|Sometimes, it is just like this.|
Greetings readers, I’m interested to find out how people feel about this particular blog post, because I consider it to be yet another (somewhat) controversial topic: playing RPG characters of a gender other than your own.
I should begin by stating that my personal opinion is that the whole point of roleplaying is to be someone other than yourself, and that can certainly include things like race (such as playing an elf) as well as social class (say, a king or prince) and, naturally, gender as well.
To reiterate: My opinion is that roleplaying a character of another gender from your own is just fine.
Also, just to clarify, I’m talking about a player roleplaying as another gender in a gaming group over a campaign, not the DM and not generally in one-shot games (such as ones found at gaming conventions).
This topic is somewhat controversial because there are many gaming groups out there where playing a character of another gender is discouraged or considered “weird.”
In my experience, many all-male groups find a male player roleplaying as a female character (aside from the GM) to be taboo. There are many other resources on the internet discussing this topic (such as Sandy Antunes' article) as well.
I think it is important to start out this topic by stating that I’ve played several female characters over the years, and many of them are amongst the most memorable characters I’ve ever created. So, keep in mind that I’m speaking from experience as a gamer who enjoys occasionally playing characters of another gender. I’m not going to classify myself as an expert by any means, however!
Our world is going through some interesting changes with how gender is perceived, especially with regards to gender roles, their perception (quite recently and prominently in the gaming space), human sexuality, and people who are transgender. I think now is a good time to continue the conversation about these issues through the lens of our shared hobby.
Why Play Another Gender?
|Or people pretending to be girls.|
This was not an easy blog post to write. My inner procrastinator actively attempted to discourage me from writing this by offering distraction after distraction, but… ooh, shiny! Seriously though, this is a topic I’ve wanted to cover for some time on Rogue Warden.
As I mentioned above, I think roleplaying as another gender is fine—it’s something I’ve done myself on many occasions. In addition, I think there’s something very rewarding about opening up and seeing things through the eyes of someone completely different from myself. This, of course, ncludes gender, expectations of gender roles, and how that gender is involved with the society of the game’s setting.
Roleplaying as a different gender, in my opinion, helps people understand gender issues like stereotypes, the reactions from people that other genders are exposed to, and the ramifications of a gender-separated society. For example, the Zentraedi race in the Robotech RPG are strictly segregated by gender. The males and females go so far as to have their own separate military formations, command structures, and unique war machines. It can be very interesting to explore some of the social issues that flow from such an usual structure.
To look at it from one perspective, I once wrote up an NPC who was the first woman paladin of a specific knightly order. This situation was interesting to me because of the idea of breaking down the social barriers barring women from fighting, and exploring some of the really unique elements (such as the way Paladins in this setting were focused on facing and defeating supernatural evil) that made this setup different. Another perspective is a legacy character I once designed based on the DC Comics setting, involving the son of Batman and Wonder Woman. The direction I wanted to go involved the boy learning to fight from his mother’s people, the Amazons, who have only very rarely welcomed men onto their secluded island.
Ultimately, roleplaying as a different gender is an experience that I would unhesitatingly recommend to most mature roleplayers. It provides a chance to see things through fresh eyes and can add some unique dynamics to make a particular character or campaign that much more memorable. Before I go on, however, let’s talk a bit about character concepts.
Gender and Character Concepts
I’ve been roleplaying now for over 29 years, and in that time, I’ve played a very large amount of different RPGs. My experience has taught me that I can come up with a character concept for just about any particular setting or campaign. However, I have also learned that, for me, some character concepts inherently possess characteristics that move them towards a particular gender.
|Some character concepts make sense as any gender.|
For example, many of my character concepts are inherently masculine in my imagination. If I want to play Jack Burton, Jr., (from the film Big Trouble in Little China), I simply can’t imagine the character as anything other than a man. Similarly, I came up with a superhero-in-powered armor vigilante character idea called Technicality that just wouldn’t fit anything other than a woman.
Below is a brief selection of characters that I felt were inherently a feminine concept:
As mentioned above, Technicality was one of the darker characters I ever played. She was featured in my good friend Grady Elliot's campaign, Vendetta Rhapsody. You can find her character sheet here.
Featured in Digital Hero, this character was originally built for the old Marvel Super Heroes game by TSR. I especially enjoyed the playing-against-type bit in our high school game where she was one of the better football players in her school.
One of my favorite tropes is the young innocent thrust into a world of adventure, and my first character to really take advantage of this was Ramien. She was a farmgirl fresh from the orchards of her homeland when she was plunged into a grand quest.
Miss Junior Olympia
A pastiche of Mary Marvel, this character was actually created by my good friend Robert Dorf for his Young Titans game, but I quickly adopted her. I love the idea of a “Mary Marvel”-esque character, especially with Robert’s particular twist that, in his campaign, each of the young heroes has a particular mentor. Miss Junior Olympia is being trained by Ithicles, a great hero who occasionally gets his ward into trouble.
Now, this example is from the standpoint of a GM rather than a player. I ran two campaigns set in Shadows Angelus, both times with an all-male group of players. In the second game, I ended up with 4 female characters and 2 male characters. This made for an interesting dynamic that we nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels.” Having a group with the majority as female characters made for some very intriguing situations (especially when the characters were off-duty).
Fun Uber Alles
For me, roleplaying games are all about having fun above all. So, while I am an advocate for trying out roleplaying as another gender, and while for me personally, having something like that in a game is never a dealbreaker, I’d recommend testing the waters out with your group (i.e., talk it over!) before jumping in with both feet. I believe that (in general) having fun is optimized when everyone feels safe and comfortable! This next section of the post talks about the best practices (in my experience) that people should keep in mind when roleplaying as another gender.
For the Player
This should go without saying, but I am a big believer in getting everything out in the open up front as much as possible: you should be a mature roleplayer to roleplay a gender other than your own. Portraying another gender in an immature or inappropriate manner makes everyone sad. It makes you sad, because doing this is tantamount to admitting idiocy. It also makes everyone else sad, because most gamers don’t show up to the table to see crude portrayals of other genders (especially with stereotypical or exaggerated social tropes).
|Even classic characters take on new dimensions when in another gender.|
This is not to say that you should never, ever roleplay as a character that exemplifies a stereotype—it can be done, and it can be done well. Even then, however, I would only entrust such a portrayal to a mature roleplayer.
Roleplaying any character consistently is a vital element to making the other folks at the table understand what your character is about. I would say that consistency is even more important when you are roleplaying as another gender.
Separation from Reality
Roleplaying as another gender can be awkward, especially if other gamers around the table are focusing on the player’s appearance and mannerisms rather than his or her character’s. One possible solution for this is a tactic that helps separate the two.
One thing that has worked well for me is to have a picture of my character at the table, either printed out or present on an ipad or tablet. Putting this image up so that it is visible during roleplaying scenes can make it easier for other players to imagine interacting with your character rather than the player.
This separation works especially well over the internet. When I was playing on MUXes back in the day, the medium of pure text made the player’s real-life gender more or less irrelevant.
For the GM
Romance and Sex
In a character-driven campaign, it is not unlikely for characters to get into meaningful relationships—either with each other or prominent NPCs in the game setting. This can include situations such as romance and sex, both of which should be treated with respect when you are roleplaying as someone of the opposite gender. Gamemasters often roleplay as males and females of various races during the course of a campaign, and thus, GMs are the kinds of roleplayers who are generally most experienced at accurately and respectfully portraying someone of another gender from their own. Now, the subject of romance and sex in games is a large one—far too big for a single post to cover comprehensively—so all I will say here is that the GM should carefully consider how he approaches these issues in a campaign when the players are roleplaying as another gender. This consideration is just to ensure that (again) everyone feels comfortable during the game and that the most fun is had by all.
Here are some interesting links discussing the concept of a man roleplaying as a woman and vice versa. I won’t say I agree with everything in these threads, but I think there’s some very interesting and thought-provoking material there for those who want to know more.