• Performing Gender: Playing a man, playing a woman

    by  • May 16, 2012 • Essays • 52 Comments

    In conversation with women who play table top role playing games I often hear stories of women playing characters who are men. I think there’s several reasons for playing a different gender at the table, and it can be revealing and informative. And fun! Here’s some of my thoughts (derived from personal experience and conversations with gamers) on performing gender at the table.

    Why women play men and men play women

    Some women I’ve spoken with don’t like to have gendered expectations at the table, and so it’s easier to play male characters in role playing games because they are the default and therefore normal. Playing a female character often has a lot of responsibility to it in a game. To name a few responsibilities, the woman often has to break career boundary norms. “A woman knight? But how can she be strong enough to carry that huge sword of hers?” The woman has to prove that she’s not just there to do womanly things: caretaking (healer, cleric, mother), romance (wife, sexual interest, seduction scenes), social interaction (diplomat, non-physical character). She has to prove that she is a woman, but also one of the guys at the table. These stereotypical woman roles can be difficult to navigate, subvert, and then re-integrate into the gaming experience. For women role players, often the easiest route is not to deal with these issues at all just by playing a man.

    I’ve also met women who like to push gender role boundaries. They play men to see what it’s like to have power, to be the norm, to be strong, or just to play around with gender assumptions in general. I’ve met women who’ve played gay men, straight men, men who do very stereotypical tough guy stuff to explore what the tough guy means. Women who like to play more androgynous roles, playing more effeminate men. There’s a ton of possibility there.

    I’ve known men who’ve played women for similar reasons. That is, to experience what it is to play a female archetype, or explore the gender stereotypes inherent in those types of roles as well. Men who’ve played women because they wanted the romantic storylines to be more a part of their gaming experience, or to expand upon certain roles like the woman warrior, the nymph. To get to play out the woman’s role in general, just to feel what it’s like to be in another gender’s skin. To escape the pressures or expectations that men have to be men in roleplaying games: protectors, warriors, tough guys, violent. Playing a woman inherently gets away from some of those expectations, like it or not, and it’s an entrance into a whole other set of rules and associations that can be liberating, or interesting and different.

    The dynamic with men playing women is a little more complicated, I think. I’m trying to put my finger on why. I think it has to do with privilege, to a certain extent. I think it also has to to with it being a more extreme taboo for men (sexual implications inherent in playing a female role, women are historically known for dressing up as men in order to “be as good as them” whereas with men dressing up is women it’s most often for comedy, theater, or sexual desire). Correct me if I’m wrong on those. I’d love to hear from some men on why they play women, or if those expectations or taboos can be felt, because I don’t have the personal experience to back that up.

    A few anecdotes

    Unless I’m GMing, I usually play women. I like to play women who push gender role boundaries too. Some go-to roles for me are the warrior woman (yep, the tank, Finaira!), the honorable or disgraced noble, the debaucherous manipulator, the skilled technician. The reason I like these is because they’re all, to my mind, atypical roles for women in the collective western social consciousness. I sometimes think that is a trap too, because I’m simply playing to the contrary of popular stereotypes, which reinforces them to a certain extent. Coupled with the fact that these stereotypes and roles for women are rapidly changing.

    I love playing the warrior woman, though. It’s absolutely my favorite role. I’ve always loved competition, battle, epic heroes and violent revenge stories. There are so few stories about really strong, really epic, really amazing women warriors (well, that’s not entirely true, but the stories are not well known or widely told). I love it when warrior and woman don’t collide, but synthesize, and become something new. Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Ripley from Alien, and the small but amazing number badass women of myth and legend are some of my personal heroes. The woman warrior is riddled with interesting gender issues, which I also find awesome. To me, playing the woman warrior in a role playing game is a woman playing a man’s role… but the more I play it, the less I see it that way, and the more it becomes a woman’s role. I’m curious how many other women love to play this role as well.

    Answer me this

    If you’re a woman, do you often play a man in games? Have you played an ambiguously gendered or trans person? What is your reasoning behind doing so? If you don’t, is there some other type of gendered expectation dictating your play?

    If you’re a man, do you ever play women in games? Have you played an ambiguously gendered or trans person? What is your reasoning behind doing so? Conversely, do you ever feel as though, when you play men, there is a certain gendered expectation dictating your play?

    If you identify with another gender or neither gender or both genders (or some other option I haven’t mentioned!), how does this impact your playing of the male or female character? Do you choose to be more ambiguous, or not approach gender at all?


    *Edited to say*: Wow! Thanks everyone for being so honest and interesting. I really enjoyed reading all of the responses I got, and even some more from social media. It’s really cool to see different people’s reasons for playing other genders, and how thoughtful and unique each intention is. I also thought it was interesting how sexuality became part of the conversation as well, even though we were just talking about gender at first. Very thought provoking! Most of all, I like how there’s not one answer to this, but many, as each choice is very individual. Very, very cool.



    Game player, wanderer, cyborg, and designer of enameled jewelry. Check out my jewelry at Anima Metals and for sale at Anima Metals on Etsy and on facebook at Anima Metals Facebook Page


    52 Responses to Performing Gender: Playing a man, playing a woman

    1. avatar
      Vivian Abraham
      May 16, 2012 at 16:11

      I have a reason for playing male characters in the past that isn’t on your list, and that may well be shared by men playing female characters. As a GM, I’m expected to play every NPC in the world! since playing female characters is naturally easier for me, I like to play male characters often enough that I can get more experience doing so. Then, when I GM, I can be better at playing those roles.

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    2. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 16:21

      I find that in some settings, it can be quite difficult to think of a way for a female character to fit into an adventuring group. I’m thinking of a one off my group played which was a pulp set in Victorian times and they were exploring somewhere in Africa. It must say something about that group and the way they approach Victorian RP that the best female character I could think of that would be fun in that setting was a super-intelligent gorilla. (so I was actually both stronger and smarter than anyone else in the group – -we had some amusing scenes where I was trying to indicate to the guys to use their mirrors to signal via hand gesture.) Arthurian settings can be similar — you get sidetracked into playing a sorceress.

      I think that group did have a tendency to go for Boys Own types of setups, not intentionally I think.

      I remember playing a male thief in one D&D game but I can’t remember why I decided to do that. I think I just thought the foppish thief worked better as a guy.

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      • avatar
        May 16, 2012 at 17:16

        Omg! <3 Super intelligent Victorian gorillas just made my day at leas 10% better!

        I think it okay to play games where one gender naturally dominates and people are expected to cross play.

        I going to the Aids larp "Just a Little Lovin'" this summer, about how aids hit the gay community in the 80s. Numerically gay men will be the biggest character group, due to the larps focus, so a lot of the female players will be cross playing as gay men.

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        • avatar
          May 18, 2012 at 02:50

          That’s a really interesting point to make, Elin. Normally I rail against that kind of thing (Whatever, let the setting realism suffer if it’s going to make me a minority!) But in the example you give it makes perfect sense to play a gay man. I mean, you’re making the same argument that a lot of people make about Fantasy settings (THERE ARE NO FEMALE KNIGHTS) but your example holds far more weight than the fantasy one. Well, for two reasons. 1: the gay men are the main characters, which is unusual and 2: in fantasy the knights and heroes are the main characters, and if women can’t join in that sucks.

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    3. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 17:04

      I’m a man and I play female characters about a third of the time. For me, non-gendered characters usually fall into the realm of non-humans who simply don’t care about sex (warforged, plant people, etc.) While romance and love are key components of our regular D&D game, exploring sexual identity isn’t and is something we’d probably avoid. It occurs to me that I’m more likely to play a female PC in a pulp or fantasy game (Savage Worlds, D&D) than I am in a superhero game (Mutants & Masterminds.) I have no idea why.

      For us a PC gender choice is far more about the story and the character’s personal arc. Some character concepts are just plain cooler with a female or a male PC. What gender the player is doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

      Gay NPCs show up in our games but I can only remember one or two explicitly gay PCs. Their gender preferences were always an integral part of who they were, but not the main focus of the game plot. I think we’re lucky that we try to stay away from stereotypes — no Scottish dwarves, either.

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    4. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 17:55

      I play cross gender fairly often, partly because almost no one else in our group is willing to and I like diversity. But mostly it is just how a character idea strikes me.

      It can be a challenge but usually the groups I play with, while majority male, are pretty good about such things.

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    5. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 18:59

      Gay man here. I play female characters a lot. Maybe more often than I do male characters. I like to include a lot of romance and/or sex in my RP, and since I find it easier to play that that if the target is male, I tend to play straight females and gay males.

      The folks I play with don’t tend to get bogged down in what a female or gay male character would “really” be like in the historical or pseudo-historical milieu of the game, though sometimes we use it as grist for the mill: the rareness of a female ronin, the social pressure on a gay man when the state religion is anti-gay, etc. If we think it would be interesting to deal with real aspects of oppression, it’s in. But if that’s not the game we’re in the mood for, then the setting becomes magically egalitarian.

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      • avatar
        May 18, 2012 at 03:02

        Magically egalitarian is how I would define the sweet spot with gender equality in most of my games too. I like that.

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    6. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 19:08

      I’m a male, and looking at the last few years, my PC characters cover cis males, GBQ males, and (usually cis) females (and I do GM a fair share and try to have similar diversity there).

      Like others said, I do this for character diversity, exploring identities and issues, and to get better at playing a variety of characters. I think recognizing and celebrating diversity makes me not just enjoy role-playing more but helps me grow as a person.

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    7. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 19:19

      (Cisgendered male player.)

      Unless the character springs to my mind fully-formed and with an inextricably gendered aspect, I usually randomize the gender of my characters. (Sex and gender usually match.) I also give them a randomized Kinsey rating.

      Gender in my RP experiences has been kind of all over the map.

      – A lot of my early RPG experiences were with In Nomine, where the PCs are usually angels or demons (“celestials” being the collective term). The natural state of celestials is incorporeal, and their shape in that state is largely controlled by their self-image. Some have a strong gender identity, some really don’t. Corporeal bodies were pieces of equipment (“vessels”), issued to agents who would be operating on Earth. Some had a strong preference for bodies of one particular sex, and some didn’t. Also, some types of celestials didn’t get vessels of their own – they had to possess mortal hosts, and hop from body to body. (My angel tended to possess plants and small animals, as leaving their lives unharmed by his intrusion was a less complicated task than it would be with human hosts.)

      – I ran a brief Pathfinder campaign set in (Welsh folklore flavoured) Arthurian Britain. I seem to recall there was a male-identified PC who happened to be biologically female – he and his family considered this fact unimportant, and the business of no one outside the family. That PC’s player is a (cisgendered AFAIK) woman. I feel like another one of the PCs also had an identity that violated common gender expectations, but I forget the details.

      – Our Exalted party included a PC with the Vaarsuvius gag in play.

      – My current Pathfinder PC is female, but my nominal baseline for her personal manner is Dr. McCoy from Star Trek. She’s a Summoner, and I keep slipping and calling her summoned eidolon “he”, even though I intend it as a sexless monster.

      – I’ve played in a surprising number of groups where the entire party cross-plays. Sometimes it’s complete coincidence, and sometimes the first few are coincidence, and the rest of the players join in because hey-why-not.

      Hmm. I wonder how much cross-playing correlates with having GM experience.

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    8. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 19:55

      The characters that we choose to play say something about us as people, but I don’t think it’s always clear what that means.

      I play male characters often (cis woman, holla). A few that I’ve played recently:

      -D&D 3.5: Corbin Beckett, beguiler, con man, and supreme flake.. Stereotypically unattractive. Effeminate (but self-conscious of his effeminacy), but heterosexual, and with few scruples about using his enchantment powers for personal gain, including getting laid.

      -Nobilis: Mr. Valentine, the Power of Love, son of a fallen angel and devotee of Hell. Has a cynical take on his own Estate, and has an army of ex-lovers and children. He was cursed by his Imperator such that whenever he would take a mortal wound, one of his lovers or children would fall in his stead. (I like the theme of God-Who-Eats-His-Own-Children, like Cronus and stuff.) He has a Bond in being macho. (For the uninitiated, this means that he gets power by acting macho, is better at being macho than he otherwise would be, and is obligated to act macho when called for.)

      So yeah, I guess you could look at those two characters and think, “Wow, Dymph gots issues with men.” You might be right, but I think that one of the reasons why I’m driven to make male characters with sexually-charged storylines is this: In my head, Mr. Valentine couldn’t be Ms. Valentine, because Ms. Valentine would be a slut. I’ve internalized our wonderful sexual double-standard enough that it would bother me to have a female character for whom sex was a major theme. (Not only that, but I am also afraid of being judged as That Girl whose super-power is Ultimate Sexiness and is only gaming in order to get male attention.) I enjoy romantic themes, but my female characters are largely asexual — they often are no-nonsense, results-oriented people.

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    9. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 20:23

      I have twice played a character who was male. Wait. That’s not accurate. Let me start over.

      My strong preference is to play a woman since I identify strongly with women and enjoy playing women.

      But once I played a character whose class was “Elf” (it was an old school D&D hack) and when I described them, I failed to mention their gender. Because I had forgotten to. Turns out, one of the queer players at the table noticed this and that started the reign of Helianthus the Elf. Who was gay gay gay gay! And whom no one knew what their gender was in, or out, of character. It was a running gag because the other characters wanted to know and there was supposedly an incredibly drunk scene where someone had slept with (or saw Helianthus sleeping with, we were intentionally vague) and had tried to write down Helianthus’ gender. But of course, whatever they had written down was indecipherable.

      Lately, in apocalypse world, I’ve been playing an ambiguous character. I’m really starting to enjoy the trope of not having the other players/characters know my character’s gender. Interactions get rather funny and mostly in the spotting where the biases lay.

      ((These two examples don’t actually include all the times in board games, video games and what-not where I’ve either had no choice or the gender was tied to a class that I wanted to play.))

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    10. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 20:30

      I find this a fascinating topic.

      Right now, I’m playing in a game with two male players (inc. myself) and a female player, and all three main characters are women. The other guy playing (Austin) always plays female characters. He says he doesn’t feel comfortable playing male characters, and given the many conversations we’ve had about our relationships with masculinity, I really get that. When you’re a guy who is made very uncomfortable by traditional masculinity, and you’re given the opportunity to play a character who doesn’t have to take part in it, that’s really a relief.

      For my own part, there’s a lot of gender diversity in my characters, but I think that comes from approaching the characters more like a writer than an actor. Certain characters just *are* one gender or another. In the current game, the character I’m playing is a mix of the noir detective and the noir femme fatale, and the only way that felt right to mix Sam Spade and Miss Wonderly was to play a woman.

      In many other games, I’ve played female characters because there was a woman-shaped hole in the cast. I think that’s the strongest motivator for me, and why I say I feel that I approach this more as a writer than as an actor. Sometimes, a female character is called for, and so I play her. Sometimes a male character is called for, so I play him.

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      • avatar
        May 18, 2012 at 03:07

        “When you’re a guy who is made very uncomfortable by traditional masculinity, and you’re given the opportunity to play a character who doesn’t have to take part in it, that’s really a relief.” I really find this perspective to be true of a lot of the men I know, and I think it’s important to highlight because I know a lot of women, especially in alternative lifestyles (gamer might be one of those) who feel the same! Myself included.

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    11. avatar
      Michelle Lyons-McFarland
      May 16, 2012 at 20:38

      I have typically only ended up playing male PCs when either I’m at a con game and female PCs aren’t available/allowed. There have been settings and situations in which I’ve tried playing male characters, and while I don’t tend to have a problem with it, the groups I played with at the time had serious issues conflating my gender with my characters, and I was constantly having to correct them. Finally I just switched to females because a) it’s rare to have a game come up in which playing a woman isn’t a viable option and b) video games give me plenty of opportunities to play males. It’s not quite the same as tabletop, but it seems to scratch whatever itch that is sufficiently for me.

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      • avatar
        May 16, 2012 at 20:46

        I’ve found it’s quite common (and usually quite fun) to play cross-gendered PCs at a gaming con. Most folks I know set up a table tent /index card in front of them to remind the other players of the PC’s name and sex.

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        • avatar
          May 18, 2012 at 03:08

          Yep, this is becoming more of a thing at cons. Almost to the point of making it a point if the option is available, to balance out the represented genders of the PCs even if that differs from the Players at the table.

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    12. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 20:45

      I’m a cisgendered man.

      I’ve played a few female PCs games over the years, though often that was by happenstance, not choice, e.g., pregens, or a game of Best Friends that was one of the best RPG sessions I’ve ever had.

      I created a female PC for a Star Wars d20 campaign a while back, solely because the concept that leap into my head was female, so I ran with it. Man, did I get flak from the rest of my group (all male). I don’t think I played any more female PCs with them after that.

      When I played The Mountain Witch at Forge Midwest a few weeks ago, my PC was trans. I specifically chose this based on what I’ve read here on GAW, namely pieces from Renee. The topic was on my mind, and I figured, why not explore that?

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      • avatar
        May 16, 2012 at 21:29

        I’m super-curious, how’d that go for you? Did you explore specific facets of transness, or was it just a fact about your character?

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        • avatar
          May 16, 2012 at 22:21

          Preamble: Please forgive me (and let me know) if some of this comes off ham-handed or offends. I am pretty new to transgender issues.

          Background: TMW is about ronin climbing a mountain to confront o-Yama, a powerful witch.

          In TMW, you need to decide why your character became a ronin (i.e., was expelled from service as a samurai). Then you draw a card that determines your fate, which you keep secret from the other players.

          I decided that my PC was discovered habitually dressing as a woman out of a desire to be one (i.e., not just one time as a disguise). Then I drew the, iirc, dark fate card, which meant that he had made a pact with the witch. I decided the pact was that, in exchange for the sacrifice of one of the other PCs, he would be transformed into a woman by o-Yama. This desire was the primary motivation for the PC, and drove most of my play.

          TMW generally ends in blood opera, so I did not manage to fulfill the pact. But the process of getting to that point was fascinating play for me. E.g., when they arrive at o-Yama’s castle, the players all describe how they see it. Other players described it as a horrific, gothic sort of place. I described it as incredibly beautiful and welcoming. And when given clothes in which to change for attending the audience with the witch, my PC was given a woman’s courtly kimono, which she wore in full view of the other ronin, no loner hiding who she felt she really was.

          Is that horrible? I have no idea. It was pretty powerful for us at the table.

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          • avatar
            May 17, 2012 at 00:44

            No, it sounds cool and interesting. Oh, I think it’s a little sad that the price you chose to pay was the murder of another character – the trans woman as psychokiller is an old and unfortunate trope – but it’s one that I’ve visited in the past as well*. Plus, I’m an old Forgie, so I know about The Mountain Witch and just how bleak it can be. In not succeeding, I hope her humanity was redeemed in some way, but knowing TMW, I’m not holding my breath. :p

            The idea that the world can look very different through trans eyes is something I find to be very much true. I often see sadness where others see joy. And beauty where others see horror. And the smallest little things that most people take for granted can be reason for me to exalt or to despair.

            And stories of immense desire that lead us to do dangerous and sometimes inhumane things is one I can definitely relate to. In fact, what you’ve written dovetails really well with a piece I wrote that’s set to post on Saturday. I hope you get a chance to see it.

            * I had a body-hopping CoC villain once who was both a psychokiller and a sexual predator. This was years before coming out as trans; I wanted to include trans themes in my games, but I didn’t feel safe doing it in a way that was compassionate and sensitive. Still, since I don’t believe in moral relativism, all I can do is look back on those days and hang my head a bit.

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          • avatar
            May 17, 2012 at 16:06

            FWIW, the decision about the PC being transgendered came before knowledge of her dark fate. Looks like I picked a cliche way to respond, but TMW commonly ends in PvP, as I understand it. But now I know, and knowing is yadda yadda. Thanks for giving me your perspective!

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    13. avatar
      Monica Speca
      May 16, 2012 at 21:16

      Please pardon the forthcoming wall(s) of text:

      Cisgendered bisexual female, here-

      For me, the easy answer to this question is “Because the concept just worked better as a guy” and a lot of the time that’s completely true. I had a mental image of this character as a man, and that’s that – and vice/versa – though it took a fair amount of emotional maturity to get there. Also, the majority of my gaming used to be face-to-face and I’d get really fed up with the 90% male group calling my male character “she,” being unable to separate my face from that of my character. I have a man playing a woman in my current group, and they do the same thing – at least this time I’m the GM and I help remind them that Andy is a woman right now.

      Does anyone else have this problem? How did you deal with it?

      Back on the subject at hand, with the harder answer: I, too, am a fan of playing warrior women (which, to me, sounds as silly a designation as ‘gamer girl’). When I was first getting into gaming, for a long while I thought that these badasses needed to be strictly homosexual, or at least bisexual, because if my warrior fell for a man, she’d then automatically be downgraded to a nurturing, supportive role. That is, at least, what my favorite media seemed to imply, so why would this be different? I was pretty young, then, and I know better now.

      In response to that line of thought, for a very long time – possibly the character I’ve played the longest (though the character in my current D&D campaign is now tied with it) – I played a character who leaped clean out of all the dark and dirty parts of my subconscious. I wanted to play a badass, and this was Exalted so that part was easy. I wanted to have power, and I wanted to have a lot of sex, and I wanted to be *in charge.* I did all these things, and then some. I played a woman in a man’s role who stood across the gender line and made funny faces down at it. She eventually used magic to become a hermaphrodite, something that nobody has ever been able to stop fixating on ever since. For me, that was just the icing on the cake, not the focus of the character. (And, for the record, that was done tastefully offscreen, and had little to no impact on the core of the game itself.) For me, it was about fully realizing and accepting my own rebellion against the gender roles I’d been told I needed to adhere to and the sexual desires I didn’t know I was suppressing.
      At the time, I never really thought about it like that, though. In the moment, it was about 3 dice stunts and 20 successes, and kicking ass.

      I’ve played gay and bisexual men, though neither of them had an opportunity to develop any real relationships in their games, so they didn’t quite have the same kind of thought put into them that some of my other characters. I chose their sexuality because I thought it would be interesting to try to play. I’ve played straight men, too, but as I, well, am attracted to women, this wasn’t too much of a stretch. In those cases, I played men simply because the concept deemed itself worthy of a man. These were almost entirely games played via chat on IRC, so there was no gender confusion as nobody could physically see each other. It made holding character easier.

      Only as of the last few years have I gotten past this concept that playing a straight female (or a bisexual female involved with a man) doesn’t mean turning in your badass card. I’ve started playing a lot more straight ladies who still love wearing heavy armor and swinging around big swords.

      As a parting note, I’d like to add that I hope we start seeing a lot more characters like Katniss Everdeen (the Hunger Games) in fiction, *especially* YA fiction.

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      • avatar
        May 16, 2012 at 22:18

        Does anyone else have this problem? How did you deal with it?

        Providing visual representations of characters helps a *lot*.

        When playing face to face, get a mini you like, and have it on the table in front of you. Even if you’re not playing with a map.

        When playing online (where it’s less likely to be an issue, granted), choose or produce some character art.

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    14. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 21:23

      Straight cisman here. I RP both as a game master and as a player.

      Obviously as a GM I portray characters of a variety of genders and orientations. Enjoy jumping around and playing lots of different characters, no matter their genetic make up or ideological orientation. If I can convincingly* portray a male 400 year old billionaire vampire sociopath I’m not sure that its a big leap to make the character female.

      As a player I tend to play female characters these days. This was not always the case. Back in the good old days I liked to play uber-brawny combat monsters who were the super-male types. For the last few years I’ve moved to playing female characters basically exclusively – though they are still in cut from a super tough combat monster mold. I guess I play Ripley now, rather than Conan.

      Its interesting that as I’ve changed as a player and started portraying women as the default that I’ve also become more comfortable and interested in portraying romantic plots. Part of this, I’m sure is becoming a more mature roleplayer who is comfortable with this sort of thing, and part of it comes from playing a different style of game – hack and slashy Shadowrun in my youth, and more RP oriented Nobilis and Vampire these days.

      For whatever reason, my player characters, male and female, are universally straight. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps my gender identity is less firm than my sexual identity? More likely I’m over thinking this :)

      * Only my players can tell you if I can convincingly play such a character :)

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      • avatar
        May 16, 2012 at 23:17

        Hm. I hadn’t thought about that when replying myself, but yes, my characters do tend to most often be straight. I myself am, though I’ve played plenty of NPCs who aren’t when GMing. Though romance is only sometimes a factor I consider when creating a character–I usually prefer to have motivations and plots unrelated to romance, for either gender of character.

        (Also, there was much joking in a long-running campaign I was in that if we had so many lesbians running around there was clearly something in the water in the town the game was set, so playing straight PCs was jokingly called the minority role there. :P)

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    15. avatar
      May 16, 2012 at 23:14

      I’m a woman, and I usually play female characters, but I run the gamut with what kind of personalities they have. I definitely don’t default to “traditional female gender roles” for my characters, and I’m happy to say the people I game with, male and female alike, don’t expect that of these characters (or any others). (I’ve got some awesome open-minded friends and gamer-friends!) I tend towards outspoken, sarcastic and physically adept females most often. I also usually default to a ‘good guy’ kind of role, but I try to push that boundary to playing more morally grey characters sometimes, too. :)

      Occasionally I’ll play a male character. Sometimes when I’m pondering a character for a game, the one that comes to me is male, and I go for it. The last male character I played was actually a competent but not great fighter and notably a coward.

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    16. avatar
      May 17, 2012 at 13:47

      (FTR, I’m a cisgendered bisexual man, just so’s you know my starting point.)

      I usually play men when I play RPGs. If I’m playing a woman, it’s because the concept for the character I had just kind of came out female, which doesn’t happen all that often. The other thing is, I don’t play women often because I don’t want to fuck it up. I’ve seen too many men play women characters and make it really awful and stereotypical, and while I don’t think I roll like that, I also don’t want it to be an issue.

      I do sometimes play women in cons because I like to pick characters at random, and sometimes that means I choose a (or the, since I’ve played with an uncomfortable number of GMs at cons who throw in one token woman character) female character.

      I’ve never played a transgender character, mostly because that takes all of the discomfort I have about playing a woman unfairly and multiplies it. I’m not trans, I’m very firmly cis, and it’s not a headspace I’ve ever tried to get into (not that I’m opposed, mind, and as I’m typing this I’m realizing it’s kind of a blind spot I should correct).

      As a side note: When I GM at cons and bring characters (like, say, for NWoD games) I usually come up with a background and a skeleton of a personality/concept for the characters, but leave the details, including name and gender, up to the player. I find that works pretty well for avoiding “making” people play crossgender.

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    17. avatar
      May 17, 2012 at 14:18

      Hi, long-time lurker and first time poster … so please excuse the verbal diarrhoea :)

      Reading your ‘Anecdotes,’ Kira, made me feel as if I were looking into a mirror!

      Like you, I never play men as PCs (though I must play male NPCs when GMing). Why? Simply because I feel that I can’t play men without stereotyping them – and I won’t stoop to that.

      I also won’t play female stereotypes. I might play a ‘healer,’ but she’ll be a person, rather than the crypto-mysto ‘Woman’ so beloved of pscyhobiologist versions of feminism and of traditional attitudes in many cultures – oh, and she’ll be able to defend herself! I understand your concern about either subverting or indirectly reinforcing cultural stereotypes, but I feel that that worry is itself a red herring.

      One can find elements of stereotyping in any character (even one’s mundane persona) if one looks hard enough – that’s an inevitable concomitant of the creation process, to some extent, IMO. I once played a Warrior Nun/female Templar and on another occasion a wyfwolf (female werwolf) – the Templar was a bit of a hothead, while the wyfwolf was taciturn and growled a lot … but both worked as rounded characters.

      One can worry oneself silly trying to eliminate stereotypes — I really don’t feel that it matters unless the stereotype is offensive, or renders the character flat and two-dimensional.

      Also like you, I enjoy the role of warrior-woman, appropriately armed and dressed* – depending on the size of my character, I substitute ‘dexterity’ for ‘strength’ (or equivalents), and in fantasy games, I substitute a scimitar/yataghan/ thrusting spear etc for a broadsword, and scale, cuir-bouilli or even quilted cotton for plate etc.

      As for ‘warrior being a male role,’ so what? On Earth, the aversion to female warriors arose from tribal taboo. The men of tribe A and those of Tribe B, whi lived over the hill, would marry each other’s daughters to create bonds (between the men). If Tribe A later went to war with tribe B, on whose side would the women fight – their fathers’ or their husbands’? To avert a ‘Trojan horse’ situation, the women of both tribes would be prohibited (often on pain of death) from taking up arms. But who’s to say that your D&D planet is not an alt.Earth, or that the taboo has not been recognized and dismissed as a historical irrelevancy?

      These days I play with a group via IRC – in my first game with this group (a campaign based on MAR Barker’s world of Tékumel), I played a veteran of an elite all-female light-infantry regiment who fought through a civil war armed with javelins, single-handed axe and buckler and wearing nowt but a helmet and belt**

      I GMed a game of ‘Red Star’ and, because the game was new and ‘alien’ to the group, I inserted a character into the game to be a guide/facilitator. Oksana Osipovna Renko was the driver and general factotum for the group’s leader, and was modelled on Honeysuckle Weeks’ character, Samantha (Sam) Stewart, in the UK television series “Foyle’s War.” She was a highly intelligent, competent and brave young woman who was a crack shot with a Tokarev.

      I have played in Victoriana games – as female adventurers, ‘lady scientists,’ ‘companions’ and governesses. The nineteenth century was indeed constricting for women, but there were always opportunities for one who had sufficient determination. I am currently engaged in a PBeM of ‘Deadlands,’ playing a half Cheyenne, half-Chinese agent and spy for a railroad company.

      Sex and sexuality are a normal part of human existence. In every game I’ve played in my adult roleplaying career, the PCs have had ‘sex. We have had flirtations, one-night stands, ‘explorations,’ romances, weddings, ‘affairs,’ pregnancies and childbirths. In most cases, the actual acts have been handled as “fade-to-black,” though this depended on the group (including the GM).

      I am a gay woman, and will play one where possible – I just cannot get my head around mindset of being a straight woman.*** But I often play characters whose sexuality is not an issue – my Warrior Nun or members of other ethnicities, ‘races’ or species. Oksana regarded her married-with-three-children boss with the same affection she felt for her dead father (no, I don’t have Electra-issues – it just made sense).

      The Wikipedia article talks about “Women Warriors in *Folklore*,” and mentions many historical figures who have achieved ‘folkloric’ status – while ignoring the many female warriors in history who didn’t!

      Interestingly, it also ignores any female ‘warrior’ who lived and fought after WWI, even though books have been written, films made and tales told about the women who fought for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, the British, US, Australian, Soviet (more than 800,000!), etc, women who fought against the fascists in WWII and the Chinese, Vietnamese and South and Central-American women who fought for their freedom in the years since 1945. Perhaps these women haven’t been around long enough or are not ‘well-known’ enough, to be considered ‘folkloric’ (though the 90 Soviet women, military and partisan/civilian, who were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, for their deeds in the Great Patriotic War/WWII, are still revered, even in post-communist Russia) – yet the authors show their Cold-War/Slavophobic bias by mentioning the so-called “White Tights” (of whom I, for, one have never heard)!

      ‘Super-heroines’ in films, books and graphic novels, are also ignored – are they neither ‘folkloric’ nor ‘warriors’?

      PS: Except for the people with whom I gamed in adolescence, most of the other people in my past and present RPG groups will play cross-gender. Mix-ups are never an issue – we are all mature enough for ‘suspension of disbelief.’

      *See my comment on http://www.pelgranepress.com/?p=3501 (near bottom of page)
      ** ibid.
      *** I won’t play Paladins either — some might argue that my Warrior Nun was one (she did good stuff, was a fighter type and belonged to a quasi-religious/monastic Order) but she lacked the sanctimoniousness and self-righteousness, and the fanatical desire to convert or kill with which *I* stereotype the Paladin.

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      • avatar
        May 18, 2012 at 03:12

        I really appreciated all the knowledge you brought to that text wall! I’ve never heard of the anthopological/historical things you’re mentioning about warrior women. I’m doing some gleeful research about that now. Thanks!

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    18. avatar
      May 17, 2012 at 16:40

      I’m a straight woman and I always play men, who can be gay or straight or bi, depending on the setting and how the character turns out. I never had a trans character so far, maybe I should give that a try when the right game comes along.
      I play men because it feels comfortable for me, it always has. It’s fun to explore a different gender. I had tough guys (for example a black cowboy in Deadlands who does a lot of fighting for the group), I often play intellectual characters because it fits me (a scholar or a physician), I’ve played soldiers, poker players, hackers, explorers. I’ve played one androgynous character, but he was the exception from the rule (but a lot of fun).

      I’m fortunate enough to have groups who accept all this well and that have male players (straight men) who routinely play females and who do it much, much better than I ever could. At times, our characters have flirted and even married once and it’s always been fun to see romance from the other side, so to speak. And sex, of course, we’ve had that as well (via play by email) and I think here is the point where the fact that I’m into BDSM (as a dom usually) comes into play. It’s interesting to play this as a person who would be considered dominant from the getgo, just by being a man. Not that my characters are all dominant or into BDSM (they’re usually not), but it’s still a very different viewpoint.

      I think one of the reasons why I don’t play women is that I don’t feel all that motivated to be the exception from the rule by default in the game. I don’t play fantasy, usually I play stuff like 7th Sea, Deadlands and Cthulhu /Gaslight in particular). Sure, it’s absolutely possible to have awesome female characters in those games and we have, but I’m not interested in doing it. Since the settings are realistic up to a point, female characters are unusual characters: the Victorian female explorer, the female doctor ect. It’s not that the other players make things hard for such characters, but they do stand out in the setting. I just don’t feel like exploring that in a RPG.

      Sometimes I’ve heard it said that men always play female characters they would want to have sex with. We’ve talked about this in our group and for one of them it’s very true, but for the others it’s not the rule. I know it’s not for me. I definitely have characters I find very sexy, but the majority are not my type.

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      • avatar
        May 18, 2012 at 03:13

        “Sometimes I’ve heard it said that men always play female characters they would want to have sex with.” I’ve heard that a lot too. I can see it more in video games, when people pick the sexy female avatar to run around and do stuff… a lot of it is meant to be for sex appeal. But with roleplaying… man that’s getting into some crazy Fruedian shit.

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          May 18, 2012 at 05:37

          I hadn’t heard the “guys play female characters they’d like to have sex with” thing before. Huh. After thinking about the female PCs I’ve played in the past there might be a little truth to that. The type of female PCs I create are generally similar to women I would be attracted to. Mind you, I’m not talking about looks here, but character, outlook, and personality. But it’s not only a sexual thing. I mean, when playing any character, you have to *like* that character; no one wants to play as a character that they don’t like, can’t empathize with, or can’t identify with.

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          • avatar
            May 21, 2012 at 20:39

            It can probably vary on an individual basis. I can see guys, at least, playing female characters who do represent some sort of fantasy. Thinking back on the characters I’ve played, though, there are some that I wouldn’t even want to MEET, let alone get with.

            Even so, I’d love to see some sort of study taken of gamer geeks everywhere about every type of character they’ve ever played. It may not yield anything especially juicy, but you would probably still find all kinds of creative stuff.

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        • avatar
          May 18, 2012 at 16:54

          I’ve realised embarrassingly late just how revealing roleplaying often is, when I started thinking about all the characters I have played and what they have to say about me, even without throwing sex into the mix.But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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    19. avatar
      May 17, 2012 at 17:38

      ( 95%+ straight*, cis, male.)

      Most of the characters I play match my assigned sex, gender identity, and orientation, but I have played women and in one case a bi-gendered fox spirit**. I’ve also played a couple of characters with differing orientations. For the most part, this is due to what makes the most sense as part of the overall concept. Gender is usually not what initially draws me to a certain concept. As a player, I don’t generally worry about the sex/race/orientation mix of the PC group and just make the character that I want to play.

      As a GM i concern myself much more with representing genders/orientations/races, than as a player. When GMing and especially when designing NPCs I am much more conscious of questions like, are these people all white? Are there any women in authority? Are all the women/poc/LGBT characters stereotypes***?

      *There are men I would probably at least kiss if presented the opportunity and were I not engaged.
      **who was enough of a shapeshifter that he/she could change forms along with gender presentations.
      ***I also try to avoid stereotypes when playing a women/poc/lgbt person/religious minority and even with non-human species/fictional religion but It’s more an active part of my thinking as a GM since many NPCs are simpler characters.

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    20. avatar
      Anders Bohlin
      May 18, 2012 at 00:27

      Another cisgendered male here.

      I often play female characters, maybe 45-55% of the time? It’s been pretty a stable over the last 3-5 years so I reckon I’ll keep doing it. I think having more than one gender represented among the characters adds something to the dynamics of a game, so what other people are playing will usually influence my choice.

      I’ve only played someone with ambiguous gender once. That was in Apocalypse World and I don’t think I’d have thought to do it unless the option was there on the paper before me. It was a good game, but looking back on it I’m left with some mixed feelings on how it turned out.

      I gave my character (a Battlebabe) a revenge motif and later in the game, while seducing the person my character wanted to take revenge on, we got to see that my character biologically was a woman but had removed her breasts. I’m pretty sure the revenge was connected to a murdered partner who I think was female, and in the game we only saw her coming onto men.

      Even with that bit of ambiguous sexuality going on, I feel like I fell straight into the cliché of a woman forsaking womanhood to become tough, which I don’t like at all.

      Thinking about all this it strikes me that I to some extent actually might be exploring my relationship to “manly” traits by playing women who display them. I’m a big, bearded straight guy, and I’m not at all comfortable with some norms surrounding manhood … I’m not sure I could stomach playing a really “manly man”, but I’m fine with playing a “manly woman”.

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    21. avatar
      May 18, 2012 at 05:04

      Another cis-male chiming in here. I usually prefer to play as female PCs for reasons that various other people have already mentioned above.

      1. I think that homogeneous PC parties (whether race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity) are incredibly boring. No one else in my group has taken on this role, so it usually falls to me to do so. Which I’m OK with.

      2. I like exploring issues of race and gender in games. I’ll play as the “minority” or the character that goes against expected gender or societal norms to shake things up and (hopefully) create interesting character interactions.

      3. I’m a (not so) closeted Xena fan. :) I’m attracted to strong women who’ll stand up for themselves and voice their own opinions (which is sadly often not the case here in Japan), so I think it’s kind of natural that I’d want to play as one.

      I’ve never played as a “sexual” female PC though. My characters have all so far either been chaste or simply ignored sex. Of course, I’m the only one out of our group who runs games that deal with sexual themes, so there isn’t much chance to explore this when I’m playing as a PC. But if I were to play as a female PC who was attracted to other women, I’m afraid I’d just be perpetuating into the stereotypical cis-male fantasy of wanting to see two women make out. If I played as a female PC who was attracted to men, then I feel like I’d be opening myself up to all kinds of “Dude, you’re coming on to guys! WTF?” from the rest of the group. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation.

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      • avatar
        May 18, 2012 at 20:38

        “If I played as a female PC who was attracted to men, then I feel like I’d be opening myself up to all kinds of “Dude, you’re coming on to guys! WTF?” from the rest of the group. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation.”

        I never thought about that, but I guess it’s probably true for many groups. I’m going to ask my fellow genderbender players if they ever did anything like that. The romance and sex we had in our groups happened between male and female players, but as far as I can remember, never between two players of the same sex. We’ve had flirting between two male characters from one gay and one straight player, though (in a Deadlands game no less).

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          May 21, 2012 at 15:18

          I played in a WoD game some years back where a male player (portraying his male character) literally got down on one knee and offered an engagement ring to the male GM (portraying the player’s female girlfriend). Both players (AFAIK) were straight, there was no hint of weirdness about it because they were both in character.

          Now, that said, these were guys who were old friends and had been gaming together for years, so maybe something of an anomaly. It was just kind of a cool moment. :)

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          • avatar
            May 22, 2012 at 15:57

            That really is a cool moment.

            I asked around a bit and one of the male gamers in my group told me that his female character did indeed get involved with the male character of another male player. That relationship even resulted in a child (that one of my current characters will get to meet and probably live with in the future because he’s the current partner of the female character now).
            He said it was a little bit awkward to play, but not too much.

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      • avatar
        May 21, 2012 at 19:26

        One of the most gender-complicated moments in our game: a gay man playing a straight woman who got married to a straight male NPC portrayed by a straight female GM. No one in the group batted an eye; PC-NPC romances are seen as quite normal, no matter whether people are playing with their real-life gender/sexual preferences or against them. We’ve also had PC-PC romances, like the one where a straight woman played by a straight man had a wild affair with a pansexual man played by a straight man. But I think the key is that they both knew that no one else in the group would laugh – in fact, everyone involved cheered them on to extra romantic drama.

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        • avatar
          May 22, 2012 at 05:06

          I wish my players were as adventurous as yours seem to be, Jessica. I’m running an Apocalypse World game right now and I know that none of them are going to come within 100′ of those Sex Moves. It makes me sad and frustrated, since it feels like they’re refusing to play their PCs as “real” people.

          My experience was in a nWoD game too, blackhatmatt, and the GM was pretty cool about it. It was the other players that made things awkward. When my hetero- cis- (or so I thought) male vampire seduced a male NPC to get information from him and then fed off him (which is the equivalent of sex for my PC), the other players started giggling. It made me incredibly self conscious and really difficult to stay in character. After the session came the questions of “So, is your PC gay now?” which of course lead to “So… are *you* attracted to men?”

          Later the GM and I had a private conversation where he said he was glad this had came up. It opened the door to exploring why it was acceptable to violently attack a man to feed from them (as had happened numerous times) but it was unacceptable to “be tender” to a man. Unfortunately the game fizzled out s few sessions after that so we never really got to do much with it.

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          • avatar
            May 22, 2012 at 17:26

            I’m not sure what it is about our group that makes us willing to be adventurous, but it might be worth trying to figure out in order to see if it’s replicable with other groups.

            Partly I’m guessing it’s things about the players out of game. Since my husband converted, everyone in our gaming group is either gay, Jewish or female – or more than one of the above. It means no one’s snickering about PCs or players being gay because, well, that’s totally normal. Our straight players are quite happy to play gay PCs (or just, say, have their vampire feed from a same-gender NPC) because that’s an everyday part of our social world.

            Partly it’s that I, as a GM, am pretty aggressive about what’s awesome and what’s not awesome. I’d say I spend 10% of my GM energy on the rules, 30% on creating cool situations and plots, and 60% on creating social norms for the group. When players do something that’s uncomfortable but awesome, I make sure that any gigglers get silenced (“Hang on, guys, we’re doing a scene”) and that the courageous player immediately gets rewarded above and beyond what they tried to achieve. Over time, players start to see that being serious and courageous in game, and supporting other players in doing so, is just as strategically sound as adding points to their character sheet – and really fun for them, as I have a clear idea of what a good “above and beyond” award would be for each of my players.

            So, yes, I started with a really amazing group of people who are sensitive to these issues – but if your group gives you social authority as the GM, I think it’s possible to use it to shift what’s considered appropriate for your group to play. I’d guess it’s a LOT harder to do from a player position.

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        • avatar
          May 22, 2012 at 15:59

          Wait, I think I need a diagramm to figure that one out 😀
          And I agree, knowing that people will accept what you do is the most important part in playing that kind of stuff.

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    22. avatar
      May 18, 2012 at 22:22

      I p. much always play a lady in games, just because there’s almost never a reason not to. I’ve always had a strong affinity for my own gender, so unless I have a superawesome idea for a guy character, I’m just gonna go with a gal. (Fortunately, all my RP experiences have been in groups who have no problem with accepting some level of gender equality in the settings.)

      The one exception I can remember is playing a male dwarf in one campaign, though he ended up very girly in his tastes and had some issues from too many alchemy fumes.

      In online play by email campaigns based on magical girl series, I used to specialise in guy characters just to open up the option for (hetero) romance, since few players wanted to be anyone but the main cast types.

      Other than that, I’m happy to keep on reppin’ my gender in games, just because it’s the kind of characters I want to have happen.

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    23. avatar
      May 21, 2012 at 19:37

      Straight(-ish) cis woman here.

      As a player, I almost always play female; I refuse to play a male PC unless there are more than 50% female characters in the group, so it’s rarely even an option. Even if it is, I’m just more interested in exploring women’s stories. My characters are sometimes straight and occasionally gay, but usually somewhere along the bisexual spectrum. To be perfectly frank, that’s because I love attention and I want the option to be a romantic partner for as many characters as possible. (For similar reasons, my characters are rarely monogamous, though I happen to be extremely so by temperament as well as commitment.)

      As a GM, I play just about everything! I sometimes use random generation methods for race, gender, and sexual orientation (among other things) to be sure I’m adequately representing the whole spectrum of human experience in our games.

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    24. avatar
      May 21, 2012 at 19:52

      I’m a hetero guy, I love playing literally every kind of character.

      Of late, though, the characters I create in video games, including MMOs, have a tendency to be all female. I could not say precisely why, but I find myself feeling much, much more inspired by playing some sort of heroine (or anti-heroine, such as it is) than the prospect of a male character. I have a dude here or there, but they just aren’t doing it for me lately.

      As far as females go, there is no specific role or personality I like best, but I prefer to step slightly outside the norm when it comes to appearance and age. I don’t find it terribly interesting to play a generic “hottie”, nor am I overly compelled by romantic or sexual overtones. My (female) MMO characters, at the moment, consist of a conceited but good-natured well-to-do adventuress who’s a dwarf (the archetypical ale-swilling, axe-toting fantasy kind), and a chilly, logical, dry-humored magic-knight type who’s a human, but in her middle years, and looking exactly as one might expect someone who’s spent her whole life on horseback with a weapon in hand. The next WoW character I’ll likely play is a heavily-armed but philosophically-minded warrioress who’s this big, energetic humanoid panda-lady (anyone who plays WoW here knows what I’m talking about; the ‘pandaren’ are pretty much awesome incarnate). I like to stay away from the more obviously “hot” races, because honestly, there are enough of those being played already, and dudes who play girls online already have enough of a stereotype to deal with.

      At the tabletop, I’ve only somewhat-recently started playing female characters with my current group, who’s all-male, and at first, a few of them were put off, but they seem to be able to deal with it at this point. I tend to mix it up between males and females all of wildly different types as we go from game to game, but as females go, thus far in this group, they’ve included a radio show host with a humorous, choleric personality in an urban fantasy/horror game, a hunter/tracker-type in an asian-themed setting, and up and coming, a full-on pirate in a D&D game. Ironically, it’s the pirate who’ll likely end up in that “support” role you often think of females as ending up as, but that’s simply because I’ve never actually done that role mechanically, as a player.

      I think a big part of where I get my inspiration from, I know, is through artwork. I like to draw, and barely a moment of the day goes by when I’m not sketching up something, and for whatever reason, I find drawing female characters (of all different shapes and sizes, and actually dressed appropriately based on what they do and what they’re like) to be a lot more fun, so that could be why a lot of my RP characters end up that way.

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        May 21, 2012 at 20:11

        Oh! Something that I neglected to mention: Sexuality, ambiguous gender, that kind of thing, just hasn’t come up very often in the games I have played. I expect, however, that the next character I’m planning will have this come up, as she’s designed to look rather androgynous. As this is the type of character with a jacked-up Charisma score and a focus on social skills (including bluff and disguise), I’ll be playing both her masculine and feminine characteristics up…and frankly, I plan on having an absolute blast with it. I do not envision her as being confused as to her own sexual identity, but if other characters DO end up so confused as to theirs, after meeting her, PCs and NPCs alike, I’ll consider it some measure of success.
        If there’s some deeply personal, freudian reason for why I find this idea so much fun…whatever, that’s all well and good, it’s gonna be awesome either way.

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        • avatar
          May 21, 2012 at 21:37

          So, you’re playing Orlando?


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    25. avatar
      July 24, 2012 at 14:56

      I am male and over the last five or six years that I’ve been actively tabletop gaming I’ve usually aimed for roughly a 50-50 mix of male and female characters. Generally I find it helpful to my process of defining a character by going through the defining idea and characteristics of who they are in a genderless way and assigning male or female towards the end. It’s either a flip of a coin or whatever seems to then fit (not in the sense that I then default the character to any stereotypes, but I may by that point have an emerging backstory and sense of the character that I’ve subconsciously set as one or the other). I’ve aimed to balance it out in general to be 50-50. The local roleplaying group that I’ve been around are typically fairly broad and open and there is a general acceptance and ease with women playing men and men playing women in the games run by its members. We are also blessed with a fairly even divide anyway.

      For me, as I’ve taken to roleplaying, it’s as an opportunity to explore different stories and inhabit interesting and varied characters and it would be odd if some of those characters weren’t female, not least because I want some of those characters to be female as I don’t have an expectation that they can’t. And if I think that there is no reason they can’t, then at least some of them ought to be. As I’m also an avid LARPer, this does present additional challenges when doing live-action characters, and unfortunately not one that is easy to solve, not least because I like to wear a beard. There are only so many characters one can play that have a plausible reason to have their face covered or masked!

      Also, as a slightly separate aspect of role-playing it’s a bit of challenge if you want to do justice to playing good characters and it’s something that pushes one as a role-player and as a human just that little bit extra because there is an additional facet of self-examination you go through. Why are you playing this character in this way? Are you thinking motivation through or are you defaulting to lazy assumptions etc. etc. All in all nudges one towards just playing and enjoying better characters as a whole.

      Altogether I think I am lucky that I’ve been in an environment where this is generally accepted and encouraged because I can easily imagine groups of role-players being stupid or unpleasant about it.

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    26. avatar
      August 3, 2012 at 00:18

      Male, long-time tabletop RPGer.

      I play female characters in about half my games. It’s not conscious or anything, though – usually, I go with the cocnept and decide gender later. Not always, of course, sometimes the class premediates gender (like a Dark Heresy Sister of Battle, who only come as female, or Deathwatch Space Marine, who can only be male(ish)), and sometimes the concept just feels it would work better with one gender than the other. I ended up with a fairly balanced selection over a number of systems though.

      Ambigiously gendered … well, would Warhammer 40000 Space Marines count? Essentially they’re asexual, by physis and looks are masculine, heavily exaggeratedly, too. Otherwise, no.

      My reason for playing women is not one reason at all, it goes with characters. It can be fun to mix up stereotypes, or experience the other side of the fence by conforming with them, but that’s a case-by-case basis thing for me, and no overall reason behind all female characters I play.

      My first ever female character – actually the second character I ever built – was a re-do of my original concept (which was a male hacker) to a female Electronics Warfare/vehicles/drones specialist, because the group wouldn’t have another hacker. Feeling countrary, I built a female character to have her stand out from the group, at that time an all-male, all-humans affair in the world of Shadowrun, which is high fantasy crossed with cyberpunk dystopia. I spent a good deal of time considering how to play her, because woman and I was, at the tender age of 12, not really that knowledgable about anything, and decided on a set of traits rather than a prefab stereotype because I’d have found that boring, and it’s easier to relate to a somewhat grumpy, calm, calculating person if you’re somewhat like that yourself (she turned out a lot more hotheaded than I am though). I have played that character, on and off, for over 20 years, am still quite happy with her, and have aproached female characters like that ever since.

      More recently, I chose to play women for a variety of reasons, some being emulating a novel character, sometimes because the concept “Bollywood Rebel” just works better with a woman, though a man would face the same sanctions for busting an arranged marriage but hey, gender images, and sometimes plainly for better stats and advances (Dark Heresy Battle Sisters are probably the best choice in the game purely for numbers).

      Overall, my characters often tend to be fighters, whatever their gender. I have played a female knight (from a poor family so her twin sister couldn’t be a knight too), a female space knight, Warhammer 40.000’s signature Space Marine tanks, Shadowrun soldiers and mercenaries of either gender. Not all though, I have both male and female characters who are best kept behind someone solid and protective the second initiative is rolled.

      There is not one reason why I play female characters. Neither is there one way I play them. My Shadowrun Tech specialist might be heavily fashionistic and concerned about her looks, while my WH40K Battle Sister crops her hair short with a knife, considers makeup an unnecessary extravagance and is quite happy about every scar because it’s a service-to-her-god mark. Really, gender is overrated in the larger melange that makes a personality, if you ask me.

      One word on sexual orientation: there, I have played pretty much everything by now. Gay male, gay female, asexual, straight male and female. No trans though. I just never had a concept I’d like to play where it’d make sense.

      That said, of course there are certain gender-specific expectations in games, sometimes. With a good group, they depend on the setting, but you hardly ever are free of societal bias entirely. Sometimes it can be quite fun, especially playing text-based online; guilt-tripping a reluctant male character to do something he doesn’t want to because the female character sighs and just goes is amusing (and expects the male character to be a gentleman and go to protect the girl). Also, it’s a general rule, in my experience, that female characters don’t stay behind to slow an enemy down and buy time sactrificing themselves unless they’re played by a guy (though there are female gamers who do this too, they’re just by far not the majority in my experience). Usually, though, I don’t give more on such conventions than my characters would. Mostly, the problem is just that players cannot put aside what their eyes, ears and nose tell them of you.

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