Thursday, May 5th, 2016 05:36 pm
So, a question that's come up in a game I'm working on, and is likely to come up again in future: how do you combine allowing the player character (PC) of a dating sim having a spectrum of gender identities available with having love interests who aren't all bi/pan?

If you haven't played many dating sims: the player has some control over various aspects of the player character (PC), such as name, appearance, gender, and pronouns. They then make decisions for the PC during dialogue/events with the various other characters, and this affects how the other characters feel about them (and also has plot consequences). Some characters are love interests, and if they get along well enough with the PC and any other prerequisites are met, then the player can choose to initiate a romantic arc with them.

There's nothing wrong with games where all the love interests are bi, whether explicitely or implicitely (eg their orientation is never specified but they are always able to be interested in the PC) But for characterisation reasons it's nice to be able to have games where some or all love interests have specific romantic/sexual orientations, including more narrow ones like straight/gay/lesbian.

It's easy to decide how that affects male and female PCs: lesbian love interests will date women and not men for example. But what about non binary PCs? Especially when they can have a variety of orientations/presentations/pronouns etc within the non binary umbrella? Use the broadest definition of each orientation and let all love interests be available to all non binary PCs, eg lesbians date women and non binary people? Try and figure out some other line for each love interest depending on their specific orientation/identity? How would you implement that?

This is not something I've ever seen discussed or implemented. The few games I've seen that let you play as non binary had all bi love interests, eg Hustle Cat, while those whose love interests had a variety of sexualities only let characters be male or female eg Dragon Age Inquisition.

So, what do you think, lesbian/gay/straight people? What would feel reasonable to you?

Now the specific context:
In Copper Rose the PC can be a woman or non binary, and the love interests are a combination of women and non binary people. Originally it was just f/f, but we both felt much happier making it about women and non binary people. The current plan is to let the player choose from a variety of presentations for the PC, so that they could be playing a fairly masculine presenting non binary character. We've agreed that it would be both in character and more satisfying for players for all the love interests to be willing to date PCs of any presentation/gender, but we're both bi and worry it might feel like erasure to lesbian players.

Only one of the love interests, Leyla, has her orientation be a significant part of her arc: she's a lesbian and her (previously butch woman identified) ex came out as a trans man after they broke up. She's not sure how things would have gone if the ex had come out while they were together, but would have been willing to give it a shot. So I think it makes sense for her to date non binary people of any presentation, she might be less interested in some kinds of non binary people overall but can still happen to fall for the PC.

One of the other love interests, Ren Xuan, is asexual, and I want to make that unambiguous. She's also bi, and I can see that coming up in the same conversation. Also she's very flirtatious and will flirt in-game with people of all genders.

We're currently thinking of making the four other love interests' orientations ambiguous. Some have had past relationships with men, and some explicitely avoid relationships with men, but those are both true of many lesbian and bi people respectively. The bi LIs other than Ren Xuan are unlikely to express interest in any men during the game regardless (partly because there are hardly any in the cast haha)

The ambiguity was suggested by a lesbian who used to be on the Copper Rose team, so she'd be happy with it, but obviously she can't speak for anyone else.

We definitely plan on having sympathetic explicitely lesbian and bi (and aromantic and straight) side characters.

Another idea was to include a significant romance subplot involving more strictly "only into women or maybe femme non binary" lesbian side characters who aren't love interests. This would require some significant plot/characterisation changes, and I'm resistant to doing it unless convinced it would make the game significantly more enjoyable for a large number of players.

So, what do you think, lesbian peeps?

Note: I don't want to imply that there's a simple one dimensional gender spectrum from women to femme non binary to masculine non binary to men, because it's much more complicated than that. Also, I find gender and sexuality really confusing when I poke at it too long, I'm trying to muddle through regardless but I hope I haven't said anything too clueless about people who work differently to me.
Thursday, May 5th, 2016 07:30 pm (UTC)
I think my answers would be different for a dating sim rather than for a game where romance is just one aspect of it. (Like, literally all I ever hear people talking about re: Dragon Age and such is romance, but I'm pretty sure they are not just dating sims and have other stuff going on in the game.)

In a dating sim, since the entire point is to date the characters, I would be more likely to make all the characters interested in the player, regardless of gender. I think it would also be interesting if there were some characters the player couldn't date due to various reasons (not just gender), but overall I'd be more inclined to say they should all be dateable.

But in a game where romance is just one aspect, I think it would be much more interesting if the possibilities were a lot more closed off and characters had more preferences so the player is only able to date them if they happen to fit those preferences.

That said, I have negative interest in romance in games, whether it's a dating sim or part of a larger game, so I may not be the person to ask.