• How gender expectations can mess up your gaming life

    by  • May 2, 2012 • Essays • 1 Comment

    I’m not sure what got me into thinking about these things recently. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that lately I’ve been playing in a lot of games thick with love affairs and generally dealing with relationships.

    But maybe I should start from the beginning. As a child I’m not sure if I was a tomboy. For sure, my favourite toys were Barbie dolls, cowboy guns, Lego bricks, and toy bows and arrows. At the time I didn’t care much about society expectations towards me. I started caring when I became a teen.

    But let’s fast forward through all my adolescent angst about gender roles and get to when I started roleplaying. I was about 20, which is quite late compared to many people here, and by the time I had developed definite tastes regarding fiction. Now, roleplaying means creating stories. It can be a shallow entertainment but it can also be a very personal and revealing act. It’s easy to feel antsy thinking how others will judge you based on the fiction you create at the table.

    At a certain point, looking back, I realized that when I began roleplaying, I censored myself.
    My dilemma was born from the fact that some of my tastes fitted perfectly with my gender stereotype. For instance very crunchy games, those full of numbers and unending lists bore me to death and I find them hard to understand. And I have a passion for roleplaying stories about relationships and feelings. Give me a love story full of drama to play and you’ll make me happy.
    Since these are all things typically expected from a woman, I felt guilty playing what I liked best as it felt like doing so I was reinforcing a stereotype.

    The games we played at the time were kinda helpful in avoiding certain themes, as they were perfect for slaying orcs but didn’t do anything to encourage exploration of the subtleties of human feelings. But after playing these games for a while, a few things happened that changed my approach to roleplaying:

    1. I grew up and, with that came the self assuredness to ignore the judgement of others and just play what I liked. If the people playing with me based their opinion of my gender based on how goofy I was with numbers or the kind of stories I loved, so be it and good riddance to them.
    2. I started finding a number of games which also actively encouraged and supported stories about my favourite themes.
    3. I started finding other fans of those same games, with the same taste for depicting relationships, romance and drama, people who were really fun to play with in exploring these kinds of themes.

    The sad thing is the realization that gender stereotypes mess with you all the time, either when you try to escape from them or when you fit them. But the ending of my story is quite happy; here I am playing with gusto the stories I care about with games helping me to do so.



    Claudia Cangini is since many years an enthusiast roleplayer and since fewer an improvisational theater amateur. She feels both passions have a lot in common. She’s an illustrator and graphic designer and as such she collaborates with italian publisher Narrattiva. For them she also deals in licensing, translation, editing and project management. With Michele Gelli she invented the convention InterNosCon and organizes it since 2008.


    One Response to How gender expectations can mess up your gaming life

    1. avatar
      May 6, 2012 at 08:30

      I know how this feels, though more from video games than tabletop RPGs. It can be a little bit maddening trying to figure out if you like something because it’s always been expected of you, or if you would have liked it anyway. A lot of the time it’s impossible for me to answer that. I try to keep an open mind about trying new things, but if they just don’t appeal to me, then I go with what feels right.

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