!!

  14. lucas podesta says:

    does it really matter?

  15. Fred says:

    I’m a fairly deeply closeted gay man–with a bunch of attendant issues related to that. Being able to play a gay dragon, well, it didn’t solve any of those issues, but it sure was cathartic.

  16. Marc says:

    I really appreciated the thought that went into gender presentation, and particularly that you allowed for players with a gender identity other than male or female and for players who might not have a gender identity (or might not want it to be a part of their dragon self-identification fantasy game).

    I found myself quite frustrated with the princess bit, though. I appreciated that you confronted the trope and the underlying sexism, but I found none of the allowed options were ones I was comfortable with. The best I could do on my first play was to identify with a dragon and avoid the question.

    You offer the dodge of the appeal to tradition: a common tool with which privilege is maintained is dodging personal responsibility by saying it’s always been that way and can’t/shouldn’t be changed because of that. Unsatisfying.

    You offer the honest “huh, I never thought about that”, but pair it with the “…just to avoid being sexist” excuse: of course, if you’re kidnapping a prince specifically to avoid being sexist, you’re still being sexist, and you’re more concerned with how people perceive you than with undermining systematic privilege in a useful way.

    I had similar difficulty with the last option, of alternating between princes and princesses. A policy of strict alternation is easy to read as the laughable sort of thing a straw-feminist might say: it doesn’t take into account in any way the complexities of the availability of princes vs. princesses [either because the sexism in the world allows for more helpless princesses than princes, or because in the dragon's particular situation one or the other is "coincidentally" more available in the sexism-less fantasy world].

    I would have liked to have a choice consistent with my feminism. Of course, that might be impossible, given the context and set-up. But maybe something like “You know, I never thought about that before. Why, even in a world of powerful female knights, is it always a helpless princess that needs rescuing?” which acknowledges the problem and doesn’t try to squirm out of it. As I said, the best I could do with the options offered was take dragonly offense at the impudence of the question, while deciding that my dragon had done so precisely because zie realized there was something uncomfortable going on.

    Thanks for a great and thoughtful game.

  17. drew says:

    “Why, even in a world of powerful female knights”

    ha! powerful female knights; good one goyle….

  18. Jason says:

    I don’t care about gender issues, LGBT, feminism, etc.

    However, if I’m roleplaying, I like to have a choice and I like logic and consistency. Your choices in both Choice of the Dragon and Choice of Broadsides are very well-written and make the games very enjoyable to play.

  19. [...] it deals with sex and gender. One of the game designer self-identifies as a feminist, and he made a conscious decision to be progressive on sex and gender issues:Many video games assume a male protagonist, and I [...]

  20. I was linked to choice of the dragon today, and I´ve been enjoying it greatly

  21. I like waffles says:

    I really like the gender choices, and the way that the customization options are presented is absolutely hilarious.
    “You dare question my actions?” (Option used when presented with the sexism question)
    “Can we just get on with the smashing?” (Option used when asked about the colour of the dragon’s scales)
    One of my favourite things about the game is the little jokes inserted here and there such as:
    “Post on an Internet message board” (Joke option to find a mate)
    “Smile kindly and offer them some treasure” (Joke option when destroying a village)

  22. Misty says:

    I discovered Choice of the Dragon while browsing on Amazon, and I love it. Please do more of this sort of theme! The incorporation of gender issues was a really great aspect. I would like to donate money toward developing more of this stuff!

  23. [...] discussions of gender and get input from their community! As Adam Strong-Morse writes in his post Gender in Choice of the Dragon We discussed the treatment of gender extensively as we were planning our first game. I [...]

  24. K. Rose says:

    I just came to say that, in a review I wrote for Choice of the Dragon on the Amazon app store for my tablet, I added that this particular C.O. game was probably created by a volunteer writter, due to my experience with it being narrow and shorter than its relative C.O. games. Had I known that C.O. the Dragon was your first game put out, I wouldnt have said so…I humbly apologize. I hope to see more Choice of Game apps released to the amazon app store for download on my tablet. Please please continue to create these awesome games, like Choice of the Vampiere and Choice of Romance. My many encounters and ending with de Mendosa was *sigh* oh so lovely lol

  25. Debbie Pickering says:

    It’s a great game and I played it for hours yesterday!!!!!!!!!

  26. Debbie Pickering says:

    I love the idea! BEING the dragon instead of the knight! I’m looking forward to the next game!!!!!!!!!!:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)

Leave a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe

twitter fb rss

Subscribe by E-mail