Last week we talked about the start of our quest to find good female characters for Hellenica, and how, after digging through the somewhat meager set of historical and mythological examples, we were still only at one(!) female character. At this point, we were considering gender bending much of our cast, with a female Socrates addressing the Athenian assembly while female Spartan hoplites marched into battle. However, we decided against this, since most stories that feature that kind of gender swap tend to be focused on the repercussions of flipping the character’s gender, whereas we just wanted to reflect the ubiquity of female characters that we experience in 21st century life. Gamers would likely wonder what kind of statement about sexuality or gender we were trying to make with girl Plato’s actions, and that would be a distraction.
Thankfully, there was a third option: create our own characters. Original characters were a double-edged sword: we had the most freedom with their characteristics and story arcs, but using too many of them would erode our connection to the Greek aspects of our story. Female characters presented an additional challenge, because even though we had dialed down the explicit misogyny which would have been present in ancient Greece, inserting women into male-dominated fields of politics or warfare might still seem out of place.
One of our answers to this conundrum was Nyx. As a preternaturally skilled spy, Nyx can be found observing or manipulating the affairs of any city-state that could pose a threat to her hometown. Since she deliberately avoids the limelight, we never had to deal with the cognitive dissonance of an all-male assembly being swayed by a woman speaker, even though Nyx has just as much influence in Greek affairs.
One area where it was thankfully easier to integrate female characters was religion, where Greek women actually played a prominent role (an informal poll of friends also revealed this connotation). Both Diona and Nephele have religious aspects to their backgrounds. Diona’s role as a sort of sacred ranger devoted to the goddess of the wilds was inspired by a ritual to Artemis where young girls pretended to be bears. (Diona has a similar ritual, but she’s not pretending.) Nephele’s profession of mechanic-priestess comes from the one steam engine the Greeks actually built being relegated to a curiosity in a temple (probably).
One interesting consequence of most of our female characters being invented, was that they lacked the historical baggage of many of the male characters, and thus were better suited to play principal roles in the crazy branching story we were constructing. Ultimately, we found our story worked best if it was centered on Diona and she was soon joined by her overeager “apprentice”, Nephele. We had gone from hunting fruitlessly for female characters to a story that was starring two.