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Author Topic: Playing the opposite gender?  (Read 10099 times)
thoth
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« on: December 09, 2002, 02:36:47 PM »

Off-shoot from the Sexism and Gaming thread.

Is playing a character of the opposite gender a really bad idea? I can see it being bad because participants might end up falling on cliches and stereotypes, and just being really insulting and stupid. But if people were to do that and actually see the insults and bad things, might that actually be a good thing as they learn how these bad things affect other people? Or at least become more aware of these bad things and other people?

I've been in groups with players playing characters of the opposite gender, and there wasn't a problem from anyone. Probably because it was all bit jokey, with no real attempt (that I saw) to play a female character from a female player perspective. Though the female player playing a male character seemed fine, like it would fit in a more serious situation.

But that brings up something else for me. Is it necessary or desirable to play a female character from a female player perspective?
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Amos Barrows
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2002, 03:15:07 PM »

Hey thoth

I think that playing the opposite gender is a viable option, really problem is few really do it. For many it's merely an "f" in the appropriate space on the character sheet. Others who at least try to play their female character as a female go one of two roads

* they play the character as a total slut, probably to act out some kind of fantasy or whatever.

* they play the character as a total prude, probably to avoid doing the above.

Only a few have been able to get inside the female psyche and play it honestly. And I daresay this goes both ways i.e. women playing male characters. There are differences between men and women, but mostly we are very much the same at that base human level so it is a matter of first understanding at least this much, and then being honest about it. Now, what is done when playing a female character is really a matter of what the group is trying to do, game they are playing, etc. I don't think that doing this will help too much in the understanding on the negative aspects of being a woman, really, because if it stops being fun, the player can always just stop playing. And it is doubtful that most of it will hit home, really (unless this is what the player is gunning for). Most male players will not really appreciate the idea of, say, their female character walking home at night and they think that someone is following them. It just won't register. It would have to be told to them what is happening in their mind. Add to that that most female characters created these days are either Xena/Red Sonja knockoffs or heavy-duty spellcasters (Like most male character, combat monsters or spell slingers), and the drama of the situation kind of goes poof.

It bears noting that some have stated a dislike for playing with people who play the opposite gender and have even gone so far as to suggest that such people have issues. I'd just like to go on record that if you're going to have a problem with that, you might as well have a problem with the processes of roleplaying, pretending to be someone you are not, in general.

So, I think it's a good idea. As good an idea as roleplaying in general is. And playing from a female perspective probably matter depending on what game is being run.
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2002, 03:25:41 PM »

I attempt to play my female character as females...I've been told I pull it of well too.

I think the key is not to treat them too fundamentally different.  Individual people, both men and women, can be so wildly different in demeanor that you can't really use cliche likes/dislikes to define the character's gender and have it actually work (especially in a non-USA-2002 setting).  I think cultural background and experiences, and how those relate to gender, should be the biggest factor in defining the character's gender-based personality.  

For example, your character comes from a culture where it's offensive for a man not to open the door for a woman.  Your female character may be offended by not having the door opened for her.  That bit of cultural color is going to define the character's gender more than 'female' personality characteristics.  You could easily reverse the example and use it as a means to portray a character as male.  Nothing about the character's intolerance is fundamentally gender defining, unless properly set against a social backdrop.

I've seen a lot of female characters played by men that are either men-with-boobs (not a value judgement on macho female characters, I mean flat/genderless characters that act just like the player) or insipid bubble headed stereotypes that don't resemble a real woman at all.  

The excuse for the men-with-boobs characters usually seems to be a lack of ability to get into a female perspective.  I think this is because too much effort is being put into 'getting into' some sort of wildy different non-male mind set instead of a different cultural perspective.  Forgetting the nurture part of why women are different, and ascribing all the differences to nature.  I still think the nature differences are there, but they shouldn't be the biggest focus.  IMHO, it's not so much a sex thing, as a simple lack of empathy..some people just have trouble being other people.

As far as the stereotypes go, I don't have anything constructive to say about them.  The characters are usually either virginal or slutty, and almost always stupid.  I like Simy stuff, so these kinds of unrealistic charicatures annoy me (any sexist connotations aside).

In my experience women seem to be better at playing men than men seem to be at playing women...I don't know why, or if it's true, and I'd hazard a guess but this isn't the sexism thread.

I personally think it is desirable to make a character realistic in every sense, gender included.  But, this may not be for everyone.  Though, doing so probably won't piss off your female players, unlike the bubble headed stereotypes.

EDIT:  Heh, cross posted...sorry for the duplicate points.
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- Cruciel
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2002, 03:35:20 PM »

Playing the opposite sex is, in my opinion, the biggest hurdle in role-playing a character. As Jack said, it's very hard to do well, and many people have a fear of it. I'll admit I do: I've played a female as a player character exactly once, and the experience (with a bunch of 14-year-old boys) was kind of traumatic.

These days, I GM a lot, and so I have to play a variety of female NPCs. Jack mentioned that female characters often get typecast as one of two stereotypes: I'd go further and say that most RPG characters are stereotypes. The main problem is that male players know all of about two female stereotypes: the slut and the prudish bitch. (This may tie into their sexual fantasies, or bad experiences with women, but that tangent has no real place here.)

My solution is to stereotype all my characters, but try to branch out into all the stereotypes I can think of. Here's some short lists I came up with for male and female characters.

Male:
 - The soulless brute (Jayne from Firefly)
 - The grim, damaged guy who wants revenge (John McClane from Diehard, Burke from Andrew Vachss' books)
 - The super-geek, very knowledgable, but socially awkward (most of us)
 - The browbeat guy with no spine (Rick Moranis in many roles)
 - Mr. Savoir-Faire (James Bond)
 - The average joe who things keep happening to
 - The explorer, who craves knowledge and kicks ass to get it (Indiana Jones)
 - The thug with a heart of gold (Han Solo)

Female:
 - The repressed warrior woman (Eowyn from LotR, Willow from Buffy)
 - The protective mother, who'd kill for her wards (Geena Davis' character in parts of The Long Kiss Goodnight, the tavern owner's wife in too many D&D games, the main character in Strip Tease, a surprisingly good book)
 - The dead-sexy ice queen (Lucy Liu in most roles)
 - The airhead, who just might save the day (Kaylee from Firefly, Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels)
 - The un-repressed warrior woman, who can't deal with her emotions well (Buffy herself, Molly Millions from Neuromancer)
 - The promiscuous woman who craves attention (again with the Buffy references - Faith)
 - The intuitive woman who saves men from wrecking everything (every one of Heinlein's females, Valentine from Ender's Game, Trillian from Hitchhiker's Guide)
 - The older unsatisfied woman (John Irving's A Widow for One Year, Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate)

There's tons more, but what I do is open a random book on my shelf and just take the female protagonist and write her into the game. A lot of the above ones had to do with sex, I know, which might be considered gauche, but a lot of human experience has to do with sex.

In my current Sorcerer and Sword game, there's been two major female NPC's. One of them is definitely the repressed warrior woman - her village elders won't let her fight in the coming war, but she's determined to - and the other is the intuitive woman, who killed her own reckless father in order to save a village from destruction.

In more humorous games, I do tend to branch out into negative stereotypes: the browbeat water-mage husband and dead-sexy total bitch-muffin fire-mage wife in my last Elfs game were funny as hell, but not intended to represent reality in any (well, not many) ways.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Eric J.
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« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2002, 07:33:35 PM »

Ah, the same discussion.  I may be the first here to have a real problem with it.  I've never seen it work well.  Now it's not just my inablility to roleplay such a person correctly, it's also because of some of the philosophy that I use with RPGs. Now-

I don't give a hampster's ass (such as Mr. Chubbicans from our first campaign) whether or not your an actor, a writer, a Role-player, or even a CRPG or CCG player, because all of them put a little of themselves into the characters they play.  This needs to be true for me to continue in any of these fields.  I simply think that the male and female mindset is very different.  I also think that every one's mindset is different.  It's just that evidence compells me to think that male/female thought procecces are funamenally different from a physiology of the brain point of view.

Example:  Look at modern plays (meaning any that are performed today.  I'm looking at contemporary styles which means that Greece and Romeo & Julet are equally applicable).  Nearly the only time that people take upon different genders is for comedy.  Now don't give me that "it's more convenient from a design standpoint" crap.  Say they're looking for the roles of umm, Frodo Baggins.  You either half to admit that males are adept to playing male rolls or you have to say that the special effects weren't good enough to cover the actors gender.  The example is an oversimplification, but it does (I hope) bring an interesting point.

I'm not saying that the taking on of another character is fundamentally wrong, but it has relativelley little advantage over playing a same-role character when you compare it's hazzardous application.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2002, 08:24:26 PM »

Hello, Eric

Quote from: Pyron
I don't give a hampster's ass (such as Mr. Chubbicans from our first campaign) whether or not your an actor, a writer, a Role-player, or even a CRPG or CCG player, because all of them put a little of themselves into the characters they play.  This needs to be true for me to continue in any of these fields.

I disagree, but that would be getting way, way, way off-topic here.

Quote
It's just that evidence compells me to think that male/female thought procecces are funamenally different from a physiology of the brain point of view.

What is this evidence of which you speak? In my personal experience, and I'm not talking about men & women here, but whenever someone has a different way of thinking, even slightly, it tends to throw people off. I think that some of the Euro Forge members can tell us about talking with Americans, or some of the Americans can tell us about talking with people from other countries. I can tell you that some of my Euro friend just plain seem to be wacky. I would suspect a fundamental difference in the physiology of their brains, but I doubt that's what it is.


Quote
Example:  Look at modern plays (meaning any that are performed today.  I'm looking at contemporary styles which means that Greece and Romeo & Julet are equally applicable).  Nearly the only time that people take upon different genders is for comedy.  Now don't give me that "it's more convenient from a design standpoint" crap.  Say they're looking for the roles of umm, Frodo Baggins.  You either half to admit that males are adept to playing male rolls or you have to say that the special effects weren't good enough to cover the actors gender.  The example is an oversimplification, but it does (I hope) bring an interesting point.

You are losing me big time here. Weren't *all* roles were played by men in ancient Greece and in the days of Shakespeare? Did you see Shakespeare In Love?

As to the Frodo Baggins comment, you need to remember there is a difference between film and stage. Film is about looks, a lot about looks. Actors who burn up the stage in a role like, say, Hamlet would never get to play it in a movie because they don't "look the part" to some casting director. I am not sure why this is except that a movie is a recording that will be played over and over again, and thus they try to make it perfect, or as perfect as they can get it, anyway. I don't think it's fair to compare RPGs to film. RPGs in play are closer to stage IMO. One magical performance and then...poof.
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Irmo
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Posts: 258


« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2002, 09:08:30 PM »

I'd like to once more point at "SAVING THROW FOR HALF COOTIES" ( www.tasteslikephoenix.com/articles/women.html  ) and the essays on http://www.geocities.com/poetess47/oocindex.html

which provide a lot of points on the issue that could be discussed.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2002, 09:11:52 PM »

Hi there,

Oliver (Irmo), that's a great link - thanks!

Here's an older Forge thread which batted the topic around a little too: Suspension of reality and playing odd characters. Before anyone gets all bent out of shape about it, realize that it led to some re-framing of lots of people's starting notions.

Best,
Ron
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Uncle Dark
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« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2002, 09:27:06 PM »

Clinton,

I think you've got something with the stereotype thing.  Thinking about it, I usually start both PCs and NPCs I run with a stereotype, and then branch out in different directions, exploring avenues for greater depth.  I start with a stereotype as a template, and then think, "How can I amke this character more?"

Where this comes back to topic is the idea of taking an opposite-gendered character, starting with a steroetype one holds, and looking for character bits which would subvert the stereotype.

Lon
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Reality is what you can get away with.
M. J. Young
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« Reply #9 on: December 09, 2002, 11:00:26 PM »

The first RPG PC I ever played was female; I had been running game for a few months before I had that opportunity to play. In the original group, the other guys never played cross-gender, and only one girl played a male as a primary character (although another picked up an NPC as a second player character and did well with it).

I've written a lot of this elsewhere, but can't put my finger on it right now, so I'll write some of it again.

Several years before I'd heard of role playing I was in an undergrad course on creative writing. The class was predominantly female (fourteen to two, I believe) and the professor a woman. We had regular assignments to do particular fragments of story, such as creating a setting or describing something.

One of those assignments, well into the course, was to do what is called an internal character sketch. In literature, you're supposed to establish an maintain a perspective, that point of view from which the story is told; if it changes too abruptly, the reader can be shocked out of his immersion. One possible perspective is to see the world from the viewpoint of one character (not necessarily in the first person, as third person works quite well in this viewpoint). Present the story, the setting, the nature of the character, all from the way that character experiences and evaluates it. The Internal Character Sketch is an exercise in conveying who a character is by presenting the character from the inside, how they see the world and react to it, their thoughts and feelings.

Well, I wanted to do someone who was not I; and I'd been married for about a year, so had spent a lot of time with my wife. I attempted to model my sketch on how I thought she thought and felt, creating a situation similar to her life and describing it through her eyes.

The professor read it to the class, and asked their reaction to it. Not one person in the class recognized that it had been written by a guy, although leading questions were asked to try to elicit that sort of judgment.

When it came time for me to create a character for a game, that was still in my mind; I wanted to play a character who was not I, so I created a female. She was a rather ordinary person, really; but it was an extraordinary setting. The referee was unhappy with the game setting, and ultimately dumped it in favor of something else, so I didn't play it long.

However, probably about a fifth of the PC's I've played have been female. My sons play a lot of female characters as well. (Two of them do females on MUDs, and have shocked a lot of players with the revelation that they were not girls at the keyboard.) My wife similarly plays males in a lot of games.

Regarding the sexual stereotypes, sex is rarely involved in our games, and then only as a suggestion of something that might happen off-screen--that is, characters get married, and they live together, but what they do is never mentioned. I don't play either of the mentioned types; I don't know if I've ever met anyone who was in any way like either of them, and I tend to draw my characters from people. I don't recall any of my players doing a stereotype of a cross-gender character save one. In one game, my wife rolled up a character with a very high leadership/personality score of some sort, and did not wish to end up the party leader, so she created an entirely effeminate self-absorbed beauty with homosexual overtones, knowing that it would freak the referee just enough that he would let the leadership drop to me so he wouldn't have to deal with it. Otherwise, our characters have been pretty solidly gender-credible as far as I could tell.

My first novel just went to press. One of the three main characters is a middle-aged housewife and mother. The odd thing is that in every other way she is most like me of the three. She shares my faith, my views of life, some of my skills, some of my aspirations and dreams, and to a significant degree my ways of thinking and making choices. I wonder sometimes whether I made her female so that she would in that way be different; or whether perhaps I made her like me in so many other ways because she was female. The several women who have read the text found her credible, although I had to tweak a few spots to get it "right enough" for a book.

When I was a kid, the boys didn't like me because I was athletically inept; I tried to hang out more with the girls, who cared less about this sort of thing then. In some ways I think I have more trouble playing the typical male characters than doing the female; I don't understand them so well at times.

There is a tremendous amount of cross-gender and gender preference play happening in MUDs; it has been suggested that teenagers use this context of anonymous role play to explore their own sexual identities. I use role play to help me understand what it's like to be someone else. Cross-gender characters are included in that.

--M. J. Young
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Emily Care
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« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2002, 08:29:51 AM »

Quote from: Pyron
Example:  Look at modern plays (meaning any that are performed today.  I'm looking at contemporary styles which means that Greece and Romeo & Julet are equally applicable).  Nearly the only time that people take upon different genders is for comedy.

Interestingly enough, in ancient Greece, and in Elizabethan England when Shakespeare lived, women were not allowed to act. So all roles, male and female, were portrayed by male actors.  

Another thing to think about is many of the countless characters written in literature from all periods, cultures and societies have been written by authors of a different gender than the character.  Not all authors portray any characters with equal skill, but almost all show some ability to give a reasonable presentation for males and females.  It's at least possible.

I've varied my characters about evenly between male and female.  As long as the character was reasonably fleshed out, and I was able to understand their general experience and motivation, both sets have been equally playable. Race and class are harder boundaries for me to cross.

Perhaps experience of authors can be helpful to those of us who roleplay. MJ's internal character sketch seems like a good exercise that might help folks who don't feel like they understand a differing view point.  Just like when you are writing a story, research and talking with someone who has had those experiences seems like a great place to start.  

--Emily Care
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #11 on: December 10, 2002, 09:46:47 AM »

Just a quick recommendation for those concerned with gender issues in roleplaying

I just finished reading Jeanette Winterson's book, Written on the Body.  You can find it on Amazon.com.

It has absolutely nothing to do with roleplaying directly, but does a nice job of exploring gender stereotypes, issues of love, and relationships (sexual and platonic) all through the structure of an androgynous love story.

Something interesting to think about: are the terms gender and sex really interchangeable?  Or should sex refer to the biological differences, while gender to the different roles we play?
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bluegargantua
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« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2002, 09:52:45 AM »

I've never played a female character.  I have friends who constantly cross-play.  Frankly, I usually never notice any difference in their style of play.  This may be because I haven't seen them play an on-gender character yet.

I also think it has a huge amount to do with the egalitarian nature of RPGs.  I think I may still have the old Fantasy Wargaming book which assigns actual stat penalties (in several categories) to female players.  I seem to recall older editions of D&D had similiar stat caps.

Now, of course, such limitations would be shouted down from the rafters.  Every character, male or female, can be exactly the same.  The gameworld they operate in will treat them equally (unless it very pointedly doesn't, which usually means it's some sort of thematic or plot element to be played with).  Male and Female characters almost always get the same amount of respect and authority and if they don't, you've just spotted a bad guy.

So really, male or female has been reduced to being a label.  In one sense, this is great -- your gender really doesn't have anything to do with your effectiveness as a character.  Most games aren't there to talk about gender issues, it's all about the action and adventure.  So gender, who cares?  On the other hand, this is awful -- something that could be very defining gets reduced to a checkbox.

In the D&D game I'm currently playing in (Dude!  My Cleric just resuced his god and made 10th level!) I'm playing a co-ed game with three female characters.  Two of them are females playing females, the other is my cross-playing friend.  Of the three, one of female players has a slightly more feminine character, the male player comes in second and the final female player probably last.  This is all from my perception of a nebulous quality I'm referring to as "feminine".  I recognize that they are all female characters and I generally think of them as being female characters when I think about them in game.  But I think of them more as "the druid, the bard, the monk/wizard/psionic/pick-a-focus-already players".  Their gender is about as important as their eye color.

Personally, I'd have a hard time getting behind a game that was going to focus in on gender issues (outside of a complete comedy one-shot).  This isn't why I game.  Plus, I have this innate fear that the game would become preachy really fast.  No, I'm in it for the escapism so if we gloss over gender problems, that's fine by me.  My only real annoyance is that sometimes I'll want to make a meta-game comment or an in game comment about a cross-player.  So I'll look at him/her and use the Player's gender pronoun, not the Characters and I always get loudly razzed for that.  :(

later
Tom
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Ian Charvill
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Posts: 377


« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2002, 01:14:40 PM »

Of course, we're not talking about playing the opposite gender, we're talking about playing the opposite sex, which is why it's a hot button issue: sexuality is a human obsession.  A game where sex is as unimportant as eye colour is a game where players are not playing roles in any meaningful sense.

I have never played a female character as a player character - I run them all the time as a GM.  I'm not sure what the discrepancy means.  I suspect the root cause is the extent to which player characters are identified with the self, or express the self, whereas GM characters are more impersonal.

I suspect when people play transexually there is a huge potential for the emergence of underlying chauvenism (from the player or from other members of the group) and also for the creation of dissonance between the portrayal of the character and the expectations of the group as to how the character should be played.
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Ian Charvill
M. J. Young
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2002, 05:27:11 PM »

Quote from: Ian Charvill
I have never played a female character as a player character - I run them all the time as a GM. I'm not sure what the discrepancy means. I suspect the root cause is the extent to which player characters are identified with the self, or express the self, whereas GM characters are more impersonal.


I have run more games than played, and have run many, many female NPC's. On at least three occasions I ran them effectively enough that male player characters run by male players married them.

I am not convinced that there is so much discrepancy between PC's and NPC's; if there is, it falls in place really in a couple of ways. One is the sheer number of NPC's a referee must run, which can prevent him from playing any one of them with as much focus; but this is often tempered by the the other, that important characters tend to get more intention than unimportant ones. That is, the stableboy is not going to be more than a cardboard cutout unless there's reason to think involving his life with those of the PC's is going to take the story somewhere interesting. The princess who is being rescued from the demons gets intricately layered aspects to her personality, and I'm not surprised if someone falls in love with such a character, at least to the same degree that they might fall in love with a character portrayed in a book or movie.

In other words, playing an NPC female who is detailed and intricately part of the lives of the PC's is not particularly different in my experience from playing a PC female. In some ways, the NPC can be more involving, as I may well be putting a lot more thought into how this person acts and reacts in relation to the other characters, whereas the PC is more focused on my reading of that person individually, with relationships happening (or not) depending on the other characters.

--M. J. Young
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