Lamplight City Narrative Commentary, Part 5: Gender-swapping
This is a series of spoiler-free (or -lite) transcripts from my portion of the Lamplight City developer commentary, which includes behind-the-scenes insights and anecdotes about the story writing and editing process. Start with Part 1.
I. Gender-swapping Connie
The character of Connie Upton — perhaps my favorite in the whole game — was originally conceived as a man, named Edward Upton.
One of the first things I do when I start working on a game is take a look at the gender balance of the cast. Basically I want to see that at least half of the characters are women, especially major characters with arcs and narrative agency. And with the lineup of Miles, his partner Bill, and his police force pal Edward, that left Addy as the only major character who wasn’t male. So at a pretty early stage, I pitched changing Edward Upton into Constance Upton.
At that point there was no art and no dialogue yet, just a sketch with some of the character’s background and notes on their role in the story.
Other than a new name, I was adamant that the other details about the character should change as little as possible. She remained an overweight, deskbound officer with marital troubles, a brave and loyal friend with an impish sense of humor and an easy, teasing rapport with her old buddy Miles, who habitually greeted her as “Upton O’Goode.”
I love the friendship we landed on between these two colleagues, and I can’t help but think that the dynamic would have been different if Connie had originally been written as a woman.
And she still had her clandestine meetings with Miles in a coffeeshop, although we had already determined that, as in the real world in this era, these establishments were typically off-limits to women.
So we added a line about how Connie used her official position to strongarm the coffeehouse owner into turning a blind eye. This establishes a background level of gender discrimination in the world, and also introduces Connie as an assertive, rule-bending risk-taker — which she would have to be in order to keep helping Miles as she does.
We did tweak Connie’s backstory a bit. Originally, Edward Upton was to have suspected his wife of cheating, with the idea that the player could help uncover the truth in the course of the story.
After the gender swap, we changed this to establish that Miles’s friendship with Connie started back when helped her get proof of her abusive husband’s infidelity, which she needed to legally secure a divorce.
Again, an example of how this society’s lopsided laws didn’t always provide equal justice. But it also showed how someone resourceful and determined like Connie might need to navigate them to survive.
II. Gender-swapping the law clerk
Sometimes, fixing the story’s gender representation means changing a woman into a man, as we did with the law office secretary. Again, I saw it early enough in the script and proposed the change before any art had been drawn for the character.
While that didn’t do any favors for the overall gender ratio, it did reduce the proportion of women in the game with purely functional secretarial or service roles. Having lots of women and minorities in your world doesn’t mean a whole lot if they’re overwhelmingly depicted as subordinate and incidental to the action.
The law clerk was not a real character with any kind of arc, he was just there to give you information and get in your way.
I always try to give women and minority characters juicier roles, and just stick the white guy behind a desk once in a while.