Gender of the player

Let me prefix my question by outing myself as someone who has never really written fiction before and has definitely never written an Interactive Fiction story/game.
I’m having a crack at a sci-fi whodunit and learning Inform on my journey.

I’m aware that my thinking and writing is from my own gender standpoint and so, with no experience of writing stories in the second person, I wonder if there are any pitfalls to avoid so that I don’t jar the users suspension of disbelief as they play.

I guess obvious things are adding gender specific narrative descriptions of the player or allowing themselves to see themselves in a mirror, but are their any subtle uses of language or descriptions that might be off putting that I should be aware of?
Perhaps this just isn’t something that people worry about?


Do you want to write a gendered or an ungendered player character? Both are perfectly possible, but of course they require opposite techniques.


Ah, good point…I wanted the character to be ungendered so that anyone playing through the protagonist would feel like themselves rather than having a gender forced upon them.

It’s not something I really care about as a player myself but…just trying to open my mind to what others might prefer.


You should not worry about this. The method of writing a gender-neutral player character that comes naturally to you is all you need.

Whatever you write will reflect your perspective and experience somehow and that will prevent you from ever writing a totally neutral blank-slate protagonist, BUT,

  • there’s nothing you can do to stop this
  • putting your perspective into your writing is good, it is what makes your work something that nobody else can make, this is what justifies your creativity to the universe

What Ryan says is of course true. I’d like to add that it has become pretty standard in interactive fiction, at least around this forum, to have protagonists with well-defined histories and personalities and genders. Not universal, but very common. So you can absolutely write an ungendered protagonist, but if you don’t, there’s no need to worry that players will feel that something has been forced upon them.


I’m unsure on how well one can add genderless to the “nameless, faceless” PC of yore, whose back then (80s-early 90s) was implied as male, as the sheer majority of text adventures players was back then.

for a starter in more than one sense, seasoned IF players always start with X ME and I

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


Just speaking for myself, even when the player is as blank slate as it’s possible for them to get, I see them as “PC of this game”, not literally meant to be me. Unintentional “reveals” don’t tend to matter much. That said, I can’t think of many times that’s happened, and certainly no common pitfalls. I really don’t think you have anything to worry about (though it is cool you are thinking about it!).


You could pull a page from the Tumblr-verse and just let the player choose the gender, orientation, and even ethnicity of the protagonist at the outset of the game. Not commonly seen in parsers, but that’s no reason you can’t do it anyway.


It’s not difficult to leave the PC largely uncharacterized if you want the player to put themselves in those shoes more easily. But I love strongly characterized PCs in games the same way I love them in books, and I like losing myself in a role someone else has imagined for me. It’s great that male authors are cogitating on the traditionally male-dominated perspectives in games, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with male characters (I’ve written several and really enjoyed it), and having one isn’t forcing a patriarchal agenda down anyone’s throat. I don’t think there’s any escaping the fact that your gender perspective is part of you, and it informs your writing no matter what. I just think it’s great that this kind of question even comes up.


I’ve written a couple of inherently wrong male characters. :relieved:


That acronym has a G for “gender-neutral”.


Your Socrates sure was a hoary old goat.


And he wasn’t even one of the one’s I was thinking of!


Right. Hoary.


LessWrong is out, MoreWrong is in


(I only play IF, I don’t write it, so apologies if I’m not supposed in this forum category)

My two cents: if you feel called to write a genderless PC, go for it! There are people, including me, who will enjoy and appreciate it!

My top 2 favorite types of PC are probably (in no particular order) (1) the PC is highly specific and detailed, like a good character concept from a novel. They have a backstory, a distinct personality, etc. etc. and (2) the classic AFGNCAAP blank slate. Note that while (1) often has a stated gender, which allows a lot more detailed backstory, described relationships with other people, etc., they don’t always! One interesting example in this year’s comp I thought was Dr Ludwig, where Dr Ludwig has a VERY SPECIFIC character voice and a very distinct and entertaining personality, but I think is also left gender-ambiguous all game. (And of course what kind of PC you want will vary by genre, if it’s a straight puzzler or if there’s a lot of character backstory-angst.)

If it seems like the game has a total type (2) blank slate protagonist, I will sometimes find that I start to fill in details during my play, either from my own identity or just things that “fit” my understanding of the character. And it mildly annoys me when I feel I’ve been invited to do that except for the reveal 80% through the game that the author conceived of the PC exclusively as a man the whole time. (E.g., you’ve been going along until that point when another character calls you “sir,” you find a piece of mail to you that starts “Mr.” etc etc).

In terms of how to do it, assuming as you say you’re already writing a blank slate protagonist and you also want them to be non-gender specific, it wouldn’t take a lot. Just, as you say, watch any physical description, watch how NPCs refer to the PC (this is why titles like “adventurer” or “doctor” are so useful . . .), watch the terms of address used on any physical artifacts, etc. And sure, we each only have 1 life of experiences to draw on, but I definitely wouldn’t be afraid to experiment with writing characters whose background differs from yours–one of the best parts of fiction is taking on different perspectives, and it would be a more bland world if every author only wrote from their own identity.


I hear he was permanently pissed as well.


Indeed, a lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he’s pissed.


I suggest a new title only for AFGNCAAP text adventures. Something that people who don’t know are gonna get totally wrong and those who do nod their heads when hearing it.

Ad. ? (Like Ad Fog)


When I started out, I leaned toward AFGNCAAPs or letting the player customize absolutely everything. More recently, I’ve been growing fonder of PCs with characterization, but with a few particular features (including gender) left out for the player to imagine as they like. The protagonist of Enigma of the Old Manor House is a teenager who fears backing down from a dare more than they fear breaking into the spooky abandoned house on Halloween, and there are probably some unintentional Americanisms because that’s the background I’m writing from, but their name, gender, ethnicity, and so on is left to the player to imagine.

(Similarly the protagonist of Loose Ends is a recently-turned vampire with a snarky streak and some problems with authority, the protagonist of Death on the Stormrider is a fish out of water snapped out of their moping by the need to protect their brother, and the protagonist of Labyrinthine Library of Xleksixnrewix is a devious little kobold. This is the sort of thing I tried to avoid in Scroll Thief and didn’t really succeed at—at one point the story declares that all spellcasters are claustrophobic, because I wasn’t willing to establish that as a trait of the protagonist in particular.)