[personal profile] bokunenjin
When it comes to "geek culture," my experience is slight—I've long thought of myself as a computers-and-engineering-and-hacking kind of geek, not a gaming/comics/fantasy kind of geek. There's at least a post's worth of potential self-reflection there, but my point is that despite currently showing few signs of involvement with the second kind of geekdom, I spent several of my high school and college years participating in tabletop role-playing games like D&D and Ars Magica. I probably would be now if I'd been invited into a group in the post-undergrad years before my plate filled with other things.

diceWhat I'm interested in exploring in this post is playing across gender lines—that is, role-playing a character of a different gender than your (the player's) own. (Yes, there is a pattern here.) I don't imagine this is entirely untrodden territory, but I hadn't processed my own experience of being disallowed from doing it in the gaming group I spent the most and longest time in. Specifically, I hadn't processed how bullshit that is. The GM's reason for the ban: verisimilitude. Fellow players would not be able to imagine the character accurately when that character's words were coming from the mouth of a player of a different gender. Such a difference would overtax players' ability to suspend disbelief; it would break the collective fantasy.

An obvious counterargument: if players can overcome the differences between a late-twentieth-century t-shirt-clad, Mountain Dew-chugging American teenager hanging out in a friend's parents' rec room and a pious sixteenth-century Saxon blacksmith trekking along thief-ridden roads, a difference of gender identity is barely material, let alone insurmountable. I may have expressed this argument to our GM, but I had no support from any other players, all of whom identified as male, so it was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Since these were not only fellow players but friends, and I had a painfully hard time making friends, I took it. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't, not because cross-playing was important to me, but because this absurd essentialism should have been a red flag.

None of the role-playing-game rule systems I've used have either banned cross-playing or discriminated among characters' genders when it came to abilities or characteristics, as far as I remember. However problematic game publishers have been when it comes to issues like objectification, they weren't the problem in this case. No, this was our GM's own policy, informed of course by society-wide ideas about gender, and I'm curious how widespread that kind of thing was and is among GMs.

The one specific instance where I remember cross-playing was with a casual D&D group. To give you an idea of our silliness, I named my character Gillette just so that I could cap a victory by quipping that he was "The Best a Man Can Get." There, though, we didn't embody our characters so much as describe their actions in the third person. We moved figurines around a map of a dungeon. We did not often speak in our characters' voices.

What have been your experiences with role-playing games and playing across genders? As a player and/or GM, have you encountered rules against it? Groups that encouraged it? Systems that imposed gender-based modifiers? Or supported non-binary character genders? And not just for creatures? Did the level of character embodiment make a difference? At the height of embodiment, have you had any experiences with live action role-playing across genders?

[For an overview of some feminist issues in tabletop role-playing games, see the Geek Feminism wiki.]

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-25 09:55 pm (UTC)
terriko: (Default)
From: [personal profile] terriko
I don't know if you actually want a signal boost on this, but it'd make a great gf guest post if you're interested in doing that!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-25 10:06 pm (UTC)
terriko: (Default)
From: [personal profile] terriko
And more usefully answering the question:

I haven't had a lot of problems with arbitrary restrictions although as a GM I did once have to rule that playing an intelligent slime that talked via children's refrigerator letters might slow down play too much. I was sad 'cause the concept was so awesome, but I just couldn't find a way to make it work and I knew the player would think of something else since we couldn't work it in.

Anyhow, I digress. I think the reason I encountered relatively few problems was in part because I started doing tabletop role playing after high school (so my GMs were more mature socially and also more adept at adapting systems to suit what we wanted to play rather than forcing us to stick by the rules) and in part because I was incredibly cautious about playing with people I knew pretty well. As a result, I've played in groups with a fair bit of cross-play and other randomness in our character builds, and it doesn't seem to be an issue for either the GM or the other players.


But I feel like my (lack-of) story in response to your question may actually be pretty unusual. I have most *definitely* heard lots of horror stories from other people, mostly women, who have run into "you need to be like your character" and other BS sexist/ableist/obnoxious restrictions. I hear about it *especially* at cons, but also private groups.

playing & gaming

Date: 2013-04-26 02:50 am (UTC)
kashare: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kashare
Perhaps I'm lucky in that I got my start role-playing through free-form fantasy online chat rooms. In this case, nobody necessarily knows your 'offline' sex or gender identity—particularly in systems where one keeps separate accounts for separate characters.

I've actually not done much tabletop role-playing, though I have played some and also took charge of some games ('Dungeon Mastered', 'Game Mastered', &c). I haven't participated in any games where someone plain outlawed cross-play, though this is partly because I withdrew before playing a game of Dark Heresy (Warhamer 40,000 Roleplay) to which I was invited, and I have detected some discomfort at times.

I think, for the most part, I've been blessed in my limited tabletop play with good groups of people who at the very least understand that role-playing is fantasy and you can play whatever you want within context (game rules, setting limitations, &c). I am, however, well aware of that experience having been a problem for others—and like I said, I've experienced some discomfort and awkward comments.

Offhand I'm not familiar games that specifically restrict or embrace cross-play, though of course there are or have been games with rules limiting gender. Dark Heresy specifically has setting-based restrictions on women being certain classes of character, and previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons have involved gender modifiers. I'll bet I could find some indie games that offer non-binary options and perhaps even actively embrace cross-play. I've gotten in contact with a number of indie story gamers and developers recently, so I'll need to check!

Re: playing & gaming

Date: 2013-04-26 02:16 pm (UTC)
kashare: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kashare
Following up, I'm told D. Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World has several gender options depending what sort of character you play; Kagematsu (by a transgender woman calling herself "Riz") requires everyone play female characters and deliberately plays with gender expectations; and Unknown Armies has a "mystical hermaphrodite" character type which, while easily problematic on its own, is placed in the context of fighting to break cultural gender binaries.

Oh! Plus, of course, Eclipse Phase, which is a transhumanist game taking place roughly a century in the future where people can easily backup their personalities and have them uploaded to new bodies of potentially any sex or species—so long as cybernetic modifications are made so the "morph" is compatible with your backup.
Edited Date: 2013-04-26 02:18 pm (UTC)

Eclipse Phase

Date: 2013-04-26 07:30 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] drwho
Ragers unite! :)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-04-26 07:30 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] drwho
Perhaps it's the games I've played, but they always specifically mentioned playing opposite sex (and opposite gender as a separate issue) characters as an option: Cyberspace from Iron Crown Enterprises, Cyberpunk 2020 (where being TS or TG was dealt with pretty even handly), Eclipse Phase (which someone else mentioned), and the old World of Darkness games (which was ideal for storytelling over dice rolling).

As for experience, I've rarely run into problems playing female or transgender characters. Nobody ever gave me a hard time over it, other players were kind enough to watch my back if it was in the context of a LARP, and it made for some interesting character interactions.

Something I've noticed is that people who started gaming at a reasonably young age (early to mid double digits) tend to be more open minded and accepting of gender variance and other such things. I don't have any hard data on it though I wouldn't be surprised if it's been studied academically.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-03 03:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] heril.myopenid.com
I think of all the groups that I have played with over the years, there are only two where there wasn't any cross-playing and each of those exceptions had nothing to do with any rules or anything, as far as I knew no one wanted to cross-play while we played together. There were even times when it was almost impossible for someone not to due to using premade characters and then there being more players than predicted playing. I will say that one of the two was the only mixed-gender group I've played with, which may have been a factor, though that was the group where there was quite a bit of joking about there being a cursed item that would change the gender of one of the characters in the group.

I will say with the greater anonymity of on-line role-playing games seems to lead to a greater amount of cross-playing. I know that in local games I play I do so less than half of the time, but when it comes to on-line I almost have an official policy of exact 50%.

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