Betchdel Test

The Ditty of Carmeana does not, in my opinion, pass the Betchdel Test.

In brief, passing the Betchdel test means that work of fiction has two female characters, with names given, who are having a conversation, and the conversation is not about a man. The comic strip artist Alison Betchdel came up with the test as a tongue-in-cheek observation of how unimportant female characters are in many mainstream works (as in, so unimportant that they never say anything unless it’s to or about a man).

The closest The Ditty of Carmeana comes to passing is when Tabitha exchanges a couple pleasantries with her fellow fairy Solena, and later where Tab exchanges a couple lines with Lady Samiltish Stone. But those do not come close to being a conversation; they are only a couple words in a larger conversation where men are present.

Personally, I don’t consider the Betchdel Test a barometer of the feminist-correctness of any particular work; there is a lot more that factors into it than a simple three-point criteria can decide. The test’s main insight is as a high-level observation about works collectively. So the mere fact that The Ditty of Carmeana fails the test doesn’t concern me.

Nevertheless, because of the existence of that test, I made a conscious decision to reevaluate whether certain characters might be more interesting, funnier, or even just more varied if they were female characters, and also to start being deliberate about it and not just default to making characters male out of laziness.

Lady Maral is the most notable example; that character was originally Lord Maral. I decided it was a perfect character to change gender of: a competent character, of some importance (as far as cut-scene NPCs go), not too written in that changing gender would be a whole rewrite, and absolutely no reason at all it had to be a man. (I also had an idea to throw in a few cheap Hillary Clinton jokes. I think only one made it into the game though.)

Another notable one was Jocelyn, the very rude shopkeeper who sells Lance the Maps app, who in fairness only existed for about an hour as a male before I thought it’d be funny if that was a woman.

I won’t list them all, but I believe around 6-8 characters were either originally male, or would have been male with lazy writing, who ended up female in the game.

I am definitely not claiming that The Ditty of Carmeana is a paragon of feminism, but thanks to the Betchdel Test, and even though I wasn’t really trying to pass it, I hope it helped in a small way to move the needle and at least avoid lazy writing resulting in just defaulting to male characters. Based on things I’ve read Alison Betchdel say, I would guess she’d agree that’s more important than actually passing the test.

Side story time.

The flashback cut scene were Lady Maral appears is actually the very first scene I wrote that made it into the game. Long before I ever conceived of the game, I had an idea of a comedy sketch where a page rushes into the King’s court to breathlessly report, “Your Majesty, Your Majesty, the princess is gone!”, and the king is just like, “Yeah whatever, I’ve got important things to worry about”, as a way to parody all these movies and games where the whole mindless plot comes down to, “Oh no, we’ve got to rescue the princess!” (This was a little bit before a lady named Xena made the idea of a warrior princess trendy.)

I wrote a few lines for that scene in a notebook in high school. The proto-versions of Lady Maral and Lord Staconphy were in that scene, one (Maral) was hyper-competent and aghast (and male), the other (Staconphy) would just agree with whatever the king said to kiss up. That was a parody of how the evil vizier always seems to be the competent one and the good, lower-ranking advisor is an inefficient pushover.

I lost or threw out the notebook, but remembered that scene when I started down writing ideas for The Ditty of Carmeana. I grafted it onto a couple other ideas I had, also predating the game. One was an idea I had for a video game intro where a proto-Lord-Tapton appears and asks the player if they want to A. send a single hero to defeat the enemy, or B. deploy the army. If you select B, you instantly beat the game because any enemy that could feasibly be defeated by a single hero would be easily overwhelmed by a whole army. Another idea I had (in a very different context) was a king who did nothing but spend every waking hour of his day managing the kingdom while his supposed advisors did nothing; this was inspired by that SNL sketch where Ronald Reagan was projecting senility in public but turned into a mastermind wheeler-dealer behind closed doors.

The drama over the Ricohedron, the King’s obsession with the polls, and nailing the Queen are the only major notes of that cut-scene that I wrote specifically for The Ditty of Carmeana.

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