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Character/Player Gender Relationship?

Started by M. J. Young, May 12, 2004, 02:10:30 AM

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M. J. Young

Quote from: In">Mechanical Gender Differences II (Mongrel) Walt FreitagPlayers tend to assume that they will play characters of the same gender of the player.
I was shocked by this statement.

It is possible that this is because Walt's experience heavily emphasizes LARP, and I am a complete virgin in relation thereto; but it is so very much not my experience that I thought I'd raise the question here.

Do players assume that their characters will be the same gender as themselves?

My suspicion is that it is common for male players to think so, but not for female players to think so.

My evidence is entirely anecdotal, of course. Of those few women who have played at my table, I only recall two of them playing a female character. Two of ten characters played by the one with whom I played most were female; the rest were male. Next on the list was a girl who only played male characters, probably four altogether. One girl who was with us for a while played a female hobbit, and then another female hobbit when that one was killed. I remember one girl who played a girl; she came to one game. I remember another girl who came to a game, but I don't remember a thing about her character now.

For myself, eight of twelve characters I can remember off the top of my head were male, three female. One was an alien without fixed gender, although during the time of play he was considered male.

Most of the guys in my first games played guys (other than me--my first character was female). In my second game, the majority of the players were 1) guys; 2) high school aged; and 3) new role players. They all played males. However, the few male players who were older (18+) and experienced (had played games before) all played female characters in my game, one because he had not played many females and thought a female cavalier would be something new and different, one because a female drow had benefits in play, and I can't speak for the others.

The question has been touched on the Christian Gamers Guild list, and it seems that most of the ladies there play primarily male characters. One says that she's played scores of characters, only one of which was female; another says she plays significantly more males than females.

So I'm inclined to think that this notion that the player will play a character of the same gender as himself--well, let's say that a player will tend to play a character the same gender as himself, but not necessarily the same gender as herself.

Is my experience contrary to others?

--M. J. Young


Well, we have to keep in mind that this is all anecdotal reportage (and thus difficult to draw conclusions from), but the female players in my experience have played their own gender with about the same frequency as male players...  I'd say about 80/20.

The above figure applies to college and beyond.  In high school, I wound up playing a string of female characters because none of the guys I played with would even consider it, and I had GMs specifically request me to play female characters, since I was the only one who would :)

Ben O'Neal

Well, we've got two options here: either we all contribute to this topic in the only way possible (with anecdotal evidence); or we sit and twiddle our thumbs until someone researches player/character gender ratios.....

I'm voting for the former.

In my experience in groups I have GMed, I've had 4 girls and 3 guys.

Guy 1: female PC (newbie gamer)
Guy 2: male PC (veteran gamer, mostly plays males)
Guy 3: male PC (newbie to RPGs, experience in warhammer)
Girl 1: female PC (veteran gamer, always plays females)
Girl 2: female PC (newbie gamer)
Girl 3: male PC (newbie gamer)
Girl 4: male PC (newbie gamer)

In games I have played in, I've played with 2 girls and 3 guys (different people from those I GM for).

Guy 1: male PC (veteran gamer, mostly plays males)
Guy 2: female PC (veteran gamer, mostly plays females)
Guy 3: male PC (newbie gamer)
Girl 1: female PC (newbie gamer)
Girl 2: female PC (veteran gamer, mostly plays females)

I myself play males and females pretty evenly when I'm a player. When I GM, I try to steer away from making too many "bad guys" females because of how differently players typically respond to them. One of the guys I game for is particularly chivalrous, so they make excellent plot hooks but bad villians. But the girl players tend to have no problem in bringing swift death to anyone, regardless of gender, which usually sparks in-game arguments with some of the male players.

But all this is anecdotal, so take it with a grain of salt, then throw caution to the wind and help M. J. out with his question: "Is my experience contrary to others?" My answer is "Yes and No". My experience is that 4 out of 12 people will play against gender, whilst the other 8 will stick with their own gender.



As a child gaming from 4th grade to the middle of high school, we tended to play characters of both genders. Virtually all my most memorable characters, except a cyborg bounty hunter with a fractured memory and a demon sidekick named Glass, have been female. Well, unless you count monty haul stuff like a 36th level pit fiend magic user as memorable, which I suppose it is, but not in the sense I meant (he's memorable for what he was rather than what he did).

However, for large group play, starting in high school, I started to find cross-gender play extremely distracting. "Oh, wait, he's a she," or she's a he, or whatever. So for most of my large group games I actually enforce playing in gender now, and have since I think my junior year of high school. In small group games I continue to leave it open as per player choice. 4 (5 including GM) is that awkward breakpoint where I don't know whether it's 'large' or 'small' and I waffle.

As a matter of anecdotal evidence every single female I've ever gamed with, of which I suppose there are about twenty (not including one-shots and the like), has played exclusively in gender in my games, and of all of them only my wife has ever requested a male PC (which was fine, except we never got to playing that game). It's always the men who want to play women in my experience; but only in my experience, as the above posts already demonstrate.


Most men I've played with played male characters.  Occasionally individual guys would play either one-off women 'for a change', or would 'standardize' on female characters.

Of the women I've played with, there seems to be more variation.  I think the difference I've noticed amongst female gamers is more willingness to flip back and forth, although some are fixed on one or the other gender.

I think it would be interesting to find out how variable players chosen character genders are.  That is, instead of wondering how often the character gender matches or opposes the player gender, wonder how often a given player varies the gender of his or her characters from whatever standard gender that player 'usually' plays.

Does that make sense?  I'm in a rush and I may not be articulating wel...

(For myself, I spent years and years only playing male characters.  And about five years ago I flipped, and since then I've only played female characters)
Dana Johnson
Note that I'm heavily medicated and something of a flake.  Please take anything I say with a grain of salt.

Matt Machell

QuoteDo players assume that their characters will be the same gender as themselves?

I know quite a few people who nearly always play the opposite gender. And well, not the caricatures that some people slip into.

I've even known a few people do it in LARP situations.

So I think it's a big assumption to say players will play their own gender.


Jack Spencer Jr

I tend to play the kind of character I want to see. Being a male pig, I prefer watching women over men. I don't know if I slip into charactures or not. SOme have told me that I am better than average.


The fact that there are a sizable number of GMs who don't allow cross-gender play makes me feel that there is a tendency for players to play characters of the same gender.  Personally, if I have my free choice I'll play male characters as often as female, but I don't go into a game assuming that I can do that.  I go into a game expecting to discuss it with the other players.  If they're comfortable with cross-gender play, then I'll consider whether to play a male or a female.  This alone probably means that I play same-gender more than opposite-gender.

So I don't assume that my character will be the same gender as me, but I find myself slightly unusual.  Most people I play will assume that one is playing same-gender until told otherwise.  I haven't noticed any gender differences in this.  In fact, the one person I play with who has the most problem with cross-gender play is female, and she says it's because she has a really hard time visualising characters as looking like anything other that the player.

Walt Freitag

Just wanted to acknowledge this thread and thank M.J. for starting it.

When I made the statement "Players tend to assume that they will play characters of the same gender of the player," I wasn't trying to assert it as a fact to be taken for granted, but as part of a hypothesis of why many people in gaming find gender modifiers objectionable. If that statement doesn't hold up, the whole hypothsis is wrong. I'd have no problem with that.

Also, the statement was badly worded. By "players tend to..." I didn't mean to suggest that all players make that assumption at least sometimes, but that most players make that assumption most of the time. Clearly some players never do.

My belief that most players assume most of the time that they will play same-gender characters isn't based on LARPs, though that usually is the case in LARPs. (There are, as Matt said, exceptions. However, in LARPs in which players are cast in pre-created character roles, while I've seen players request to play opposite-gender characters, I've never seen one actually request to play a same-gendered character. Some of them might not care which gender they play, but most are clearly assuming that they'll be cast as their own gender, so there's no need to request it.) It's based on my own tabletop groups and other groups I've seen (and excepting tournament and demo games at cons that use pre-generated characters, knowing that players will fill the available roles regardless of whether the genders match). However, my tabletop experience does span a long period of time, so some of it may be obsolete, and has usually been on the insular side (not a lot of socializing with other gaming groups). I could certainly be wrong.

The hypothesis I was referring to, of why gender modifiers are objectionable, boils down to "I should be able to play my envisioned character type as my preferred gender without penalty." But if there is no strong preferred gender; that is, if a preference for a character's gender is no more important to players than typical preferences for class or species, then the hypothesis doesn't hold up, because few players object that they're penalized for playing certain character types as certain species. Indeed, I could see an argument going this way:

PLAYER: I want to play a female warrior.

GM: Okay, but for being female your warrior will have to pay a lot for your strength attribute points, while any social points you buy will be really cheap.

PLAYER: That's not fair. It completely undermines my female warrior character concept.

GM: No problem, just play your warrior as a male and you'll get the strength points cheap instead of the social points.

PLAYER: But I don't want to play a male character.

GM: Well then don't. But don't blame my system for your inflexibility. Hey, where are you going?

So, what if anything is wrong with the "GM" point of view in that dialog? Is it that the system portrays a world without effective female warriors? Or is it that the player doesn't get the freedom to create the particular character he or she envisioned? Many people seem to feel (and I myself feel) that without a very good reason otherwise, character gender should be orthogonal to the elements of a character's effectiveness, even when other choices such as character species and social class are expected to influence effectiveness extensively in various ways. But why?

If players tend to have strong preferences for the gender of the character they're playing, stronger than typical preferences for species, size, class, or other factors, that would point to a good possible reason. If character gender is "a bigger deal" than class, species, etc., then gender modifiers more radically curtail player choice than similarly-scaled modifiers for those other things. (With this additional reflection, I see that it's not necessary, for this reason to apply, for a given player's preferences to be permanent, nor to be matched with the player's own gender.)

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere


I've been slowly turning this over in my mind, and I have to say that the overwhelming majority of players I have played with have run characters within sex.  That is, male players have male PC's, female players female ones.

The crossovers I have seen have almost always come from male players, and they have not been common.  I can think of one player in particular who likes to try new things and do things differently, and so plays a wide range of sex and type, but he is quite unusual.

I find this disconcerting.  I never quite thought about it like that.

Based on that data, though, I am sure that a game whose mechanics were slanted by sex would be ill-received by most players I have played with.

All anecdotal data, of course, but disturbing to me nonetheless.
Chris Lehrich

M. J. Young

If I may be permitted to summarize, it would appear that these things are in evidence.

There is a strong tendency for same-sex characters to be preferred, often enforced by referees, often expected as the norm, and often unquestioned by players.

It is far from universal; if I had to guess from the anecdotes, I'd place it at maybe seventy percent, with thirty percent playing opposite gender characters either commonly or exclusively.

That seventy percent is a compelling argument against disadvantaging one gender in a game, unless the game is supposed to be in significant part about trying to emulate what it's like to be a person of one sex or the other. (I think this may be the piece of the puzzle that the arguments about Ravien's game were missing: Ravien wants part of play to involve letting players experience the typical life of a member of the opposite sex, and not just create a character who is entirely the same as the player on the inside but has the body of someone of the opposite sex.) Obviously if a game is supposed to do that, players would be encouraged by the game text itself to play a character of opposite gender (since no one really needs so much to explore what it's like to be like himself).

The gender of the player doesn't seem to be determinative in whether they'll play same or opposite gender characters.  It seems equal probabilities for either.

I'll also agree with Walt that the problem might not be whether I can play the character of the gender I want, but whether I can do the character concept I want. If your game is about barbarian warriors and I want to play Xena, but the game mechanics make her nearly impossible under the rules, then I'm going to be frustrated with your game because I have a great character concept that I think should work in your setting and give me something interesting to explore, but your game won't allow it.

It has been suggested, probably in the parent thread, that the creation of such a world might best be facilitated by divorcing player character creation from non-player character creation. I have no problem with that in Multiverser, since character generation there amounts to 1) think of the character you want to create and 2) put the details on paper as they best describe that character. If you are creating a world in which warriors like Xena are virtually unknown, obviously you would have NPC creation mechanics that would almost never produce such a character, but PC (or major villain) mechanics that had more flexibility in that regard.

Much of that is not really the topic here; thanks to all for your insights. If anyone has any insights on this, please feel free to post, but it appears to me that the thread has served its purpose.

--M. J. Young