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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: LordSmerf on September 30, 2004, 05:19:00 AM



Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: LordSmerf on September 30, 2004, 05:19:00 AM
I am a male.  I play female characters in roughly 40% of my games.  I was idly wondering about that the other day when i realized why i do it.  By making a character male, my own gender, i am subtly signaling the GM that i am interested in, or at least open to, romantic stuff involving this character.  My female characters are subtle hints that i do not feel that romance is appropriate to the character concept.  This probably explains why my female characters tend to be emotionally scarred and slightly deranged.

Now, i know that this is not the case for everyone.  There are ample Actual Play posts that illustrate people playing cross-gender and still dealing with romance, so i began to wonder: for what reasons do people play cross-gender?  What kind of differences do people percieve in a character, and how do they react differently, when the character is not of their own gender?  I would be especially interested in input from female players on the subject, but do not let that discourage anyone from chiming in.

Thomas


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Vaxalon on September 30, 2004, 05:44:45 AM
For me, roleplaying is about (among other things) being people I can't be in real life.  Elves.  Superheroes.  Secret Agents.  Women.  It's just as much of a visit to a "foreign country" to be a telepathic alien with tentacles for arms as it is to be a woman.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: beingfrank on September 30, 2004, 06:17:35 AM
I don't think I've played cross-gender to achieve specific purposes so far.  Mostly I get an idea for a character, or a character in a situation, and they just happen to be male or female.  Sometimes gender doesn't matter, some times it does.  That's mostly down to setting, because in differnt settings, different genders can do different things, and their actions make different statements.  So I may pick a certain gender if I'm wanting to make certain sorts of statements about an issue where one gender is better able to do so than the other, or do things that one gender just doesn't do.  But I don't give it conscious thought, it just happens.

I don't play cross-gender to avoid dealing with romance in a game.  In fact two of my most recent character are a woman who spent two years of the game running away from any sort of romantic involvement because she didn't want that in her life at the time and I wanted to explore other things in the game, and a man who's biggest worry right now is how to tell his girlfriend he accidentally cheated on her ("I was drunk, there were these sexy ladies, next thing I knew.. whooops!") before she finds out anyway.  However, I suspect that the GM of the game in which I play cross-gender started off expecting that I wouldn't want romance to be an important aspect, but that didn't last out the first session, with me and the other (male) player building a friendly rivalry over who's character was going to get laid first.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Ben Lehman on September 30, 2004, 06:22:05 AM
I think that the whole thing about "why cross gender play?" is a bit of a strange question, especially given that it is so pervasive in RPGs.  I, frankly, find it a little bit wierd.

I mean, say that I am writing a story, and there is a female character.  I don't say "why am I writing a female character?" as if there is some sort of secretive motive why I am doing so.  The character is female because... the character is female.  Some characters *have* to be a certain gender, otherwise they don't make sense.  Some character are a certain gender as a matter of pronoun convenience.  Some are a certain gender as a matter of author whim.

I mean, even the GM doesn't second-guess playing female NPCs, even in actor-stance contexts.  I think the whole thing is a red-herring.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: LordSmerf on September 30, 2004, 06:37:09 AM
Interesting point Ben.  I am note even sure that i disagree with you on the whole.  I would say that you are right that there is not deeper meaning involved in cross gender play in some or even most cases.  In those cases there is nothing to analyze.  However, in my own experience regarding my own tendencies there is a deeper meaning.  The same is true in most other forms of art.  Sometimes the author is trying to say somtehing, and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

So far it seems that most people just feel that the specific character that they are working with just works better as a female with no ulterior motives.  This may indicate that i am in some sort of extreme minority of people who by and large have some sort of sub-concious reason for playing female characters.

Thomas


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Emily Care on September 30, 2004, 07:09:01 AM
Quote
may indicate that i am in some sort of extreme minority of people who by and large have some sort of sub-concious reason for playing female characters.


Perhaps. But just having subconscious reasons for playing a given character is most liklely pretty common. The specifics would vary.

An interesting follow-up might be a discussion about underlying reasons for character choice in general. You've picked out a reason why you go for female characters, but it could just as easily be about why one would play a married character vs. a single character etc.

What intelligent thing do I have to say on the matter?  For me, the choice of background and relationship of my character to other characters has been important. It's been where I've played out some of my own family history on a symbolic level.  In a charicatured way.  The parens of my character Soraya is a wierd amalgamation of Genma (from the series Ranma 1/2), Happosai and some male relatives of mine.  Gives it more meat for me, but is much more fun than straight psychodrama.

yrs,
Emily


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Matt Wilson on September 30, 2004, 07:14:35 AM
Well, I dunno if I agree with Ben. I mean, regardless of where you think gender sits on the spectrum of biology and sociology, it does exist, and everyone here has assumptions, conscious or unconscious, about what gender entails.

Maybe you say, "ah, what the heck, my character will be a chick," but that character is now different than she would be if she were a dude. You and everyone else at the table are going to view her differently.

I like playing women as characters, especially action-oriented characters, particularly because it's more acceptable as of late for female characters to don what are historically male roles without having to give up a female identity than it is for male characters to do the same. Buffy, Xena, Sydney on Alias: they can all kick ass and be emotionally vulnerable. Male characters who do this aren't really accepted yet. Guys can only be broody like Wolverine, and that's beyond trite.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Paul Czege on September 30, 2004, 07:32:10 AM
Hey Thomas,

My female characters are subtle hints that i do not feel that romance is appropriate to the character concept.

I have to think that femaleness alone is not enough to deliver that hint. Instead, I suspect you create female characters within a type range, and it is the type range that delivers the hint. Have you read on making the same character over and over? I think you have something you want to say with a specific character type, and that you haven't yet nailed it for yourself in play. "No romance" just happens to be a visible common denominator.

Paul


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: DannyK on September 30, 2004, 07:35:58 AM
I think it's a complicated issue.  I think the same sex=romance, opposite sex=no romance rule is particularly interesting, because it's not what I would have expected.

Personally, I very much enjoy bringing female NPC's to life. But I can't feel comfortable playing a female character when someone else is GM'ing.  It just feels weird to me.  The closest I've come is an androgynous character once.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Ben Lehman on September 30, 2004, 07:38:03 AM
Quote from: Matt Wilson
Well, I dunno if I agree with Ben. I mean, regardless of where you think gender sits on the spectrum of biology and sociology, it does exist, and everyone here has assumptions, conscious or unconscious, about what gender entails.

Maybe you say, "ah, what the heck, my character will be a chick," but that character is now different than she would be if she were a dude. You and everyone else at the table are going to view her differently.


BL>  Hey, Matt.  Look at my post again.  I'm not saying "gender of characters doesn't matter" at all.  I'm saying "I don't get this 'second guessing the player for playing cross-gender' thing."

I'll say this again:  sometimes, a character needs to be a certain gender, otherwise the concept doesn't make sense.  You playing women that take on male gender roles in times of stress is a part of this.  As another example, if I want to play the classic "empire-destroying beauty" character, I need to play a woman.  If I played the same character as a man, it would be a very different character.  Although also interesting.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Dr. Velocity on September 30, 2004, 08:09:23 AM
I think for some, and for me, its a combination of things:

As mentioned, its the same as playing an Orc or a Vulcan, its a totally alien idea, I do it to be something different - trying to get into the head of a character type I know I simply can't understand, and see how well I am able to do it.

Transvestite? Well, I don't know if I would go that far but who hasn't thought, gee, I wonder what its like to be someone of the opposite sex - you still don't know, but you get to pretend for a brief time, its all in fun.

As mentioned - just because. Sometimes your idea or concept for a character just lends itself to being a female, and you can't argue with your own inspiration.

Nature abhorrs a vacuum, and if there are no female players or characters, might as well have the next bext thing just for even a tiny bit of variety, and if no one else will do it (which they won't), then by golly I will.

As far as a conscious or subconscious angle on romance... I supposed its possible but I'm a pretty private person that doesn't really talk about relationships so I'm not convinced I'm giving subtle hints to the GM or anything if I do or don't play a female - I would not be comfortable RPing an in-game relationship from either end, as I couldn't do either sex justice, plus its vicarious and mock but still a simulated relationship and another player/GM is on the other end and.. thats just too weird for me.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: M Jason Parent on September 30, 2004, 08:48:17 AM
As a long-time game master and a player more rarely, I get into cross-gender play because it is required. A story involving only one sex is somewhat strange. It isn't about playing something alien, to me it is about playing something that works.

If the character concept works 'better' as a man or a woman or a vulcan, or a transgendered person, then that's what I run. I play RPGs to tell stories... and my stories have all sorts of people in them, just like my life.

The romance angle is different for me. I've run characters involved in same-sex and opposite-sex romances, in love triangles and more. These characters have been both male and female, depending on the game. I don't say 'no' to romantic RPing just because I'm running a cross-gender character.

On the other hand, romance has been toned down a LOT in my more recent campaigns, more to a grade-school level, because I run games with grade-schoolers now. I have noticed that cross-gender play is a lot less frequent with grade-schoolers, but that is neither here nor there as it relates to gender-identification roles in our children as opposed to our own approaches to RPing.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on September 30, 2004, 09:24:00 AM
I'm male (despite the name "Sydney"...) and yet I've frequently found myself bored playing male characters; my most satisfyingly cathartic characters have been female. Why?

Quote from: Matt Wilson
I like playing women as characters, especially action-oriented characters...they can all kick ass and be emotionally vulnerable. Male characters who do this aren't really accepted yet.


I'd agree with Matt and go one further: Our culture still doesn't seem to accept as wide a range of emotional expression from men as it does from women. Of course it also doesn't accept as wide a same range of activities from women as it does from men. So women are oppressed and men are repressed; but at least in adventure fiction, which is what most RPGs emulate, it's now acceptable for female characters to have both emotion and action.

EDIT: Gross oversimplification here, I know. Please nobody shoot me.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Roger on September 30, 2004, 09:34:31 AM
Thinking back over the years I've played, I'm struck by one thing:

I can't even remember the gender of most of the PCs and NPCs.  I'm not sure I ever knew it in many cases.

By the same token, I don't remember their eye colour or whether they were left-handed, either.

I do generally remember classes, levels, and races, though.

What's the common theme here?  The remembered elements are all mechanically significant.  They had a direct impact on the statistics of the characters involved.

The trend lately in RPGs has been to reduce sexual dimorphism in player character races to zero.  I'm led to question whether that's necessarily a good thing.

It's a fairly hardcore Gamist way of looking at things.  Elves versus Dwarves, that's important stuff -- ability modifiers are at stake!  But men versus women?  Who cares?  If it's not mechanically significant, then it's not significant at all.  Might as well discuss why blue-eyed people play brown-eyed characters.

It reminds me of a saying I've heard around the boardroom lately:  "Corporations measure what they care about, and care about what they measure."  I'm inclined to think that game systems are somewhat similar.  If your childhood has a profound mechanical effect on your adult statistics, players (or at least Gamists) will care about childhood more.

I kinda rambled there a bit.  To answer the question at hand -- "for what reasons do people play cross-gender?" -- my only sensible answer is: My character has a gender?  Huh.  How about that.



Cheers,
Roger


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 30, 2004, 09:34:55 AM
Hello,

Could someone with a little time on his or her hands please find the dozen or links on this topic that we've seen at the Forge?

This is a great discussion so far but it'd be good to make sure that it advances the topic rather than just brings it up again.

Best,
Ron


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: jrs on September 30, 2004, 10:59:35 AM
Well, there's this one:  Cross-Gender Play, or Walk a Mile in My Stiletoes, wherein I also linked to earlier topics here.

Julie


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: John Kim on September 30, 2004, 12:01:52 PM
Another listing of threads:  

"Playing the opposite gender?"
"Horseplay gone too far?"
"Casanova, homosexuality, and underage sex"
"Cross-Gender Play, or Walk a Mile in My Stilettoes"
"Male Dominance in RPGs"
"Feminist Game Design"
"Mechanical Gender Differences"
"Mechanical gender differences II [Mongrel]"
"Mechanical Gender Differences III (I'm Embarrassed)"
"Gender: Dead horse flogging!"
"[Eclipse] Gender and Social Class"


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Roger on September 30, 2004, 02:28:32 PM
Wow -- that was a lot to wade through.

If I have anything new to add to all of this, it's only that I think this is a topic which Gamists, Narrativists, and Simulationists come at from very different angles.  Which is, in itself, sort of neat -- a very short litmus test for those qualities.

Narrativists tend to consider the issue in the context of gender as a tool in addressing the premise of the game.  Indeed, the premise itself may turn rather vitally on the gender of the characters.  The particulars of how the premise should relate to gender is still open.

Simulationists tend to consider the issue in the context of statistical data.  If it can be shown that 83% of women living in Dublin in 1412 could bench press 17% less weight than 64% of the men, then that's that.  The particulars of the data, or exactly how they should be modelled, are still open to discussion.  

Gamists... I think gamists don't care at all about the issue, as gamists.  For example, no one sits around arguing excitedly about how the queen is the strongest piece in chess.  They may discuss things on a mechanical level, to determine whether, for example, giving women -2 STR +2 DEX is balanced in play, but whether those stat modifiers come from gender or race or diet is an arbitrary point.

Gamists are also the sort of people to not give a second thought to making all the fair-skinned elves good and all the dark-skinned elves evil, since who could that possibly upset?  They're just arbitrary labels.

I think this disinterest also leads to an under-representation of their stance in these sorts of discussions, for the same reasons that Narrativists don't follow min-maxing threads closely.  It lies outside the scope of their interest.



Cheers,
Roger


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: M. J. Young on September 30, 2004, 10:31:13 PM
The question was why.

In a creative writing class in college, I wrote an internal character sketch of a woman which an entire class full of girls did not identify has having been written by a man. Some years later, when I played my first RPG character, I decided I'd try it again, to see to what degree I could create a believable female character in play. It worked.

I play more males than females, but I play quite a few females, too. Sometimes it's because it seems right for the character. Sometimes the dice decide, and I go with it.

The introduction of the question of authors creating female characters gives me another datapoint though. In Verse Three, Chapter One I have three primary characters. The one who is otherwise most like me I made a woman. I'm still not completely certain whether I made her most like me because she was a woman and I needed to be able to relate to her through something other than her gender to adequately tell her story, or whether I made her a woman because she was so like me otherwise and I needed some way to distance her from me.

--M. J. Young


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Ben O'Neal on October 02, 2004, 01:41:31 AM
Quote
Gamists... I think gamists don't care at all about the issue, as gamists.

Whilst I think you make some good points, Roger, I think that gender could quite easily become a Gamist issue. I mean, just think about it: you are a guy, and now you are going to be playing a girl (or vice-versa). Is that not a great challenge? Sure, most games never have anything that might make that a salient challenge when playing, but if it's a challenge independant of the game, then it should be easy enough to make it a challenge within the rules of the game. Just like balancing numerical tactics is a game-independant challenge, which is often tapped into in most games.

Personally, I mostly GM, so NPCs become male or female depending on why they exist. An old and lonely man is great for arousing sympathy and curiosity, whilst a young girl who chooses to sell her body to feed her poor family is great for arousing chivalry (in male players) or anger (in female players, though sometimes this becomes strong sympathy, and sometimes even apathy). But when I am a player, my PCs have tended to be males more than females, who have rarely had any in-game relationships. Of the female PCs I've played, I think I've chosen to play females to allow deeper expression and exploration of emotions that would otherwise compromise the sexual identity of a male character. Such emotions are usually the happier or more positive ones. It's nearly always safer to express negative emotions as a male, and positive emotions as a female, though this "social rule" is dramatically stricter for males.

I'm thinking that my choice to play a female PC has almost nothing to do with "experiencing/exploring what it's like to be a female", because merely attempting to roleplay a girl is never going to achieve that goal. Instead, I think it's more about putting on a different mask, so that I can escape the social confines of being a male, and express part of me as a male that I couldn't safely express without being viewed as a female. As an extreme hypothetical example, if I played a male character who was a severe misogynist, then the other players are likely to interpret that character's opinions as having roots in my real self, through the fact that both character and I are male. However, if I play a female character who is a severe misandronist, then the other players are very unlikely to interpret that character's opinions as having anything to do with my real self, simply because of the gender disconnect. It'll simply be a "convincing character portrayal", and not a "revealing expose into my inner psyche". It would make no difference that gender aside, both characters are equally disconnected from me, because gender draws such a powerful connection that it overrides all other perceptions.

Quote
I'm still not completely certain whether I made her most like me because she was a woman and I needed to be able to relate to her through something other than her gender to adequately tell her story, or whether I made her a woman because she was so like me otherwise and I needed some way to distance her from me.

With what I said above in mind, I'd be inclined to think that in your case, M. J., it would be the latter: that you needed some way to distance her from you. Making a character who is very much like yourself could be a very risky, threatening, and revealing thing to do, so making that character the other gender would be a very simple way to put a large distance between you and her. The former I doubt works so well, because as you said, you seem to have the ability to accurately portray females, so I doubt you'd need to share a strong identification with the character in order to relate to her and tell her story.

Quote
I'd agree with Matt and go one further: Our culture still doesn't seem to accept as wide a range of emotional expression from men as it does from women. Of course it also doesn't accept as wide a same range of activities from women as it does from men. So women are oppressed and men are repressed; but at least in adventure fiction, which is what most RPGs emulate, it's now acceptable for female characters to have both emotion and action. [emphasis mine]

I'd disagree with the italicised sentence. I can't think of any activities where women aren't accepted as participants. I can think of many where they aren't as common as men, like car racing, boxing, surfing, etc, but that's not the same thing.
As for the bold sentence fragment, I can't see your distinction, and if I can, I think you've got it backwards. The reason men don't wear dresses is not because they are "repressed", but because there is a very real social consequence for doing so, so this would be oppression. There are almost no social consequences for a girl wearing trousers, so if they don't, this would be repression. Heterosexual male gender roles are extremely rigid and the consequences for breaking them are harsh and swift, usually including threats of exclusion (being called "gay", a "wuss", etc.). Conversely, heterosexual female gender roles are far more fluid and share a great deal of overlap with typical male gender roles and homosexual female roles, and the consequences for breaking them are usually fairly timid (breaking them is often "cool"). I'm beginning to rant.

So with this in mind, I wonder if male players, moreso than female players, tend to have deeper reasons for playing cross-gender characters, and if female players, moreso than male players, would happily play cross-gender characters with less need for a  motivation to do so?

-Ben


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: List on October 02, 2004, 01:25:38 PM
Just to answer the survey question, without contributing principle:

I've spent most of my roleplaying career as a female player who prefers to play male characters.  I will tend to play females in larger-population campaigns, to avoid confusion for other players, but about 90% of my one-on-one or small-population games are male PCs.

This is because for some reason I find it substantially easier to execute range of dramatic emotion in male characters-- my women tend to be more emotionally complex, but my men respond more rewardingly to events that happen during gameplay.  Similarly, I have an exponentially easier time doing romances as a male character-- It seems like larger sweeping emotions like love, depression/angst, guilt, fear, etc are easier as male, and gnarled, mixed emotions like jealousy, embarassment, shyness, maturity, etc are easier as female.

I am not entirely sure why this is true, but my first guess would be influence from genre trends, similar to what people have already said.  In most fantasy novels, for example, the protagonist, or at least the more outstanding dramatic characters, the ones based off of a coherent emotional issue, tend to be men. The more subtle foils to such issues, the ones that introduce complexity, tend to be women.  Resultingly, my own range is derived from the range I experience in my literature.

I do think that my effective female characters tend to be more successful as interesting characters than my effective male ones, but there are far more of the latter because I find them easier to achieve.  Consequently, my main ulterior motive for picking gender tends to be how much energy I want to put into developing the person.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: Baraboo on October 05, 2004, 08:01:51 PM
I have never once played a female character.  I do, however, generate a lot of characters I don't use.  Many of those have been female.  The only reason I can see for them being female is that it fits with the character.  In my group there is one guy that plays female chars as often sa he plays males, one that plays females every once in a while, and 5 or 6 that always play men.  I think one reason is that it is easier for us to get into a character if it is the same gender as the player because we can relate more.  This has kind of made me want to play a female char though.


Title: Reasons for cross-gender play
Post by: John Uckele on October 06, 2004, 06:15:50 AM
I play female character compleately on whim, or because it fits the character.

Example: A gargoyle (vampire) character for V:tM I have is a girl because the 'creation' process for gargoyles involves loosing your memories from before. The reason the character has to be a girl is because she was a run away who met a gargoyle who embraced (turned her into a vamp) her to make her forget her (painful) past. Here the character just doesn't fit as a guy.

So yeah, sometimes I just pick, but usually the character knows their gender before hand.