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Third print supplement - actually

Started by Ron Edwards, August 21, 2002, 02:28:59 PM

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I'm going to restate.  Men can only play race 1 or 2, women can only play class A or B.  Race and class don't mean anything, gender-wise, so that it would be just as pointful if men could only play race 3 or 4 and class A-C, and women could play any race or class they want except 1-A and 1-D.

That's bad, because (as you say) it's pointless.  You might as well limit who gets to play what by the players' hair color or sunsign or handedness.  Any of which I'd object to.


Ron Edwards

Hi Vincent,

I'm not going to let you get away with the "Oh, no point to it? Then bad!" argument, because it switches issues; ie, you have not answered my question. I am not discussing elegance or effectiveness of the game design.

In game design terms, it's pointless - sure. It's a sore-thumb relative to the rest of the game - sure. It may not be good design; ie, there's not much "right" about it, in terms of contributing to elegance or focus. None of these warrant the shocked, upset, and sudden reaction that you are struggling with, or the terms you used to describe it.

I am sticking with the issue, and you are asked to answer: given what I've described, is it directly, and unequivocally ugly, bad, or wrong in the moral sense?




Morally bad?  No.


Shocked and upset is pretty far from my intrigued and skeptical.  I've been speculating about your chapter 6 by imagining what kinds of gender-specific rules I might write, cause how else could I speculate?  If I'm shocked, it's because I've shocked myself.

I want to know what you have to say.  Gender, sexuality and roleplaying are three of my favorite things.

Ron Edwards


Cooool. I'm with you, Vincent - that "metadiscussion" point is crucial, and hope some day to learn more about what you thought of, on your own, that prompted the reaction.

OK, but let's go on with the job at hand. That question was the first of a two-parter. Here's the second part.

Same four classes, same four races. (I was thinkin' about this last night; if anyone wants, let's say the classes are corsair, brigand, bandit, and burglar, and let's say the races are cat-person, lizard-person, winged-humanoid-person, and, um, smallish minotaur.)

Everyone realizes, I hope that the previous example made no restrictions whatsoever based on character gender, but only on player gender.

So let's reverse it. Flush the previous example; player gender carries no restrictions. But now, what if:

A male character may only be of races 1 or 2, but may be of any class. A female character can only be of class A and B, but may be of any race.

Let's leave aside any specific setting-justification for this set of limits, but say for clarity that nothing about the setting is especially sexist or stereotypical (ie, "females of race X are semi-sentient and do nothing but stay in the caves having babies," etc).

Same question applies. Yes, it's arbitrary and, bereft of thematic content, not going to win any awards for game design elegance. But the question remains: is such a stricture, in its essential existence, ugly, bad, or wrong in the moral sense?



Restate: There are male winged-humanoid-person corsairs in the setting, but I can't play one; in fact I can't play any male winged-humanoid-person characters or male smallish minotaur characters at all.  I can play female winged-humanoid-person and smallish minotaur characters, in fact female characters of any race, but only if they're corsairs or brigands.  Right?

Not morally bad.


Off the top of my head: can something devoid of thematic content even be morally bad?  Or good?

Ron Edwards


Ummm, I guess. I didn't work out all the permutations in my head, just made it up as I went along.

Whew! OK, so now that we're into the idea that nothing intrinsically is wrong with limiting in-play options based on (a) player gender or (b) character gender, the next question is ...

Can such limitations be made to play a constructive role in the enjoyment of the game? I argue that character-based gender restrictions already apply in some games - from the simple in-setting options for female and male occupations in Hero Wars, to the somewhat basic notion in Agone that all minotaurs are male. No one seems to get up in arms about these kinds of character-gender limitations. So ... can player-based gender restrictions or options be similarly constructive or consistent with in-play material?

That's what I'm after - not to dictate what those options might be - far from it! - but rather to investigate the issue.


Uncle Dark

Ron, Vincent,

If I may...

Isn't what you've agreed is that it's OK to base play limitations on player gender in this rather egalitarian case?  Would the it be different if the rule was "male players can play anything, but female players may not play race 1 or 2, or class C or D?"

In any case, all that is very different from saying that female characters can't be members of class C or D, or that all females of race 1 or 2 must be NPCs.

These strike me as important points, because (in the first case) it becomes a matter of unfair restriction of the players, and (in the second) it points to weird things in the setting, which may or may not push player buttons.

Not that pushing players' buttons is an inherently bad thing, either.  But it is one you want to be careful with.

Of course, maybe I'm just being obvious (or oblivious) here...

Reality is what you can get away with.


Lon, absolutely, if female players have fewer or lamer options than male players, I'm gone*.

Ron, do you mean, now we introduce thematic content?  So do you mean, can player-gender-specific rules contribute to a game's meaning?  (You say "enjoyment," and I'm having trouble figuring it out.  Is introducing meaning an example of "playing a constructive roll in the enjoyment of the game"?)


*Thinking about it, the reverse may not be true, for me.

Ron Edwards


Lon, with respect, I think you might not be grasping the interaction I'm having with Vincent. The idea is not to arrive at what would be "good" or not. The idea is to clear the air regarding player-gender specific rules, so that when we do discuss the parameters for them, no one gets all bonkers and challenges the very idea of doing so in the first place. It has nothing to do with being egalitarian or not - it has to do with fundamental principles of what-is-at-issue.

So far, Vincent and I, anyway, have arrived at the point in which such rules (or whatever you wanna call them) are not - intrinsically - a wrong thing to have in a game. That's the topic, and that was the conclusion. Discussion of parameters for such a thing is a totally new topic, and I am perfectly fine with the idea that there will be possible "bad" versions. But I'm not talking about that yet.

Vincent, for purposes of this discussion of Sorcerer, played at the depth or focus that we're talking about, Yes:

thematic content = a game's meaning = "enjoyment" = "introducing meaning" = "playing a constructive role in the enjoyment of the game"

All pretty much the same thing in this context (not role-playing in general).




Nice.  So there we are.

Can I speculate a bit?

In our Ars Magica game, we've got me (male), Emily (female), and Meguey (female).  Our characters' fathers are thematically important.  On our characters' sheets are "distant father: let me do whatever the hell I wanted" (my character's), "close father: abused and manipulated me" (Emily's), and "close father: dying and dependent on me" (Meguey's).

Now in our case it just happened that way: male player -> distant father, female player -> close father.  But we could have set it up on purpose instead, if we'd wanted.  It could have been a rule, ie.

Is that the kind of rule you're talking about?


Ian Charvill

Two thoughts strike me (and I'll warn you I get kind of anti at the end of the post):

I can see no moral problem with limiting the choices of characters within game by their sex - even to the extent of saying no female warriors, male characters may choose freely - because otherwise you're saying certain cultural structures can't be represented within a role playing game.

Even in an extreme way - women characters cannot own property and must place themselves sexually at the disposal of any man who asks, for example.  The morality comes in how the game treats this.  An obvious premise would be "what would you do to fight injustice?".

On the other hand I'm really struggling to come up with a concrete example of a rule that wouldn't be morally suspect when it's based on the sex of the players.

I guess what you're trying to go for are rules which create a different but equal situation but the example above doesn't do it for me.  The moral problem with the example above (men can't play races X and Y, women can't play classes A and B) because of this:

Female Player: I want to play class A.
GM: You can't.
Female Player: Why not?
GM: Because you're a girl.

I would walk from a gaming table where I heard that exchange go on.

Ian Charvill



I don't want to muddy the waters too too much here, but: it doesn't have to be a moral wrong to drive me away from the game.  "You can't play class A because you're a girl" is stupid, lame, and politically distasteful, and yes I'd walk away, but I don't think the guy's, y'know, a sinner.  Just dumb or a jerk.

There are certainly ways to make it immoral, like: "you can't play class A because you're a girl and characters of class A have to make decisions based on data and critical thought, which girls can't do."  That guy's a sinner.  

Ron's construction specifically excludes cases like that.

In my fathers example, the reverse rule (male player -> close father, female player -> distant father) would be just as valid, but would lead to different characters and different thematic content.  I think that's interesting; I can see setting up a game to intentionally explore those issues.


Fabrice G.

Hi Ian,

I don't have any clues about what those rules are going to be, but I'll chime in if you agree.

QuoteFemale Player: I want to play class A.
GM: You can't.
Female Player: Why not?
GM: Because you're a girl.

Well, if it was only in that sense, I would see a problem too (call it women segregation), but actually, it will also apply to men. So here, no gender is abused (for lack of a better word).

IMO, the distinction between what character  a player canplay based upon his/her gender can make sense.
Hum, lets say that I design a special kind of sorcery, mostly based on the uncertainty of pregnancy and birth...and say that I restrict that kind of sorcery to the female player because I feel  that it adress something relevant to woman, and much less to man. Is this bad ?

I think that if the rules are designed in this fashion, it's becoming a great tool to allow a reinforcement of the player-character link via some common real concern. Of course, I don't deny the right to anyone to be offensed by such material or the risk of abuse of such rules (but that's another matter).

Anyway, that's just my opinion, and I think that the rules in questions are miles away from my exemple.


Mike Holmes

Well, at the risk of inciting an old flame war, there are those who feel that men should not be allowed to play females, and vice versa. Now, this is limiting based on sex. One could say it's a completely equal case for both sexes, however, by restating it as "no player may play a character not of their own sex". But that's a slippery slope, isn't it? I mean if you can get away with that, can't you get away with "no player may play a character which they are not suited to play in a manner which is pleasing to the other players?" (the usual complaint brought up by the people who do not like to allow cross-gender play). And if you allow this, don't the player's subjective ideals come in? Allowing any limit based on any criteria?

Interesting, no?

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Fabrice G.

Hi Mike,

QuoteInteresting, no?

Yes, actually.

I'm not as closed to cross gender play as my previous post might suggest. I've GMed stories where some male players had female characters, and played in some too. I've had both really good and terrible experiences.

Quote"no player may play a character which they are not suited to play in a manner which is pleasing to the other players?"

Actually, I think that's a very common non-written rule among many groups (count it part of the social contract). I, for one, seriously dislike seeing bad women archetypes being reenacted again and again. I saw (and was responsible for) a lot of really stupid stuff, so now I'm very carefull of who will play a cross gender character. I want to know if the player is feeling up to the task, and willing to try not just being a jerk. I often don't feel up to it, so I mostly play male characters.

But sex is not the problem here, as we are our own audiance, each player is playing for himself and the other players. And believe me, a player who is not playing by the taste of the group will be told so one way or another.

But that's not the main point I see in these rules. IMO, they're about allowing to emotionally engage the players about some topics they have in common with their character.

All in all, for me it all depends on the meaning and the goal of these long as their use has been discussed among all the players beforehand.