Designing Diversity: Making Fairy Tale

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When you create something and release it into the world—no matter the medium—it can be terrifying. You let a product that you worked on tirelessly enter the world, and suddenly you do not have any control over it anymore. I am very familiar with this fear, particularly in relation to my writing of stories and articles; last year—for the first time—I felt this anxiety in relation to a game.

I released my first videogame in June 2015. Fairy Tale is an experimental incremental game that I designed to teach myself Javascript. This game was a creation of love and learning, and I never expected anything to come of it. I poured myself into Fairy Tale, coding in every free moment that I had for months before finally deciding the prototype was ready to be released.

I sought opinions on the original, unbalanced version of Fairy Tale among friends, and it was suggested that I ask for thoughts in the Incremental Games subreddit; I was surprised by the immediacy and magnitude of the response. People were mostly positive, thinking of Fairy Tale as much more than just a learning experiment; in fact, people asked if I would be adding more to the game, balancing the resources, extending the story, and neatening up the code. While I thought Fairy Tale had served its purpose—I had learnt what I needed to and made something I was proud of—these questions and requests changed my mind. I set to work.

It took another month for me to tweak and tighten my game, and version 2.0 was released in July 2015. In the meantime, thousands of people played the prototype, with Fairy Tale reaching 20,000 visits in its first month of existence. Since the release of 2.0, Fairy Tale has had over 60,000 visits, and that number is still rising steadily. Somewhere along the line, I accidentally made more than a learning experiment; I made a fully-fledged game.

I was told recently by a friend that they like to play incremental games sometimes, and that they cannot go on a website that lists a selection of the best choices without finding Fairy Tale among them. Statements like that still sound ridiculous to me. I never expected my game to find any success.

But, more than widespread notice, the comments of individuals have been the most impactful. The negative response to Fairy Tale that I have encountered has been fairly limited, particularly when compared to the positive comments, emails, tweets, and podcasts. I have had a couple of strange online encounters with men seeking ‘more photos of the developer’ (ew) and several people insisting I add save functionality to the game (which I have my reasons for avoiding), but otherwise my experience has been wonderful so far. In some ways this has surprised me, not least because of the diversity embedded in Fairy Tale.

Fairy Tale certainly isn’t the most diverse game in the world: mostly, it features a selection of men and women of non-descript race, ethnicity, religion, and able-bodiedness. The characterisation in Fairy Tale, though present, is minimal and allows projection from the player. However, the narrative, in addition to allowing you to save princesses and princes, introduces the player to characters known as the ‘prins’. The prins are non-binary royals who read books and dance in the magic dust after the player rescues them, and their inclusion has received nothing but praise.

At first I thought perhaps nobody noticed these non-binary characters. Their inclusion is subtle: a gender neutral title and gender neutral pronouns, but no fanfare. Still, I expected at least one negative comment, or at least one based in ignorance; I’ve seen nothing.

And yet, it’s clear that some people did notice these non-binary characters. I recently discovered that an episode of the Unconsoleable podcast says lovely things about Fairy Tale, and the prins are mentioned. Jessica Dennis specifically notes that these characters are non-binary and this is met with a fantastically positive reception.

In addition to this, another player of Fairy Tale noticed the non-binary characters and wrote me a beautiful comment about their experience with the game.

When I found out that my representation of non-binary characters—a simple, subtle inclusion—had such a positive impact on a non-binary person, I actually cried. A game that I created purely to teach myself Javascript resulted in an individual feeling better about themselves and their identity. I think about this a lot.

Seeing this reception—the relatively widespread attention Fairy Tale has received, the primarily positive comments, and the individuals who were pleased by my inclusion of non-binary characters—makes me think about diversity in videogames. There are so many excuses for why developers cannot or will not represent more diversity in their games, but my experiences have helped me realise that any challenges we face as game developers are rendered obsolete when compared to the significance of the positive experiences. We need to remember the person who looks at the game and finally sees themselves represented in the media they consume.

People have loved Fairy Tale—not in spite of diverse characters, but because of them.


Cross-posted on Gamasutra.

Image sources:
Screenshot from ClickerGames.net
Screenshot of Fairy Tale
Screenshot of Reddit comment