Although almost half as many women play games as men, there are still very few games that have an exclusively female protagonist. When King’s Quest 4 came out twenty-six years ago, there were protest letters sent to Sierra about the fact that the game centered around Rosella, but the game was still a bestseller for the company.
So after all this time – why aren’t there more games starring a woman?
There is not just one reason. It comes down to many factors depending upon the type of game and the vision of the designer and the marketing department of the publisher and who makes the final decision of what goes into a game.
However, in an Indie game, the choice of the protagonist’s gender is ultimately the designer’s decision.
So why is Shawn our main character rather than Shawna?
I have been a feminist all of my life. That does not mean I’m a man-hating, bra-burning, ball-busting bitch, all evidence to the contrary. All that means is that I want women to have the same chances in life as men. If I do the same job as a guy, then I should be paid the same amount as a guy. If a woman is really good at being a manager, then that woman should be a boss. I just want things to be fair.
So given my feminist proclivities, it seems reasonable that I would design a game around a female protagonist. After all, I’m creating role-playing games. That means that the player takes on the role of the main character. Women play as men all the time in games. Why shouldn’t men play as women? If they can be Rosella, then they can be anyone.
In fact, when we first started designing an interactive storytelling game based around the ‘School for Heroes’ eight years ago, we had a female protagonist. She was a young women newly enrolled in the Wizard class. So in 2012, when we first decided to do a Kickstarter for Hero-U, we were going to turn her story into an Adventure/Role-playing game.
However, as Indie Developers, we had limitations on what we could do. The game was going to be much simpler than a Quest for Glory. It was probably more of a puzzle-role-playing game like McGuffin’s Curse than an adventure game. We had a limited budget and limited art resources. We certainly didn’t have any money for a marketing budget.
So did we really want to try to sell a game about a Wizard at a boarding school as an original idea? Didn’t someone else tell that story before us?
We wanted Hero-U to feel fresh and unique. Yes, we want to tell the story about the Wizard, but we decided to hold that one off for a later game in the series (after all, game design is like eating potato chips, nobody designs just one).
So we decided to tell the story of the Rogue instead of the Wizard. Rogues are much more puzzle-oriented than Wizards. We already had the setting for the game and many of the school staff characters developed for the School for Heroes. It couldn’t be too hard to come up with a puzzle game designed around a Rogue, could it?
Pity we didn’t actually get to design that game. It would have been a lot simpler to design and cheaper to create than the one we are working on now.
When we did our Kickstarter, though, we listened to our supporters. They were willing to support Hero-U as a Puzzle Role-Playing game because they enjoyed playing our games in the past, but they really wanted to see another Quest for Glory-style game. Almost all of our Kickstarter backers were fans of our older games.
We didn’t want to disappoint our fans. That’s a little like playing basketball with a Kwirk – with the Kwirk as the basketball.
Now we were back to making an adventure/role-playing game with too little money for too short a time.
So there is a practical reason why we didn’t allow players the choice of what gender they wanted Shawn to be – we didn’t have the art resources to make two main characters. Particularly not when the characters were 2D and had to be custom animated.
However, since we were definitely going over budget by over designing the game, why would we let little things like money, time, resources, and nervous breakdowns stop us from making Shawna? After all, we could always just have a female rogue for a protagonist.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is all about how the choices the player makes for Shawn affects his life and the lives of those around him. It’s an intense role-playing experience. Every choice the player makes has to have consequences.
This is why we couldn’t let the player choose to play either Shawn or Shawna. The interactions and dynamics of the game would be different for a male protagonist than for a female protagonist. Otherwise, the choice of gender was a meaningless decision.
Even in a world where women can become Kings or Wizards, they aren’t treated the same as men. There are more lands than just Raseir where women are seen as possessions rather than individuals. There are men who think that men are superior by nature. There are men who think that women need protecting. Yes, even the world of Gloriana needs feminists.
This game revolves around interacting with other characters throughout the course of the game. Shawna’s interactions with boyfriends and girlfriends would be very different than Shawn’s. There are a minimum of fifty interactions between Shawn and his roommate, Aeolus.
There’s a reason why this game is taking so long to develop. We have to come up with dialogue to match every situation. We have to think of the ramifications of every decision the player makes for Shawn.
Then we have to pull all the different plot threads and character interactions and events and tie them up with a nice little bow on top to make a game.
So why is Shawn not Shawna? Ultimately, it’s because Shawn fits better with the plotline of the game. The story called for a smart-alecky, streetwise kid who wanted to make a better life for himself by becoming a Thief.
If it had been Shawna as that kid on the street, she wouldn’t settle for being a Thief. She would want to become the queen of Sardonia.