Jason Rohrer: So you can go from having a wife and two kids to a wife and one kid, or one last orphan kid without a mother. That, I guess, has some emotional weight to it, because you grew attached to their names and how they looked, you’ve been protecting them for a while, so it’s a sort of pet owner-level attachment. They’re just little pixellated characters, they’re not like characters from Sleep Is Death that actually have conversations with you. People are also, I’m sure, going to complain ‘how come it’s the man that’s going out robbing and the woman has to stay home.’ That’s the classic thing that people said about Passage – ‘why can’t you play as the girl?’
RPS: Could you not just add an option to nip that stuff in the bud?
Jason Rohrer: Well yeah, but then it wouldn’t be my personal art. It would just be this pandering product. This is a game that’s from my perspective, just like in Passage the main character is me. So you don’t get to play as the girl, because I’m not a girl. Just like if you go to see the movie Memento, no-one walks out of that saying ‘why isn’t there a version of this where there’s a girl with memory problems?’ It’s the personal statement of the director who is making this and telling the story, and you don’t even question it, but for some reason in games we question it, because we’re so much stuck into the role of this character.
And now I will transcribe my tweets (plus some additions) about this for later reference:
I think Jason Rohrer is a national treasure, but that is fucking stupid.
Not that an artistic vision can't necessitate a protagonist of a particular gender -- of course it can. But the way's he's framing it is diminishing or obfuscating the choice and agency that define that vision.
Emphasis on authorship doesn't necessitate limiting the possible narrative perspectives unless the author has no imagination/empathy, and is incapable of creating other than Mary Sue protagonists.
Otherwise it's an authorial decision, and the author is making that decision instead of all the other possible ones for certain reasons. (Note: the author may be aware of all, some, or none of those reasons.)
Which isn't to say I object to the decision that Rohrer's made here, necessarily, but it needs better context than "I'm not a girl."
In essence, what Rohrer is describing is a game about (heterosexual) masculine anxiety regarding violence in which the primary questions are "Can I protect my woman and my stuff," and "(To what extent) will I violate your woman and your stuff."
That's not infertile territory, of course. (God knows there are plenty of movies, etc. about it.) And there's nothing wrong with exploring it, and if you do it well, it doesn't limit your audience only to people who can relate. But I think doing it well requires knowing that you're doing it (which I think Rohrer probably does) and ensuring that knowledge is available to the player as well.
Also, I was particularly puzzled/irked by the "pandering" crack (I mean, seriously?) and how you "don’t even question" the gender of film characters. In my experience, the people who question the gender of video game characters pretty consistently question the gender of characters in all media.
Also, if you're a straight white dude who thinks people don't question the gender of film characters, that says way more about you being a straight white dude than it does about the actual behavior of film viewers at large.