Friday, April 22, 2016

Gender Inclusion (The Sea Eternal)

Note: This post deals with my game The Sea Eternal. As such, it will contain spoilers.

I wanted to make sure the game reflected the gender diversity of reality, and I did that by showing people in different roles with different identities and different ways of approaching and broadcasting their gender.

The Player

The most important design element gave players the ability to self-select their gender identity. I wanted to make sure that all players could easily identify with the protagonist, and that meant gender range was important. The player is offered a range of self-selection, making it clear that rigid definitions aren't as needed, and that this society has people who are comfortable existing beyond the binary. I wanted to extend that opportunity to players as well: the chance to live where whatever self-chosen gender identity is universally accepted.


Coming out stories are important, but there are so many more trans stories beyond that, and I wanted to be show stories that exist beyond the struggle of coming out. I wanted to include multiple examples of people living beyond the binary, especially people who had been comfortable living as themselves for a long time.

I also specifically made Ichtare agendered because I wanted to have someone who lived outside of the binary and was comfortable with identifying as agendered, and was respected by the other merfolk for making that decision. I especially wanted Ichtare's presence to show that the merfolk are respecting and understanding and positive about gender diversity.


Certainly Faye's story is the most obvious and prominent among the NPCs who falls outside the binary, and her story of being granted the chance to magically transition is a sort of nod to trans literature of being given a transformation wish. I realistically portrayed that transformation wish to some negative consequences that exist within the real world: being forced to supplicate and ask for approval (from doctors, psychologists, friends, and family members), dealing with unsupportive partners. But I definitely made sure to give Faye a happy ending, whether Faye chooses to magically transition or not. After all, I felt that she deserved to be happy, to get what she wanted without some universe-mandated "gotcha." It may sometimes be difficult to be ourselves, but I didn't want to make Faye choosing to be herself (in whichever way spoke louder to her) a situation that ultimately caused her unhappiness, but instead a situation that gave her joy.

As far as Tephra's reaction to Faye's desire to transition right after coming down, I wanted to make it clear that her discomfort with Faye wasn't actually tied to her feelings about genderswapping – after all, she's comfortable enough with Ichtare, the player, TAL, and probably others – but that her discomfort is with the power and control she loses over Faye by Faye taking steps to self-actualize. Violence, abuse, and unhealthy relationships are very dangerous in the queer community, especially since there is so little discussion around those issues. So I wanted to clearly show an unhealthy relationship.

Tamru / Awet / Liyu (TAL)

I wanted to give the human TAL an opportunity to be genderqueer because I thought it was important to show that having multiple genders is an aspect of human society, not just the mythical merfolk one. I wanted to show a human who wasn't in the binary, was comfortable with their status, and was also comfortable not magically transitioning. As someone trans, Awet had occasional alternative lines that talked about their identity and how that identity influenced their lives, but I also made it clear that they were happy being who they were. I am using "they" to refer to Awet here, but I also made sure to include a variety of different pronoun options for Awet.

There were actually some technical challenges to using different pronouns. The new pronouns like ze / zim /zir were actually easy, but accommodating they / their / them was actually incredibly intricate.

I aso wanted to include Awet as a possible version of TAL because having a genderqueer option felt more respectful to the players' gender attraction preferences. After all, there are people who prefer partners who exist beyond the binary, and it feels important o reaffirm non-binary people as desirable and dateable.

I will mention that my original for TAL didn't include female or genderqueer alternatives. This was because I wanted to treat TAL – along with all the NPCs – as unique individuals. Not as variables whose identity could be determined by the player. As time went on though, it became painfully clear how inadequate this model was and I was happy to fix it.

I describe the mechanics of making TAL's variables include the pronouns “they / their / them” in my section on Choice Structure.

The Squid

The squid exist in a gender identity that's important as well. The single squid that the player meets identifies, if anything, as agendered, preferring the pronouns it / its. Having a character who is apathetic towards their gender is also a part of gender identity, even if that apathy comes partially from being an inhuman part of a collective consciousness. An interesting idea that I never got to really examine was the gender identity of the collective itself. As a "being" composed of sexed individuals, how does it see itself? A mystery for another day, alas.

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