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Reasons for cross-gender play

Started by LordSmerf, September 30, 2004, 09:19:00 AM

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Well, there's this one:">Cross-Gender Play, or Walk a Mile in My Stiletoes, wherein I also linked to earlier topics">here.


John Kim

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"
- John


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.


M. J. Young

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

Ben O'Neal

QuoteGamists... 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.

QuoteI'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.

QuoteI'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?



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.


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.

John Uckele

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.
If I had a witty thing to say I would... Instead I'll just leave you with this: BOO!