Mar 05


Help us Decide How to Switch Gender in Choice of Broadsides

Posted by: Adam Strong-Morse | Comments (50)

As I mentioned in my last post, we’re working on finishing up our next game, Choice of Broadsides, a game set in a fictionalized version of the Napoleonic Wars.   Of course, the real-world Royal Navy was an (essentially) all-male institution at the time.  We wanted to avoid embracing the sexism of both history and of the source materials we draw on, but at the same time, we concluded that having a mixed-sexed Royal Navy would be both too complicated to implement and would also make the Jane Austen inspired bits of the game very strange.  So instead, we let the player choose the sex of the protagonist, and then that choice defines whether the gameworld is patriarchal or has all gender roles reversed in a matriarchal society.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how it works.  It’s not too difficult to code, it lets us include the assumptions of the day while still letting people play female characters, and some of the jarring mismatches between expectation and practice may be thought-provoking, especially when playing the female version.  But it has created some difficulties with terminology.  Historical gendered terms have a lot of baggage– “Mrs.” does not have the same connotation as “Mr.”, but “Ms” feels anachronistic even in a gender-bent world.

We first encountered this issue with the word “Mr.”  In the Napoleonic Wars Royal Navy, officers were addressed as Mr. So-and-so, ordinary sailors as So-and-so (no Mr.), and midshipmen as Mr. Midshipman So-and-so– marking them both as sort of officers but also distinguishing them from real officers.  This was of course tightly tied to the class system of the day.  The question this presented was, what should the form of address be for female officers?  We toyed with Mrs. So-and-so (regardless of marital status– marital status matters for a sex that derives its status from the opposite sex parent or spouse), but my co-writers didn’t like that, especially finding Mrs. Midshipwoman So-and-so to be a bizarre form of address for a 13-year old.  We settled on Madam So-and-so and Madam Midshipwoman So-and-so.

Likewise, it was fairly easy to agree to make “Master” the equivalent of “Miss”– in the real world, “Master” is traditionally used for male children, and so by extension we used it for adult but unmarried men in the female-dominant version of our fictional world, just like the polite term for female children was also traditionally used for unmarried adult women in the real world.

But we’ve hit a couple of weird cases that we’ve had trouble coming up with terminology for.  In real-world British usage, if John Smith is married to Jane Smith and receives a knighthood, he becomes Sir John and she becomes Lady Smith (instead of Mr. Smith and Mrs. Smith, respectively).  There is no comparable shift for when a woman becomes a Dame (again, because of the patriarchal assumptions of the British class system)–Mrs. Smith would become Dame Jane, but Mr. Smith remains Mr. Smith.  The difficulty is how to apply that to our gender-bent world.  The husband of Madam Jane Smith is presumably Mr. Smith– that’s straightforward.  But what should the honorific be for the husband of Dame Jane?  We initially used “Lord,” but that doesn’t work well– “Lord” feels like a higher title than Dame, not a lower/equal one.  We’ve come up with several possibilities, but they’re all strange.  “Mr. Smith” undercuts the importance of the knighthood and makes the game less parallel.  “Sir Smith” is a weird looking construction, and again not parallel.  “Gentleman Smith” or “Esquire Smith” or some other non-real-world construction could work, but the husband of a gentlewoman is presumably already a gentleman– the point of “Lady Smith” is that it marks her social class as higher than the wife of a gentleman or an esquire, not equal, so the male equivalent should do the same.

We also hit a problem with the “Lords of the Admiralty,” which is the body roughly equivalent to the Secretary of the Navy in U.S. practice.  “Ladies of the Admiralty” feels weird–because the term “Ladies” does not have the same implication of power as the word “Lords,” it reads very oddly.  But all of the other terms we tried also seem weird:  “Dames of the Admiralty”?  “Baronesses of the Admiralty”?  “Lady Dames of the Admiralty”?  “Grand Dames of the Admiralty”?  “Peers of the Admiralty”?

Partly this just underscores the degree to which English incorporates patriarchal assumptions, particularly with regard to British class distinctions.  But we still need to come up with the terms we will use.

So, what are your thoughts?

Sir John and Lady Smith, but Dame Jane and ___ Smith?

The Lords of the Admiralty, but the ____ of the Admiralty?

Feel free to express a preference for one of the possibilities we discussed above, or suggest your own possibilities.


  1. Nina says:

    Personally, I don’t think “Sir” is that problematical in this case – if I saw it in-game I would just accept it as the right counterpart to Dame*. I also think “Gentleman” would work fine even though I get your objection to it.

    The only other thing I can think of after a modicum of thought is “The Honorable”? The usage would be kind of incorrect here, since Honorable has an actual meaning which is something different – the sons and daughters of viscounts and barons. But one could imagine that in a world in which you needed a term for “husband of a Dame”, Honorable would have been stretched to cover that, as a catchall for people who derive their linkage to the lower tiers of the peerage via their relation to an actual lower-tier peer, without having a particular peerage of their own. The implications of juvenility in the term are actually kind of nicely symbolic of the basic point, which is that in this case the Dame retains the power in the relationship.

    I was thinking, isn’t there a real-world answer to this? Since they make Dames, surely the British must have a term for “the husband of someone we made a Dame”. But my quick internet search suggests that the husband of a Dame doesn’t get a special title other than “Mr.” Phooey on the British, I say.

    *I was going to say, “just like King and Queen go together, so the husband of a Queen becomes a King,” but of course this proves your point: the husband of a Queen DOESN’T become a King unless she’s giving up precedence to him. If she’s remaining the senior partner he becomes a Prince Consort. I suppose you could use “Knight Consort”, or “Lord Consort” or “Gentleman Consort”!

  2. Michel says:

    “We wanted to avoid embracing the sexism of both history and of the source materials we draw on”

    You can acknowledge and remain faithful to the reality of history without ’embracing’ sexism.

  3. Nina says:

    Also, upon reading more carefully I see that you had of course already looked up the “husband of a Dame” thing. 🙂

  4. Adam says:

    Michel: I disagree. I don’t think we can remain faithful to the reality of history without embracing sexism. The history of the real world is shot through with extreme sexism and patriarchy. If we pattern our game accurately on history, we’re then reiterating those norms. In particular, we’re not actually recounting history here. Instead, we’re making a game that draws on a historical background. If we follow the historical pattern, we’re saying that players can’t play a heroic female character in a naval adventure. Sure, we can take the cop out that “that’s just the way things were.” But it doesn’t have to be the way things are in a current game, and if we make that choice, we need to take responsibility for it.

    Nina: Thanks for the suggestion of Honorable. Dame Jane and the Honorable Mr. Smith works pretty well for me. (And “the honorable” is used to cover a wide range of different social distinctions, not just the children of peers, so stretching it to cover another doesn’t bother me at all.) I’m still curious what other people’s opinions are.

    And indeed, if the British had a real world solution that worked, we would probably take that, but the British tradition is that men can’t derive social rank from their wives (with a few weird exceptions historically–some men were peers in right of their wives).

  5. Nina says:

    Regarding the British tradition: Oh Brits. What I love about their system of deriving social rank from wives is that my strong impression is that it’s basically a case of, “you can’t derive your social status from your wife unless it would just be mean to the poor man to have to be married to someone who outranks him by THAT much. So if she’s pretty high-ranking we’ll probably do something about it!”

    Regarding sexism (but I repeat myself!): I think Michel is making a statement about intent and you are making a statement about effect. I would suggest a synthesis: “One can acknowledge historical sexism without embracing it, but one cannot reuse it without reinforcing it.”

  6. Jane says:

    It seems to me that to the 21st century ear, the term “Lady” sounds much higher than “wife of a knight,” just as “Lord” sounds much higher than “husband of a dame.” It’s an adjustment on the term lady that I’ve had to catch myself to make many times reading Austen or similar work. I don’t personally have an issue with the Lord thus being used symmetrically with Lady in both contexts you mentioned. I also don’t see the issue with Sir, unless you plan to have men in your matriarchiverse that are knights or baronets in their own right by some sort of “distaff” heredity.

    For my money, although I think the idea of a matriarchiverse Regency is intellectually interesting, sexism is sexism. I’m not so interested in playing a game set in a world that completely sexist in either direction. I think it would be much nicer to do the hard intellectual work of thinking out what a relatively non-sexist “Regency” would have been like, even if that would mean giving up more of the historical touchstones. Also, re: your response to Michel above, I feel like you either are trying to be historically accurate or you aren’t. If you are, the matriarchiverse makes no sense, and if you aren’t, the matriarchiverse seems like far from the best option available.

  7. Sarah says:

    Hi Adam, I particularly like where you say this: “But it doesn’t have to be the way things are in a current game, and if we make that choice, we need to take responsibility for it.”

    I think it’s not only important to take responsibility for where your game departs from the sexism in real-world naval history and in naval adventures, it’s also important to take responsibility for welcoming a wide range of players to your game. And it’s good marketing! A person is more likely to play your game if they can represent themselves in a way they are comfortable with, in the game, and interact with it in ways that are pleasing, and not distractingly discordant, to them. I like playing male dragons some of the time, even though I am female. I do not, by comparison, like game maps that turn my pointer instead of turning a map under my pointer– it’s distracting and I’m less likely to play a game that does that. (*cough*WoW*cough*) A welcoming interface matters!

    Okay, enough of my soapbox! Thanks for asking these questions; I think they’re important ones.

  8. David Olsen says:

    Well, if I were on the design team, I’d probably not have come to your conclusions. I’d either embrace the history, sexism and all, or have a mix-gender navy, despite the logistical problems this may mean while coding. An all female navy just seems a little odd to me. But if you were to go that way, then go all the way: it should be the “Ladies of the Admiralty.” “Lady” doesn’t have the same implied power as “Lord” in this world. But you just changed the cultural tradition, and in a matriarchal society, that is probably not true. Own it. Don’t apologize because the words don’t translate exactly from the fiction to the real world.

    The other is a little trickier since “Lady” seems to be a catch-all title straddling both the Lord and Knight classes (the source of all the problems, it appears). I’d go with “Sir” as the male equivalent of “Dame.” Like I said before: new world, new rules.

  9. Dan says:

    I argued offline that Dame Smith and “Gentleman Smith” work well for me. As for the Lords of the Admiralty, I still favor “Lady Dames of the Admiralty.”

    It’s interesting to note how many people seem to be objecting to the very idea of switching gender. Maybe we should have a poll?

    I’m curious how many people would vote for:

    1 Male only
    2 Female only
    2 Mixed only
    3 Gender switching: all-male or all-female (but not mixed)

    Obviously the best would be to offer you to choose between all-male, all-female, and mixed, but I think this is way more work than we can do feasibly.

  10. Orichalcum says:

    I might use “Sire,” going straight off the French equivalents, but having slightly more of a formal sound than “Sir.”

    I’d vote for mixed ideally, but totally appreciate the realism and difficulty issue and thus like the gender-switching compromise.

    And I like “Grand Dames of the Admiralty.”

  11. Margaret says:

    If I’m reading you right about your aim in creating a gender-flipped version of the British Navy, I second a vote for “the Honorable Mr. Smith” as the husband of a Dame. It sounds nice in my ear, plus, keeping the “Mr.” to me connotes that this is somehow tied to marital status. Which I get the impression is something you’re trying to preserve.

    A feminine equivalent for “Lords of the Admiralty” is stickier because if you get too ornate with it trying to get the proper connotations while preserving something like historical accuracy (excessive example for effect: “The Right Honorable and Respected Dames of the Admiralty”) I tend to think it just ends up sounding like you’re trying too hard.

    If it’s not a coding nightmare, I’d take a step away from the original term and try something like “The Council of Admirals” or you know, something like that except that doesn’t suck.

  12. Danielle says:

    I would vote for:
    1) Male only
    2) Mixed

    with the other two as far less preferable.

    I actually really like “Mr. ______” for midshipmen, to the extent that I would rather my female midshipmen be called “Mr. _____” than a female equivalent.

  13. Danielle says:

    Gah! I can’t edit my comment.

    I just wanted to add that I think I heavily favor male only over mixed.

    If you’re going to pretend sexism didn’t exist then what about classism? press gangs? racism?

    It seems silly to white wash one aspect of what is a horribly unfair era in which to live, while leaving everything else.

    I would go for authenticity.

  14. Kara says:

    I like “The Honourable Mr. Smith,” and would vote for “Ladies of the Admiralty.” “Lady” and “Ladies” doesn’t have the same sexist tone for me as it does for many.

    I also am really excited about playing a game with an all female British Navy. I think it would be fun to play with a Matriarchal Britain. A world with Queen Georgiana III and Princess Georgiana sounds kind of fun to me.

    A mixed navy would be interesting, but I think you would remove some of the chivalry involved. A mixed navy would force more of an emphasis on merit and achievement rather than rank and honor. I don’t think it’s an accident that the Americans broke down class barriers before the Patriarchy.

    Just my 2 cents!

  15. Kara says:

    Oh, and “Madam” as a general address works for me, but “Mistress” might be more English as an address. “Mistress Jane Smith” and “Mistress Midshipwoman Jane Smith” work fine for me, though you may get some players snickering.

  16. Nina says:

    Re: Dan – I would vote for mixed only or gender switching, but I prefer gender switching (as you are currently designing it) moderately strongly.

    I favor switching over moderately over mixed because when writing a historically-based game, part of the interest IS the general atmosphere, which includes the flaws and foibles, with the screwed-up gender dynamic of the time (and the need to navigate it) being one of them. I do, after all, think reading Jane Austen is interesting.

    And I prefer switching strongly over male-only because I think it’s the right way to handle the resulting issues of sexism – it a) allows the player to pick their poison, and b) highlights the fact that there IS an issue and they ARE making a choice, which from a feminist perspective I think is valuable, and prefer to either railroading players into playing a man and hence reinforcing existing stereotypes (male only) or papering over the issue by pretending it didn’t exist (mixed).

  17. Nina says:

    To be a little clearer about my point, if one has chosen to set a game in a period known for its gender inequality, I think being able to see that world with the pronouns all switched can reveal the contours of previously unperceived sexism in a more interesting and effective way than merely scrubbing the world clean of all issues. For instance, listening to Adam “think aloud” about how to design the game around a matriarchal power structure really made me think about the way the relevant language of power, honor, and respect is deeply gendered, in a way I was vaguely aware of but hadn’t fully grasp before.

    Of course, given how many people gendered the “love interest” in the dragon game female as a matter of course when discussing it on your blog, I do wonder how many players choose to play only as their own gender. If most players play only their own gender, then only females really get the impact of the gender-switching. So I do think there’s a good argument either way; designing the game as a mixed world may whitewash things, but at least it doesn’t reinforce stereotypes, and instead provides an example of a gender-equal world that all players see.

    Frankly, though, even if you wanted to design it as a mixed world, I think it’d be useful to go through the exercise of designing the matriarchal world, because it might give valuable insight into what a really gender neutral world looks like. To return to the language example, for instance, is a mixed design in which you have “lords and ladies of the admiralty”, boys and girls are both called Mr. Midshipman, and so on a truly gender-neutral design? (Could one have used “ladies and lords”? Why must we default to the male rather than female address as the neutral or comprehensive term? Yadda yadda.) I would guess that having done the matriarchal design exercise, one might be more suspicious of those choices than one would be if one hadn’t done it.

    My god, how preachy I’m getting. I’ll shut up for a bit.

  18. Kevin says:

    This sounds great! I’d use Dame Jane and *Master* Smith. I also love Nina’s suggestion of “the Honourable Mr.”

    And I’d just keep it Lords of the Admiralty, but that’s because I’m stumped on an alternative I like.

    – Kevin

  19. Dan says:

    Kevin’s suggestion gives me a great idea:

    Sir/Lady -> Dame/Gentleman
    Lord/Lady -> Lord/Gentleman, with the female as the “Lord.”
    Lords of the Admiralty -> Lords of the Admiralty

    Replace “Gentleman” with “Honorable” if you prefer it.

  20. Lynne says:

    Wasn’t it Star Trek that simply carried over the Naval honorifics and called everyone the same? If I recall, if you were captain, regardless of gender, you were still “Sir”. But then, the first season of ST:NG also had men in the miniskirt dresses just like the women, to make it more equal.

  21. Danielle says:

    “Kevin’s suggestion gives me a great idea . . .”

    I approve!
    Plus, then you can keep “Mr.” for midshipmen.
    The real question for me about a gender swapped game is whether you are actually letting the idea of the reason and mechanics and seeming of a matriarchal culture efect the game (which is really writing a second game) or meerly using a find/replace program to witch pronouns.

    If the latter, I think it may just come across as odd or silly.

  22. T says:

    Um, I have to agree with some of the above posters and say that if you’re setting a game in the Napoleonic Era, it’s going to feature a male-dominated Navy. Even good historical fiction I’ve read, written by female authors and featuring strong female protagonists, doesn’t try to ignore the historical realities of sexism. Jo Walton’s “In the Name of the King,” which features a female Lancelot in a King-Arthur-With-The-Names-Filed-Off pseudo-historical fantasy setting, still features a mixed-gender world with female soldiers (who control their menses and fertility with reliable folk magic).

    I think flipping it to an entirely female-dominated matriarchal society (a la “Egalia’s Daughters”) is… an unusual solution to the “problem” of not featuring female protagonists in a Napoleonic setting, but if you’re going to toss historical realism, torturing yourselves over “Mr. Dame” issues seems a mite silly. Make up the requisite term out of something pseudo-historical and move on. You’re indulging in a total fantasy in order to satisfy modern sensibilities and dismissing historical reality already.

  23. Zahra says:

    Somehow, I am strongly opposed to using a male title for women. I find it reinforces the fact that only males should be using that title and that this particular woman is an exception. (It is actually a virulent debate in French, as the French prefer to keep the male title and the Quebecers (me included) prefer to “genderize” the existing title.)

    As far as I remember from reading regency romances, younger sons of nobility without titles were addressed as Mr. So-and-So, so I’d have no problem with Dame and Mr. or Lady and Mr., but as you said, it does not address the fact that women did change titles when men got one, so maybe Dame/Gentleman or Dame/Honorable.

    For the Navy, I’d use the root of all modern feminine addresses : Mistress, without regard to marital status (after Mrs, Ms and Miss all come from Mistress). I was taught that Madam referred to prostitutes, so Madam Midshipwoman would seem very strange and ambiguous to me. (reference :

    As for the Lords of the Admiralty, I’d go with Ladies as it might actually jar from the perception that any “ladies” group must revolve around good works, literature or gossiping. You could then have “lord” social groups revolve around the interests that were traditionally left to women.

    Game preference : strongly opposed to male only (almost all the games that aren’t gender neutral seem to be designed as male only, let us get some crumbs, dammit!)

    Prefer gender-switching and women only if your objective is to bring people to question patriarchal structure. Mixed-gender is a very uncomfortable proposition to me, as it might be easy to slip into patriarchal patterns as we know them today.

  24. Nina says:

    @Danielle: I get your point, but I will note that “Mr. Midshipman” for girls and “Lord” for female peerage DOES bug me, from a feminist perspective. Not to say it has to bug *everyone*, or has to bug *you*, but it isn’t a value-neutral choice. Mixed vs. switching seems to me a world with arguments on both sides, but either way I’d much prefer language that doesn’t just drop female language altogether.

  25. Julian says:

    I like “the Honorable” for the husband of a dame, myself. Am I correct in understanding that you’ll be having “Mistress and Commander” or just “Miss and Commander”, because I have to say that the latter sounds weird to me?

    I agree that “Ladies of the Admiralty” sounds weird (though, “First/Second/etc. Lady of the Admiralty” does not) What about switching out the “Lords of the Admiralty” for the “Ministers of the Admiralty” for both sexes (or “Peers” if you prefer)?

  26. Danielle says:

    @Nina: I agree that it is in no way not a male term, I just have a knee-jerk fondness for the “Mr. ___” term in naval fiction. It rolls off the tongue, it sounds awesome and I would feel sad if my midshipwoman did not get to be called “Mr.” I’m not really attached to Lord either way.

    Then again, the feminism aspect in this discussion doesn’t appeal to me. On my list of top 5 problems with the Napoleonic era, feminism may not even make the list, so I just accept the male domination as an inherent part of the genre, because it’s how the world was.

  27. John says:

    My initial picks would be:
    a) Sir John and Lady Smith, but Dame Jane and Squire Smith?
    b) The Lords of the Admiralty, but the Dames of the Admiralty?

    Not being too happy with b), and with respect to a) not having a deep enough understanding of the British system of nobility to care about overloading “squire”, and just thinking that it’s a nice junior counterpart to a knight.

    I like “Honourable Mr.”.

    I also like Dan’s suggestion of “Lord” as gender-neutral. I rather like the angle that it’s the power that’s important, and gender only matters for the junior partner who doesn’t have the power. Like the distinction between “lunch”, “supper”, and “dinner” – the female is the unmarked generic term, and the male is the marked term that indicates that its holder is different. (So, presumably, “womankind” instead of “mankind”, and so forth. Like those language experiments that flip the black/white value axis – “a pallid time in our history”.)

  28. Ken Schneyer says:

    You can’t avoid anachronism, because you’ve got an anachronistic premise.

    You’ve set your story in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, but you want to have the ability to do gender-role reversal. Given that premise, there is no form of address that’s going to avoid sounding funny.

    Bite the bullet. Use “Ms.” and be done with it.

  29. Danielle says:

    Questions I find more interesting than pronoun choice about a matriarchal navy:
    (mostly intended for humor value, some because I really can’t figure out the answer)

    1) Do women wear corsets (which are tough to do manual labor and climb through rigging in)? If not, has the bra been invented? Or is everyone very uncomfortable in a bobbing sea?

    2) Does the navy offer maternity leave? Or are serving officers incapable of having families/heirs because of the most-of-a-year commitment it takes to gestate, birth, and feed a baby?

    3) If a press gang grabs a lactating mother do they let her go? Or let the baby starve? Or find a friendly neighbor?

    4) Ala all naval fiction, are male whores a huge problem when in port? If so, what do you do with the resulting pregnancies?

    5) Are men the weaker sex? If so can women beat their husbands with rods no thicker than their thumbs? if not, do the ships require larger crews for all the rope hauling, etc.?

    6) Is Napoleon female?

    Bonus question, for people who know more about anthropology than me (ie. everyone):
    Have there been any historical cultures with primarily female military/fighting forces?

  30. Danielle says:

    I wanted to say that I am particularly intrigued by question 4, because it puts pre-contraceptive prostitution in a weird place because the higher status person / customer is the one left deciding what to do with the possible bastard.

    Maybe the sex trade would focus more on creative alternatives to traditional sex?

  31. Casey says:

    Dame Jane and Journeyman Smith.

  32. John says:

    because the higher status person / customer is the one left deciding what to do with the possible bastard.

    *puts on absurd period hat* As all choices should be! Were you thinking of letting a man make that choice?

    But yes, very interesting questions…

  33. My girlfriend suggests: given the original meaning of “Gentle”, couldn’t you do:

    When Jane Smith -> Dame Smith
    John Smith -> Gentle Smith

    Or, a suggestion I might add: just remove the “man” part of Gentleman entirely and just use “Gentle” for both consorts (i.e. when John Smith becomes Lord Smith, Jane Smith also becomes Gentle Smith.)

  34. Jeff says:

    I was also going to suggest “the Honorable” — Nina beat me to it — but really, if “Lord” feels higher than “Dame”, then “Lady” ought to feel higher than “Sir”. If gender equality is at the heart of the issue, I’d have the spouses of knights, regardless of gender, use “the Honorable”.

  35. Lisa N says:

    Sounds like you’ve got a lot of ideas to chew on, already.

    Personally, Dame, Lady and Madam are all plenty for me. They get across the grain of the period’s hightened interest in rank, and sound slightly exotic, but will be understandable to your audience.

    You could also default to the non-sex ranks: in the US Public Health Service and in the military, it is polite to refer to people as their rank then Last Name: So Captain So-and-So works for both sexes. I do this in my job, now, and it’s only a little funny at first.

    Apparently the British struggled with this in real life fairly recently, and it was the American casual use of First names that changed their way of addressing each other (somewhat).

    Coming from a traditionally matriarchical society, I had hoped to shed some light, but Cherokee honorifics are largely about whether you use someone’s intimate name v. public name, and do not translate well into English.

    Similarly, Japanese systems for this are no help.

  36. Dylan says:

    What about using spelled-out “Mistress” instead of the abbreviation Mrs.?

    Coupled with a last name (“Mistress Jones”) I think it sounds dame-ish and doesn’t have the sexed-up sound of the modern understanding of mistress.

    As for husbands of dames, I vote for just sir? I do like the sound of “gentle” but it’s non-standard enough that it would suggest a full imaginary culture instead of just a reversal of a historical one.

  37. Mallamun says:

    I agree with comment 28.

    I also just want to say: come ON, people. I’m just going to throw my opinion in here completely removed from any sort of gender studies philosophy: I DESPERATELY WANT TO PLAY GENDER-REVERSED GAMES. It’s one of the reasons why I went through the roof with happiness when I discovered Choice of the Dragon, and the feminist thinking behind it expressed on this blog. Here’s my reasoning:

    As a female, I grew up reading tons of fascinating fantasy and historical fiction. There were knights and dragons and lords and wizards and kings. Every book I read was a wonderful experience for the imagination, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Except- as I was “putting myself in the story”, I was always stepping into a male protagonist’s shoes. If the protagonist happened to be female, then the adventure was completely different… and not what I wanted to read about.

    This was the same for historical stuff… If I wanted to read about the sorts of exciting adventures that I enjoyed, then I simply had to choose to put myself in a man’s shoes. This created this weird disconnect for me… I mean, everywhere I looked, the world and culture I’d inherited was MADE by these men of history: Shakespeare, Napoleon, King George the whatnot, and all the men who’d worked for them–whether they were donning military uniforms or dresses (as women were not even allowed in theater). Yet I couldn’t go on any mental journeys and imagine myself in any time period but my own. I couldn’t have that fantastic, fun connection with history–because anywhere I look back in history, “I’m” sitting in a nursery, knitting tea cozies.

    Basically, as a female… if something didn’t happen within the past few decades of human history–then on a fantasy, fun, creative level… it’s simply closed off to me. Unless I want to gender bend my brain, which… just… robs something.

    So yeah, you know what? *I* want my share of these awesome books I grew up reading. *I* want my share of having the identical experience to all those male protagonists. It’s not like I don’t KNOW what the reality is, but screw it–give me back all those fun hours with a flashlight under the covers that I used to have before my soul just got tired of pretending to be a man. Thank you.

    PS: @Sarah “I do not, by comparison, like game maps that turn my pointer instead of turning a map under my pointer– it’s distracting and I’m less likely to play a game that does that. (*cough*WoW*cough*)” — There’s a setting you can change for that. =P The actual minimap, not the metaphor.

  38. Nina says:

    You know, I was reading over these comments and realizing there may be a basic disconnect between how different people are thinking about this. For instance, if you’re assuming that this is *historical fiction*, where part of the point is to be as accurate as possible about *the actual history*, then of course it would be weird to be playing around with an all-female Navy. But it never occurred to me to think of this as that kind of narrative, and I’m not sure why – maybe because Choice of the Dragon was fantasy, and therefore I was primed to view this through a fantasy genre lens in some sense? Maybe because I’ve never before run across a computer game where serious historical accuracy seemed to be a goal, and therefore I don’t associate that style of writing with computer games? Some other reason? I’m not sure.

  39. Sharon says:

    Though I appreciate the play-value that a simple gender switch entails, I’d suggest that you reevaluate sex and gender for the setting either responsibly or not at all. From what I’ve heard so far, this game doesn’t have a fantasy setting that’d free you to make lots of decisions ad hoc, so either you’re doing a straight historical with some few things bent or I’ve misconstrued something very basic. (It is entirely possible that I’ve misconstrued, I hasten to add.) My vote is thus either for mixed (if you can do it—didn’t someone announce an end-of-March release?) or male-only.

    It is a bit crass to imagine that the lived experiences of a male officer in an all-male navy are wholly interchangeable off stage with the lived experiences of a female officer in an all-female navy, IMO. Neither is better or richer than the other; they’d just be different.

    @22: Jo Walton’s novel is The King’s Peace, followed by The King’s Name, if anyone’s looking it up. 🙂

  40. Lara says:

    As others have said before me, it looks like you have lots of good ideas regarding potential honorifics already.

    To answer Dan’s unofficial poll:

    I prefer gender-switching, for reasons similar to those expressed in comments 37 and 23. However, you probably want a fair number of folks to play-test the female version first, to see how the game plays out wrt the concerns expressed in comments 29 and 39. I wouldn’t be surprised if a good version of gender-switching isn’t quite as simple as you hope. (Though hopefully less difficult than you might imagine.)

  41. lucas podesta says:

    This is totally ridiculous, females were not in the royal navy in the Napoleonic wars because it is a biological fact that males are usually bigger, stronger and more aggresive than females, hence men were used in the armed forces.
    “Lady” is not a sexist term in any way, it is just a polite name given to a woman, in the same way as “Lord” or “Sir” are given to men, are these sexist too?

  42. Erik T Dahl says:

    I went looking for a new word to describe the husband of a Dame and found “milord,” as in “Milord Smith.” The “mi” softens it a bit, which I like. However, I also really liked the suggestions of “Gentle” and “Honorable Mr.” from above.

    Ladies of the Admiralty sounds just fine to me, but maybe you should use “Dames”. Thing is, Dame sounds just as weird to me, like something out of “Guys and Dolls”.

  43. Mana Gement says:

    I agree that “Mrs.” has all the wrong connotations and that “Ms.” is somewhat jarring; my vote there is “Mistress” when verbal or transcribed without an attached name and “Mrs.” in the transcription with an attached name, as that is the legitimate contraction.

    I think the opposite of lady is lord, and if you are careful with your contexts the relative ranks will get real clear real fast. The only reason people think “gentlemen” is the opposite is that announcers have dropped the first clause from the traditional greeting “My lords, ladies, and gentlemen…” (where by gentlemen they mean gentlefolk and not just the males – the statement assumes or confers a class baseline on the audience.) Softening it with the slightly more casual ‘milord’ in direct address might help, but honestly I don’t know if I’m saying that because I already have a feel for the forms of address.

    Ladies of the Admiralty does sound so… sissy, doesn’t it. And yet, I think with careful writing, you might subvert that.

    Regarding the objectors who call this a whitewash: My sense of internal drama has been hamstrung for most of my life into making up male heroes because I hadn’t seen enough counterexamples. Every time as an adult that I’ve read a well-done AU that turns the tables or warps gender (the comic Digger, LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness), I’ve run face first into my own toxic gender assumptions, and that’s a great, great good.

    I think you’ll have your hands full being at least marginally conscious of other very problematic period *isms, and I wish you good luck with that, but I don’t think the inability to address everything at once makes this a bad idea. I want to see the Ladies of the Admiralty. Mistress Midshipman Gement, reporting for duty, ma’am!

  44. CR says:

    So I’m torn.

    On one hand, it’s historical fiction, and I’d like to play with all the gender bias in place and struggle to surpass them. (Ladies, as much as you like to imagine a female centered society, I like to imagine I’m the underdog who has to succeed under such a bias of being the underpowered sex.) I’d rather have it written as a second game (release the male version, then write the female version) than to spoil the chance to be the underdog. (Or hell, allow us to choose which sex is superior, if any, along side our own sex)

    Then again, if we’re throwing out the historical part and just doing a period themed or alternate universe thing, then just make up titles, or rerank them so it makes sense (ie – Lord/Lady & Sir/Dame vs Sir/Lady, -/Dame). Don’t worry about historical accuracy when you start playing with social dynamics, worry about how the titles would have come to be. If you’re in an female centric society then Lady will convey more power than Lord, and you just need to put in a few lines of dialog where the Lady outranks the Lord to establish that in the reader/players mind.

    Another way address these kinds of issues it to make an all female or mixed ship under female command as a “special case”. Think of how racial (ie “Negro”) units and companies were formed in the past.

    I really don’t care deeply about gender preferences and how it plays out so long as it fits the story. If you make the environment and the NPCs believable I will enjoy it either way. In the end, I’m just as happy imagining I’m male or female. If it really bothers me, I can just swap all the genders in my head anyways. ^_^

  45. suomy nona says:

    I suggest:

    In the begginning of the game,the female character could have the option to deceive others into thinking she was a man and therefore to participate in the war. Or she could try the harder path and try to participate as a female.

    Then at a certain point in the game, she would be discovered, and depending on her habilities and reputation different outcomes could follow.

    I this this opens a lot of posibilites

  46. Le Blue Dude says:

    Speaking as a man I’ve always felt that women and men were equal, and that while biology and chemicals have some effect, it’s minor enough that willpower and personality can overcome the biological differences between men and women with ease. So my vote, if it’s not too late, is a mixed gender admiralty. Neither male nor female dominant, just for each character you want to introduce flip a coin to determine their sex.

  47. Mia says:

    Lords of Admirality could just be changed to
    Nobles of Admirality

  48. Faye Skeen says:

    I’d like to echo the sentiments of Mallamun at 37, and say that I would be very, very happy with a flipped society. It would be interesting. Honestly, I hear enough sexism in daily life, and I’d prefer it not spill over into this. I was surprised and elated at the gender choices in Choice of the Dragon — it was honestly all-inclusive (not binary! :D).

    Also, I second “Mistress.” It sounds nice and official.

  49. […] as well as on the iPhone/iPod Touch and Android.) During development of the game, the creators asked the community for opinions on how to handle gender terminology in a setting that is deeply sexist. Adam writes: […]

  50. […] delicate young men to join the Navy is a disgusting idea, and becoming part of a ship crewed entirely by women. It’s hilarious, but an innovative and fascinating way of tackling gender – I’ll be […]

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