Developer on Gender: A Choice That Works for The Story

One developer says it's up to the developer to make the gender choice.

The issue of females in games continues to rage. Should we see more female protagonists? Will this induce more women to get involved in the hobby?

Well, one developer addresses the first question in a recent Polygon interview. Mike Bithell, creator of the indie hit Thomas Was Alone, says a protagonist's gender is simply the choice of the designer. However, that being established, he added that people are getting tired of the same ol' same ol':

"People are getting tired of playing the same grizzled man carrying a variety of guns. The thing that's interesting with gender, and is exciting, is that the conversation has gotten to a point where I'd even be asked 'Why male?'. That's a big deal, and speaks a lot to the awareness that's brewing in the industry about gender depictions, and frankly, the boringness of the standard chiseled beefcake with the big gun."

Bithell is working on a new game, Volume. Initially, it had a female lead. However, as the development advanced and the story began to take shape, he realized that given the "Robin Hood-style story," the hero really needed to be male. Bithell was looking to create a "particular form of rich masculine heroism," so he made the appropriate choice. He added:

"I [hope] that when people play the game, they'll realize why I chose to tell this story with a male protagonist. For me, that's the interesting shift in the thinking recently. Male heroes should no longer be the default; it's a choice, a choice that should be deployed when it works for the story being told."

This is exactly correct. You create the story first. You don't try and build a story around a female (or gay) character simply for the express purpose of "making a statement." You develop the story and if such a character makes sense,  you put him/her in. If not, not. This is the only 100% fair approach; i.e., the only approach where there is no semblance of bias, and only the artistic craft of storytelling exists.

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A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.

Published Feb. 21st 2014
  • Cortalia
    It mainly comes down to the storyline, and that's the double edged sword..and its not a fault of the gaming community, or devs, or companies.

    It's more or less ... just the way our society works, especially if you make a game based on any form of historical folklore, since the vast majority of it revolves around a male lead.

    That being said... it CAN be done with female leads, I think Disney is cashing in big time on that front. Movies like Brave, Tangled, Frozen all have diverse female leads and its catching both kids and adults alike and their moving a ton of merch on it.. I know the Disney Story in my nearby mall is packed almost all the time, line ups for the cash register to the far wall, and the kids want Rapunzel... not... uh... whats his name. Flynn?

    Anyways back to the point... if i remember my gradeschool fairytails correctly, did the fairytail more or less focus around the man trying to convince Rapunzel to let down her hair so he could climb up the tower? where as in the disney version she wants to leave to tower to go see the festival of lights.

    When I have spare time, and im not waist deep into playing a game... er i mean working on a "project".. I've been writing a fanfiction novel based off my time playing Final Fantasy XI, the cast is almost all female, granted I don't think it would ever get published or even noted, but I can say that it is rather difficult to write a story with alot of action featuring a female lead, while keeping her from coming off as a tomboy, or masculine. I've had to re-write many chapters because they just didn't work out, had i went with a male lead I would probably be about twice as far.

    As sexist as this may sound, a female character has to have alot more depth and you have to walk this very fine line between creating a character that's personable and attractive, without crossing the line and making her come off as being seen as "Sexual object" or overly masculine "a male lead given a female body". When it comes to dong a male lead... you can basically do whatever you want within reason, that thin line female leads have becomes a giant 6 lane highway in comparison.

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