Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter [split from original topic]

Oh, I often feel dumb after posting on here! Most recently, I was stuck in a game, trying to move my character to a higher elevation to solve a puzzle. I’d tried climbing things, building things to climb, all sorts of ideas, to no avail. I posted here, and the solution was > UP. So welcome to the club! :laughing:


Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter, amirite?


Yes, that’s right. The authors had obviously intended to make the game easier at that point, but the text clued climbing the crates so strongly that I got stuck down a blind alley. But I stopped playing after they forced me to play as a girl anyway.

About Jack Toresal:


Well there were actually several reasons. Of course I’d been ticked off by the frustration of that initial opening problem, although I guessed it had been a last minute alteration and thus not beta tested. Understandable.

I’d also found the navigation of the bazaar unpleasantly maze-like.

But the reason I mentioned above, being forced to play as a girl came in two parts:

  1. I’d been looking forward to being, in the game, the naughty little boy I’d never been in real life. Obviously, given the game requirement, that little bit of identification was impossible.

  2. I objected to the casual sexism: in game that a girl in this situation would have problems of harassment that a boy would not, and out of game that while game makers had (rightly) listened to women’s complaints that they didn’t like to have to play as male characters, somehow it was okay to force guys to play as female characters. I object to the double standard. (I don’t object to games like Sundered Plundered Hearts where the gender of the protagonist excites different social expectations, and the game is making a point about the social construction of gender. I do object to sexism masquerading as inclusivity.)

I get it that in games with costly visual assets and small dev teams it’s likely that players will only get to choose between a few pre-rolled characters, but in a text game it’s only a matter of using a couple of variables to flip the pronouns. Omitting this courtesy felt lazy and worse, uncaring, and it was the final straw for me. I did think about putting up a review specifically to make these comments, but that seemed unfair since I’d played so little of the game, so I haven’t.

\rant :slight_smile:

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I am going to assume you meant Plundered Hearts here.

Did you also object to HHGG forcing you to play as Trillian, on the grounds that that scene is about, you know, the woman named Trillian who Douglas Adams invented? Or Lost Pig for forcing you to play as a character with bad grammar?

I think you’re misunderstanding the criticism of the videogame industry. It wasn’t that you should never be forced to play a particular character with a name, gender, and history. Lots of games do that! There are also lots of games that give you latitude for deciding your character, but you’re not going to force every game into that mold.


I never heard women objecting to playing male characters. I heard them objecting to having to play male characters all the time. And when they did get female characters, they’re all exactly the same strange body and ridiculous clothes, even if they’re as badass as the guys. There’s a little more parity now, and that’s great, but it sounds like you’re saying that if a male PC option isn’t presented in a game, you won’t play, and I hope that isn’t what you meant.

I haven’t played the game you’re discussing, so maybe I’m missing nuance, but of course girls are subject to harassment that boys aren’t, and vice versa. I don’t think enough attention is paid to the particular types of harassment that boys suffer, and it disappoints me that modern feminism doesn’t tackle that enough. This indeed is a form of sexism, since every time anyone is harassed into gendered role expectations, it hurts everyone. Maybe you disagree with me on this, though?

ETA: I hope you don’t see this response as an attack on you. I’m genuinely interested in your perspective on this particular social problem, and I am certainly capable of changing my mind and/or agreeing to disagree. Since this is a hot-button topic where a lot of folks are looking for “gotcha” points, I felt compelled to add this.


The main character is a young orphan girl in a medieval land acting like a boy to avoid the stereotypes and danger of being an unprotected young girl.

It was never meant to be gender ambiguous throughout the whole story.

The gender reveal is just a part of the story.

The intended audience was also middle school students.


On the contrary, I completely agree with you on this. (And thanks for adding the extra comment. I’m a little concerned that the game devs might think that my remark was personally directed. It wasn’t/isn’t. Part of me wishes I’d used a private reply instead of replying in the ordinary fashion but hey. That’s late night posting for you. :roll_eyes: it’s unfortunate that splitting the thread has given my remarks undue prominence.)

I also feel I have to be careful discussing this game since I haven’t played it either! I went into the game with certain expectations derived from the blurb. One of those expectations was confounded by the plot, and this together with the other experiences I detailed earlier, was enough for me to decide this game wasn’t for me. I was a little ticked off because I felt (and still feel) that this “reveal” of the plot amounted to mis-selling (which is a bit of a cheek for a free game, maybe, but hey.)

Yeah, brain fart, sorry.

What women were complaining about was lack of choice. They were fed up with being stuck at the back with tits out to here and a costume slashed down to there doing the healing magic. Their choice was either that, or playing as a male character. They complained, and I don’t think anyone would disagree that gaming is better for having listened to those complaints.

When deciding to play a game, I make lots of choices about what I like and don’t like. e.g. “Is it a horror game?” (if yes, then me, out. I’m easily spooked.) I have a perfect right to decide that I don’t want to play a character with bad grammar, or anything else.


First of all, I hope you will let me apologize. I didn’t intend for this to be a major topic, and I hope you don’t think it was personal.

I didn’t expect that the character would be gender ambiguous throughout the story. I thought I would be playing as a male character and the plot confounded this, that’s all.

I was frustrated that I was given no choice about the matter, because one of the strengths of this media is that we no longer have to have a fixed text at the time of publication. If this was dead tree tech, then once printed, yeah - the character is a girl pretending to be a boy (or at least wearing boy’s clothes, let’s not get into that.) But the game didn’t need to do that, the main character could have been either as written, or that whatsername was wrong and the main character actually was as presented in the blurb. I don’t know if that would have messed up the plot later, because I didn’t get there.

I know that this story was intended for a school environment but I don’t think the kids would have had a problem with choosing between a and b as the process of clarifying the character. As noted above though, this is a “hot button topic” so I can understand the decision to avoid the whole issue. I wish I had, now.

Perhaps stay away from reading The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler , then. :wink:


I’m glad you voiced your opinion, and that this is a place for civilized discourse. I don’t like living in an echo chamber where I never hear opinions I don’t like, or get my own opinions challenged. And it’s a grievous thing that in so many places people can’t just listen and calmly discuss things that matter. Hot-button topics are hot for a reason, and avoiding them is not the answer to understanding where other people are coming from. Not that I think you need to keep going with this- just wanted to point out that I don’t want to see people silenced.


I think an author ought to be free to design their characters as they see fit. That game might not be for everyone as a result, but what else is new? Assessing such authorial decisions in moral terms (“casual sexism,” “forced to play”) feels a bit heavy.

Won’t reducing protagonist identity to a small set of easily changed variables generally result in protagonists whose identities are insignificant? It seems to me that Secret Letter wanted to do something with the social realities of being a girl in the game’s time/setting. I think an author aught to be able to make such choices.

I see no harm in disliking a game. I dislike more than I like. But I don’t feel that authors ought to tailor their work to my preferences. I don’t feel owed anything.

Edit: I’ll specify that, besides this thread, the idea that protagonist identity can be whatever the player wants has come up at Gold Machine on more than a few occasions. It is a common assumption that most Infocom protagonists have flexible gender, race, etc because the game does not talk about them (much). That is hardly ever true, though. The Zork adventurer, for instance, we know is male. Games didn’t talk a lot about maleness back then because it was usually assumed. Sometimes what is optimistically seen as “open” is, in fact, just taken as a given.

Edit 2: though I wonder if this ought to be closed, since it is a thread about something DD said, but so far as I know they had nothing to do with its creation

Different people like different things. CoG specializes in a high degree of character-customization and has an audience, others would prefer the protagonist is more specifically designed.

It often depends on the story that’s being told. If the story is about a protagonist who is a criminal and the player can’t identify, they’re not going to like that.

One thing that can help is point of view. Sometimes it’s clear that the player is manipulating a separate character who is not identified as “them” and that can mitigate some of these issues.

I had to find a way to separate the player from the PC in Fairest, because the PC is a hapless fool who learns a harsh lesson, which is probably not a lesson the player needs to learn, as the player is most likely not a hapless fool. I love games with unlikeable PCs (The Best Man is a great example), but it definitely takes some thought on how not to insult or alienate the player when writing those characters.


I actually split it because it digressed from the original topic, but everyone here has done a wonderful job discussing without getting angry. I can go ahead and close it.