Sex/Gender in Character Creators, and How to do Better


#1

Yall, I saw a Destiny Take today. It touches on an interesting conversation, about blind optimism as opposed to an actual push for change to accompany it.

The Take in question, claims that it is Capital B Bad that Destiny, with all it’s flagrant disregard for real science (no land on Titan, the Sun is Rocks, Actual Magic, Etc), still only presents 2 genders in it’s character creator. But, that’s all it is. That’s the end of it. Now that in particular is interesting to me, because while it should be obvious that yes, the rigidity of gender in games absolutely needs adressing, taking issue with something for NOT doing something that has never really been done before in a game of it’s scale feels off, like a half measure. I can’t fault the thaught behind the statement, but it speaks to a disconnect with the realities of actually DOING what it suggests.

And this is a conversation we all need more of. Because takes like this are extremely common. There a whole bunch of legitimate reasons why any particular game could choose not to break new ground in this area, and top of all of those reasons is that nobody has overcome any of those other reasons in a way that can be used as a benchmark yet. I’m sure there plenty of games that have tried new things, or even done them well, just as there have been for the similar and related issue of body types in character creators. All it would really take is one game on Destiny’s scale to do something simple, easy to understand, and more imporantly, easy to COPY, to make these kinda of things windespread. Then we can have something to point at when a game DOESN’T do it.

And this isn’t about excusing devs, far from it. Development is complicated, and it would take forever to communicate exactly what barriers exist to everything that everyone wants from games, so there’s no real point in going on and on about why nothing is That Simple. What we all CAN do though, is change the conversation from Why Not, to How. Why Not, is a question devs will often know the answer to, but for one reason or another won’t be able to communicate. How, is a question that almost everyone who plays games can contribute to. In a broad environment, it’s a question that relevant voices can make themselves heard, and in a way that can actually result in change. Why Not doesn’t put any pressure on devs to actually do anything, How means a constant stream of ideas that devs WILL see, and WILL listen to.

So with all that preamble, what ARE you all wanting from Gender in character creators? More flippant stuff like Strafe’s pointless gender slider? A third, gender neutral character option in games like Pokemon (already tested in fanmade Uranium)? Simply let the player choose pronouns and leave the rest as body type customisation? What are the little things that you’d need to get right? And lets not limit this to just Sex/Gender, as mentioned above there’s other things that desever the same notice. Not every game can pull off a Dragon’s Dogma, so what’s something more managable? I’m quite fond of Dark Souls’s solution of tieing body type to your armor, to an extent.

And as a final aside, it may be odd that even robots in destiny have gender at all, but if they didn’t I wouldn’t be able to play as my cute robot mage lady, so I’m willing to accept this.


#2

This is a dope ass post, and it speaks to a somewhat normative shift in discussing solutions to various issues that I really can appreciate. I’m having a hard time wording my own opinions on the subject in a sufficient manner, because I guess I just want people to be able to create an avatar that is to their own satisfaction, and if I’m perfectly honest I just kinda think that that’s a boring “Well duh” kind of answer. If I were to go deeper, I would say that what should define the parametres of a character creator should ultimately be what the story/writing/environment entails, so I think the actual issue is for writers to create more “diverse storytelling” and for the character creators to reflect that properly.

EDIT:
Upon re-readinfg my post I’ve found that I still think it’s unsatisfactory, and maybe it’s because I haven’t really encountered a character creator that I can remember being annoyed with (outside of not being able to give my pokemon character a full beard, which I can honestly understand, given the character is, like, 12). I realize I’m somewhat speaking from a place of privilege as a white male, who will switch between a black or white male as a character outside of SWTOR with a wide selection of bearded non-human races, but I guess all I can say is that I want everyone to be able to feel that way. It must fucking suck to always be left unsatisfied by a character creator, especially when you consider how much time is spent looking at said character, and while I don’t really have a definitive answer I absolutely think that it is a serious issue that should be solved. The “How”, to which you referred, I just can’t seem to formulate.


#3

If you’re just gonna make fun of people when they ask for better representation then the problem is with you, OP. Especially if you use “logistics” as an excuse for why it hasn’t happened yet (hint: its not logistics)

Also placing all the onus on the people who want representation is supremely shitty. It’s not our fault people want to pretend we don’t exist and it’s especially not our fault that the only reason we ever get for not being represented properly is “it doesn’t sell well”.


#4

i’ll start off this post by saying i don’t really understand why the first two paragraphs are mostly just making fun of someone for wanting better gender options in Destiny in the voice of an observational comedian

i think the answer of ‘how to do better’ depends largely on the mechanics of the game, and how much of your character is seen/heard/spoken about. in something that’s text-based or completely first person probably just a wide array of pronoun choices is enough. Dark Souls, like you mentioned, probably has it fairly easy as you’re mostly just choosing one of two body models and it doesn’t really come up in those games that much. then there are games that complicate PC’s gender choice mechanically (like in Warband the game warns you that playing as a woman will make the diplomacy game much harder for you, since in that game all men are fighter guys and all women are princesses).

i kinda feel like Destiny probably isn’t the most difficult game on the planet to open the gender options more on. i think most of the VO is written refering to the player character in gender neutral terms. Just open up all the the face options and instead of having a “male/female” selection let the player pick one of two body types (like you said, not every game can have Dragon’s Dogma’s character creator) and just refer to the options with neutral language. idk.


#5

I thaught I made it pretty clear I wasn’t making fun of the sentiment, but apparantly not, so: I wasn’t mocking the sentiment. Just when you’ve seen the same “I want X” take a billion times without any tangible effort as to how to actually get it, it just becomes comical. And again, I thaught I made it pretty clear that there’s no “excusing” being done, the point is that talking about the billon different possible reasons why something hasn’t happened is a dead-end conversation. Running that same question again and again every time without taking the next step is why we still have to listen to “are games art” every now and again. It was talked about on waypoint live, there’s no acknowlagement that we’ve all already been through this, and we’re all way too content to just have the same discussion every time something comes up again.

Edit: did change the OP a bit though.


#6

so i have two problems w yr thesis here

firstly yr apparent assumption that trans & nb folx have not been forthcoming w solutions to this is totally baffling to me because like. i’ve seen & had those conversations. a lot. that you were not privy to them says a lot more about who yr listening to & surrounding yrself with than it does about us as a group

secondly i reject the idea that we even have to hand-walk developers through this. like, trans folx didnt just pop out with fully formed gender politics either; we’ve had to unlearn binarist + transphobic thinking just as much as cis ppl. i’m happy to help other trans folx come to understandings on gender as a community building thing bc that is about the comfort of a human being, i dont want to do free consultancy work for game developers though lol

edit: also what the hell i feel like im gonna be characterised as A Hater for my posting here anyway i might as well go all in: i dont personally actually have any interest in mainstream games including people like me for a lot of reasons. like. 9/10 when ppl start including nonbinary folx its going to get used to misgender trans women (referring to binary trans women as Existing Without The Binary as a way to assign them a third gender is kind of a fuckin Thing), plus i’ve seen so many games that give just the barest of nods towards our existence get praised as SO IMPORTANT! as part of a marketing push, and, its like, i am not a marketing point? i am a human person. “YOU SHOULD BUY THIS BECAUSE IT IS A MORAL GOOD!” is even more cynical than the usual game marketing of “YOU SHOULD BUY THIS BC IT MAKES YOU A HARDCORE COOL DUDE”

my solution to this then if you want it is: boost the voices of actual trans people both wrt our words on these issues and also: our work, within videogames, because there are actually kind of a lot of trans gamedevs and yet most of the discussion i see about Representation! focuses on fictitious characters or on the ability to customise in games largely created by cis folx


#7

I don’t think Morton was suggesting that these discussions weren’t taking place, but that they should be taking place moreso than they already are. Obviously these are not discussions that are taking place enough in game development judging by it being a persisting problem. The fact that you have such a strong reaction towards it must mean that something should change, right? I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m putting words in your mouth, but it’s almost like you’re saying that there is no hope for mainstream games. Even if a game is largely created by cis developers, that doesn’t speak to their playerbase, so they have to get better at it otherwise the problem just persists and we’re stuck where we are now. I mean, shit, there has to be a way for a cis gendered person to be able to cater (don’t know if that’s the right word) to a non-binary demographic without it coming off as stilted and fake, right?

Edit: apologies in advance for any potential misuse of gender related terminology, I am far from an expert on the subject.


#8

I’m under no impression that trans folk, NB folk and all the like aren’t already having these conversations, as Lassermomme said there just needs to be more of it. For various work and social related reasons I hear a lot more from trans folk than most, but when these conversations happen the actually useful stuff is coming from them, not cis folks.“Boost voices of marginalised people” is often used by people in privilaged positions as an excuse to point at someone else, say “listen to them”, then remain silent, which leaves one person talking and less people listening. Absolutely boost marginalised voices, obviously do that, but also keep talking. Point being, the conversations are happening, they just need to happen more, and come from people who don’t usually have them.

When it comes down to it, I just think it’d be more helpful if whenever someone is going to say “X needs better gender options” it was at the very least accompanied by

Like, that fits in a tweet. Do that.


#9

I don’t think it’s a one or the other situation (regarding boosting trans voices and discussing games created by cis folks). I think that both pieces of the conversation can exist in the same place. Discussing developer and creator diversity in mainstream media is… an important discussion. So is promoting existing works by trans people. So is like basic discussions of inclusion.

And while I understand the real concern rgarding the misgendering of trans women, I don’t think the solution is to just not talk about non-binary people at all. I think it’s to talk about them more and in more situations. Invisibility is only going to hurt trans people who already exist, just like it hurt me when I was realizing I was non-binary.

And I don’t enjoy the idea of being marketed to either, nor the promotion of cis voices over trans voices. I would prefer if the inclusion of us in a game was just another option to choose from. And I can’t speak for everyone, but I also don’t like being constrained to games made by trans developers 100% of the time. If I did that my gaming library would be pretty limited.

I think there’s a way to have non-binary people included in “mainstream” games that doesn’t cater to people’s moral absolutism and doesn’t promote cis ppl’s idea and opinions over trans peoples. Part of that comes down to more diversity in mainstream development and more reasonable marketing. Part of that comes down what Morton said about continuing to just having more conversations.


#10

When people say, “Hey, this game isn’t doing something”, they’re bringing it to everyone’s attention. Yes, you are engaged with communication channels where you are hearing this a LOT. But not everyone is using the same communication channels, so it’s in the interest of everyone for as many people and organizations to say it as possible so that the message is loud and clear.

Also, bringing these things up can have repercussions. In an episode of Waypoint, Austin mentioned how an earlier version of Animal Crossing (I forget which one) didn’t allow the player to create a character with dark skin. I think Austin said he’d mentioned this in a write-up or a review (sorry for being vague). Well, when Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer came out, the player was able to give their character a darker skin color. It’s almost as if Nintendo heard people’s complaints, listened, and incorporated solutions into the new game.

It’s important to realize that not every public outcry leads to a targeted press release; not every action has an impact that is easily visible. I once wrote a carefully worded letter to a local arts magazine because they didn’t list their writers or photographers, and I thought it was in everyone’s best interest to credit their artists. They didn’t respond to my email, but in the next issue of the magazine, every writer and photographer had a credit. What I’m getting at is this: we have more of an impact on our world than we may realize. For all we know, a future CEO or legislator is writing in these forums and will be shaped by the conversations they had here. You never know. Call me a die-hard optimist, but I see too much positive change to return to the cynic that I once was.


#11

While we appreciate users breaching tougher topics such as handling gender and sexuality in video games, we would appreciate people writing threads taking the time to think about how they approach them and what the impact of the thread might be on other users who are affected by such issues. Things that deal with intrinsic identity are often the most needing nuanced discussions, and we would like if people would think about how their words come off to others and their lived experiences. Just because something involves fictional video games doesn’t mean that we do not live in a world where there are real, demonstrable and material impacts from these representations, conversations and continued interactions, these forums included.


#12

i guess part of my problem is w/o the scope of this thread bc like… what really does Mainstream Acceptance mean politically given some of the other things that the games industry at large has been part of (like, oliver north turning up in marketing ffs). i worry the end result could potentially get into “HIRE MORE DIVERSE PRISON GUARDS” territory until we clean house on a lot of other issues in the industry

so i guess if you want a Tweet-Length Solution its “destroy capitalism first” tho i suspect yr going to assume glibness on my part here

if we put that aside for a second tho i guess its like. i still dont really understand the demands that we have More Of These Conversations especially when i feel like so often myself when im talking to cis ppl i’m having to explain Trans 101 Things over, and over, and over, and over and never actually get the opportunity to get into real depth. i dont understand yr point either about how cis ppl shouldnt just boost trans voices but also add their own – if someone is only going to listen to trans issues when it’s coming from a cis person they’re part of the problem? this is what i mean re: 101 stuff like, in the circles i generally move in the concept of Staying In Your Lane is not something we often have to communicate, that im having to explain this and not even getting particularly close to the subject at hand re: gender in games is Part Of The Problem Also

idfk im outtie


#13

I think this is an important point, and one worth keeping in mind as we trudge through the shittiness of our daily lives: Things are getting better, we are far removed from where the medium was just 10 years ago. This isn’t to say that the journey is over and that we are done because we’re not and we can always get better, but we have come a loooooong way from where we started. Some time ago Austin dropped quote in regards to the presidential election or innaugruation and it was somewhere along the lines of “change isn’t easy, it’s hard and hurts and takes a shitload of time. we have to suffer through tons of incremental progress in an ocean of setbacks and bullshit, but that is just how change is. (sorry Austin, for butchering the quote)”. It would be great if we could just snap our fingers and everything would be in order, right as rain, but that’s just not how change works. The important thing to remember is that these things, however incremental and small in the grand scheme of things, matter. We’re on our way


#14

The various reasons for feeling frustrated with standard industry practice are hard to “fit into a tweet”, especially with this being a fairly personally charged topic. It sounds like you would like to have the various criticisms distilled into a general and universal design principle, which seems to me like putting the cart before the horse. “Principles” of “design” arise as post-facto explanations of why and how a work does something right towards a particular goal. To my mind, it follows that the priority should be to open up some room in which people affected by these issues can explore various approaches to, for instance, gendered character creation.

An important function of “takes” like these is to assert this room. My feeling is that efforts to counteract cisnormative design will always resist being neatly boiled down to a mass-replicated, marketable template, and so your question will remain without a satisfactory answer until you examine the assumptions beneath it.

If I was just making a pitch to a corporation, I’d say start with disentangling body type from F/M toggle. But that is absolutely not far enough, and more productive solutions will only come out of this greater creative space I mentioned.


#15

Something I wish was that gendered body types were less binary more often. It feels impossible to make a character feel more androgyne in most games.

As for feedback to developers, I do imagine much of the issue is that the voices simply aren’t reaching them, or at least, reaching those that need it. From my observations, reviews and mass fan feedback tends to be the areas the developers/publishers look at the most, so if it doesn’t appear in reviews or there isn’t massive fan backlash, it feels like it often doesn’t really matter. Another place appears to be high-profile criticisms, but that can be more of a hit or miss.

Since not having non-binary body choices is something that’s pretty much the norm, reviewers aren’t going to mention it and there isn’t going to be much fan backlash for it. A well-done critical piece might do it, but such a thing becoming high profile enough is going to be a challenge.

What’s probably necessary to get movement in these areas will be organization. Without organized activism, I think it will be difficult to get much in terms of changes done.


#16

I agree. I think most of the discussions and problems regarding gender and games simply aren’t reaching developers. Either because the platforms being used now are too small or larger outlets aren’t lending voices to this issue.

Organization I think is an important step, but I think it’s also important to recognize where already existing trans voices are in any given industry (games, games journalism, etc.) and use those to our advantage. We aren’t as powerless as we think, the issue might just be that a) we aren’t pointing that power in the right direction or b) we’re pointing in several directions at once, dividing our collective impact.


#17

I don’t buy into the belief that these sorts of options aren’t included in games because the developers are unaware of criticisms about gender options or aren’t receiving feedback about it. A game like Destiny requires an incredibly large team to make, and to say that they didn’t include more choices regarding gender and the like because they were all ignorant to the fact that many people desired it isn’t realistic to me.

There has been more than enough progressive discussion in recent years for developers to take notice and make changes accordingly, and if they are steadfastly still refusing to it is starting at this point to seem like a definite choice and not an oversight, which is disheartening. When a smaller indie game like Pyre gives you the option to pick pronouns and more than 2 genders but a game with the development resources like Destiny 2 doesn’t it’s unfortunate and getting pretty inexcusable.


#18

Here are some small changes that developers can make. I could probably come up with more if i have it some thoughts but these are some quick thoughts.

  • Take away the the phrase “gender” if it is just about the binary physical appearence and nothing else (such as pronouns) it would be nice if they don’t call this choice/slider anything at all but i might even prefer the word sex over gender in this case since if they picked gender they would give the implication of gender = what

  • Give more options then to just let the “male faces” have “female hair” or something like that. Give the option for example to both have breasts and a bulge.

  • If you are creating a rpg or anything like that with much of dialoge it could be smart to be able to choose pronouns instead of trying to make sure that NPCs never use pronouns (such as in Destiny where they instead just call you Guardian all the time)

  • Have more then one trans character. Most of the games that have one of the more known and better trans characters usually just have that one character. Include multiple and maybe even let them clear some version of the Bechdel Test but for trans/non-binary folks.

  • Be specific, don’t just let the characters gender be a mystery were you just hint at it a little bit but are to affraid to actually commit. Also please make more trans characters human, i don’t mean that in "hey write the characters good* instead i mean that developers should stop giving the role of the trans character to a robot or a alien. Far to many trans characters in games (or at least have been hinted to be trans) have been for example robots were they just let the gender be a mystery and hope that it will work as trans representation.

Sorry for my very hastily written message but since you talked about actually giving ideas and saying “how” instead of “why/why not” i thought i could eave some small notes.


#19

I want to say that when I said “the voices aren’t reaching them”, I don’t mean that they’re not aware of the issues, but more than even if they were, they make lack clout to actually implement them. Just because they may be aware of the issues, they may not be able to prove there’s enough demand for it to allocate the resources required to make the changes.

If there’s a review or a large amount of fan backlash at something, a developer can point at it and say, hey, this is causing a problem for the game’s sales and we can fix it. If all they get is a bunch of isolated forum posts, then the argument is far less compelling.

This is why I say that organization can really help in bringing these issues forward to developers and publishers. That’s not to say that things aren’t improving without it, but I think it can help accelerate things forward.

There is also the case that some developers simply are just ignorant of the issues. This is going to be far less likely for the major developers with their large staff, but for the smaller ones? I’m fairly positive that it is the case that many of them haven’t even considered it. This is something that can be improved upon with more general talking about the subject, I think.


#20

huge echo that i usually don’t join these discussions (on this forum and elsewhere) specifically because i don’t have the time nor energy nor will to explain basics of my existence to people who are so far removed from it yet seem to think they already understand it, or at the very least that they’re “not part of the problem”