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…