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I'm world building for a fantasy MMORPG and I really want to have a safe and acceptable environment for all possible players. Of course I am going to be realistic and have prejudice in game, it wouldn't be believable if everyone got along. However I personally feel that if a paying consumer of my game feels like having a non binary character, why should I limit them and make them feel uncomfortable? They could always make two separate characters, but then there's a lack of sync and feeling that they are one person. My team also discussed having a feature that switched between avatars while keeping gear and skills. Another idea was a sort of illusion spell that would alter the players body to a set form based off of their original facial shape and general traits. I would like to hear more suggestions and thought of this topic in games, or if something like this has been done before, even if it was not intended for gender fluid people. In the end I would like to have a believable way for a player to switch between male and female in game.

Previous Comments

Do characters in the game have the possibility to beget offspring (male) or to give birth to offspring (female)? Otherwise, they are not male and female, but rather masculine and feminine: which is a much simpler problem, and one that should have minimal impact, if it has any impact at all. Actually, what exactly would be the impact of switching the identifier of a character from Cao Pi to Guo Nüwang? (One of those names is feminine, and the other masculine; which is which is left as an exercise.)

We are working on a function for players to have NPC children. So if they had gotten pregnant they would not be able to change the sex of their avatar, that would cause problems. This is more of gender and appearance, not so much biological sex. Though I guess it would be plausible for them to be pregnant, and then get some one else pregnant after giving birth. If of course it wasn't illusion magic.

It seems like you already know your answer. If it's about gender and appearance, then it's about how a character is physically portrayed. Right? So for example, in an typical MMORPG, you purchase a breastplate from the local armory, you'll have a 'male' version and a 'female' version. Perhaps just give an option to purchase a variety or degree of masculine and feminine armor regardless what biological sex your player is. For example, a male player can purchase a very feminine looking breastplate.

we have plenty of possible answers. It's more of what would make people feel most comfortable. A lot of gender fluid people can have body dysmorphic disorder, and some of them play games for gender comfort. It's like a self applied therapy where you can be what ever you identify with, and others will see and accept you as that gender. So masculine and feminine armor would work and is probably an idea we will use, we don't want someone to feel confined to one gender. Especially because gender fluid people can change from masculine to feminine day to day. the armor also means they may have to buy multiple sets. also some one may feel strongly masculine one day, and strongly feminine another, making a gender ambiguous character a bit awkward.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "In the end I would like to have a believable way for a player to switch between male and female in game." -- If your gender-fluid player doesn't identify as a male or female, why make them choose one in the game? If you want to serve these players, shouldn't you have an "other" category at character creation, and allow a full range of body shapes instead of simply male/female versions of armor? \$\endgroup\$ – Jimmy Mar 12 '18 at 5:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jimmy that's exactly what I'm trying to do. I want them to be able to change their base shape between masculine and feminine. We will include the varying armor scales and gender ambiguity, but I want to find a way to switch between them without it seeming out of place in gameplay. So as example, if they wanted to be biologically female and strongly feminine one day but then switch to male and neutral, or masculine, they could. \$\endgroup\$ – Game Master Mar 12 '18 at 5:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jimmy You may want to avoid "other". That word is a bit discriminating. You'd usually want to define at least male, female, both, neither, "none of these" \$\endgroup\$ – Bálint Mar 12 '18 at 7:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I love the idea of switching characters (male/female, races like ork, elf, human) ingame via spells. Sounds for me like the hall of faces: gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Hall_of_Faces \$\endgroup\$ – monty Mar 12 '18 at 7:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might actually be an interesting idea to not include a gender option in character creation at all and instead just have sliders for everything, hips, breasts, muscles, options for facial hair, hairdos of all kinds and a variety of voice options. The only problem with this is whether NPCs are supposed to react to your gender. The swap depends on the setting - if either magic or late sci-fi tech are available, simply make transformations available for free or very cheaply (that will reduce your monetization options though). \$\endgroup\$ – Pahlavan Mar 12 '18 at 8:36
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Disclaimer: I am not genderfluid, nor am I a psychologist or gender therapist. I have had regular and friendly contact and conversation over several years with at least two genderfluid people, one of which I have met personally. I am speaking purely from a game design standpoint and make no claims of special qualification to comment on genderfluidity.

Character Sex and Gender

The very first question you should ask yourself is whether it is necessary at all to assign characters a binary sex and gender at all. This depends mostly on whether you have game mechanics that require such information about a character to be present. The children you speak of may be one such mechanic, as might the prejudice you mentioned which I assume includes NPC reactions. However, these things aren't as straightforward as one might think.

For example: If NPCs react to you in gender-specific ways, how do they determine what gender your character has? Do you have to choose from a predefined list at what kind of gender your character will register? Do you calculate a masculinity/femininity score from character appearance that the NPCs recognize? (BTW don't do that, as you'd be opening the can of worms about what is masculine or feminine being essentially arbitrary and based on stereotypes.) If you have to choose, can you choose a third (fourth, fifth...) option? And if so, is this actually so important to your game that you have to do it this way? It generally isn't a problem to have NPCs address you by non-gendered titles and you can portray prejudice along race and class lines just as well - or have gender prejudice take place between NPCs rather than direct it at the players who, by the way, if they're playing your game for the comfort of being able to play according to their identity might not necessarily appreciate this conflict directed at them - opinions will vary.

Then there's the problem of having children: you stated this was a fantasy scenario, so why exactly do you need a male and female to procreate anyway? I assume you're not going to display a PIV cutscene. Are you planning to have the mother go through actual 9 months of pregnancy? I sort of doubt it. Chances are your characters will enter the house/bed, some kind of jingle plays and you'll have a child. In a world where there's magic I wouldn't really care that much about two women or men or people of various genders having children with each other through magical insemination/gestation. And if you want to include player pregnancy you could easily just have the players choose which partner carries the child. You have the privilege of magic, use it.

Character Appearance

As I said in my comment, just have sliders for everything, hips, breasts, muscles, options for facial hair, hairdos of all kinds and a variety of voice options with a few androgynous ones. Leave the gender option out and let people look as feminine and/or masculine as they like (including not at all). Modern technology makes a lot of gender-specific clothing options unnecessary as the clothing has to seamlessly adapt to the body shape or the character, regardless of how tall, wide and curvy they are. Characters with big breasts will have big bulges (except in plate armour where that doesn't make sense) and characters with long legs will have longer trousers or skirts to match.

Allow the players to go back to the appearance menu in some easily accessible way, probably through transformation magic. Maybe have a magic circle in player houses and guild halls - resist the urge to monetise this function, as you'd specifically be exploiting those who your question is trying to be inclusive of (and props for that by the way).

Believability

For in-game explanations I prefer transformation magic as stated. Go a step further though and integrate this into the lore of your game. Maybe player characters are special precisely because they're able to change their form at will and that's their heroic superpower! Include some quests in which you disguise as someone else to sneak into a secret/forbidden area to integrate the form-changing into the gameplay.

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Do not give player-characters an explicit gender.

As Pahlavan suggested in a comment to the question, have your character editor offer sliders for both feminine and masculine characteristics, so players can create a character which looks as male, female, androgynous or ambiguous as they want.

When it comes to pronouns used in dialog, you might want to give players a wide variety of options. Allow them to choose between standard-male (he, his, him), standard-female (she, her, her), gender-neutral (they, their, them) or custom (let them enter any strings they want). Assume any NPC simply guesses the pronouns of each PC correctly.

To accomodate gender-fluid people, you should allow to change look and pronouns during the game with relatively little effort. Don't think about it too much, just handwave it with magic or technology (depending on setting). I used to be a developer on an MMORPG where we had a "plastic surgeon" NPC which was performing both gender reassignment and character re-customization. We used to make it extremely expensive as a money sink, but then nobody would use it. So we just made it free. This proved to be very popular with our community. If you need more money sinks, choose something which actually affects gameplay or offers cosmetic options not available from the start.

However, one thing you should think careful about is allowing namechanges. There is just too much abuse potential here. MMOs are about social interactions. When people can change their names, then nothing stops them from changing their name, being mean to people, change it back and not have any repercussions whatsoever. If you choose to allow namechanges, at least try to provide some transparency about who changed when to which name.

Regarding having children: If this is an integral aspect of the game, consider to do this through adoption instead of pregnancy. Skyrim went that route in the Hearthfire DLC to avoid having different mechanics for male and female player-characters. This also solves a lot of other problems like having to implement whole game systems for pregnancy and caring for infants which likely don't synergize well with the other mechanics of your game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point on the name changes and adoption as an option, I hadn't considered that. \$\endgroup\$ – Pahlavan Mar 13 '18 at 12:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ The name changes could be handled by using a system similar to TSW, where a character has a first and last name and a kind of "street name" that is the official display name. If characters had one official permanent display name that needn't be a "name" in the traditional sense and could define the common names of the characters and change them according to representation they would remain identifiable yet appropriately gendered. \$\endgroup\$ – Pahlavan Mar 13 '18 at 13:27

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