Talking about a game called Starfinder and comparing it to an older game by the same publisher called Pathfinder, I used words "older brother" implying the latter:

Starfinder also reduces the list of AoO triggers greatly, comparing to its older brother...

A community member changed this phrase in order to "remove gender-specific language":

Starfinder also reduces the list of AoO triggers greatly, comparing to its older sibling...

That seems wrong to me, so I've changed the phrase again:

Starfinder also reduces the list of AoO triggers greatly, comparing to its ancestor...

  • Can you really say "older brother", "older sibling", "ancestor" talking about inanimate things?

  • Is there any reason why one may be more preferable than other?

I normally use gender neutral language myself when talking about people, primarily because I don't know their gender and don't want to assume. But a game has no gender at all so I have no idea why someone can be offended by this particular choice of words.

  • 3
    In this context, I would use the word predecessor.
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 12:49
  • @Laurel well, it wasn't published as a replacement for Pathfinder, it is a different game. Still "predecessor"?
    – enkryptor
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 12:52
  • Yep. Lexico has a similar example: ‘The Life of Pi seems to have as many literary predecessors as India has religions.’
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 13:08

2 Answers 2


Yes, these are all correct as metaphors.

"Ancestor" (or descendent) implies that newer version was developed from the older one in some way. "Brother" (or "sister" or "sibling") suggests that one was developed alongside the other. We usually use "sister" in this context, but more often as an adjective than as a noun. Cambridge defines

sister: belonging to a pair or group of similar and related things, such as businesses, usually owned or operated by the same person or organization:

a sister company

There is very little use that condemns using "brother" in favour of "sibling". In particular it isn't "gender-specific", since we are not talking about human (who may or may not have an actual gender).

  • 2
    Also "Sister states", "Sister cities", "Sister ships" - actually ships tend to use female pronouns in general. Oddly, when I've seen "brother" used in this context, it's usually for smaller objects, while "sister" is reserved for large things like geographical locations or ships. Like the old child's trick when you can't find a toy, you toss another similar toy in a random direction saying "Brother, brother, go find your brother". Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 17:05
  • Television (and radio) stations — and sometimes even newspapers — that are owned by the same corporation, conglomerate or network, but are in different cities (so they aren’t competing with each other) often refer to each other as “our sister station”. Commented Apr 11, 2020 at 6:47

If you mean "wrong" in a grammatical sense, no not really - any kind of metaphor is subject to the suspension of some belief. There are other arguments about how to use gender pronouns which are more rooted in human rights than grammar, but as you are talking about an inanimate object you can hardly apply those here. There might be a minority of people concerned with gender equality who would question why you made the inanimate object male rather than female, but again these are not grammar questions.

When you use any metaphor though, it is important to be consistent, otherwise you create a "mixed metaphor". I notice that you used a gender-neutral "it" to refer to the game when you said "its older brother". This is slightly inconsistent - being gender-neutral for one game, yet making the other a male "brother". I would find it confusing if you referred to the game as a "he", so for consistency, "sibling" might be the better term. That said, most people wouldn't even flinch if you said "brother"

May I suggest an entirely different term? It is very common to refer to video games and other kinds of media which are unrelated yet connected either by themes or an evident inspiration as "spiritual successors". For example, Wikipedia notes that the video game Perfect Dark is considered a "spiritual successor" to their licensed title GoldenEye 007.

  • In some cases "spiritual successor" can be good. But it implies that the new thing in some sense supplants the old. Pathfinder is still going strong and has not been succeeded by Starfinder. Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 0:50
  • @TimothyAWiseman I wouldn't have thought so. Retro-gaming is massive and people still play GoldenEye too. Someone using the term "spiritual successor" doesn't change what a game is or how people relate to it.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 9:08
  • I see where you're coming from, and it does make sense to me. But at least to many people the word "successor" implies that the prior item is replaced in some sense of the word. Goldeneye may still be played, but many people will find Perfect Dark a superior replacement, and (as far as I know) Goldeneye is no longer in active development. Pathfinder is still in active development and few would find Starfinder a replacement for Pathfinder. Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 15:46
  • 1
    @TimothyAWiseman Perhaps thats why some use the interchangeable "spiritual sequel".
    – Astralbee
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 7:31

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