Adult Gaming

Sam and I just lis­tened to “Female Char­ac­ters,” episode 42 of the Game Mas­ter Show. The top­ic came up because Erin, one of the hosts, real­ized that she was will­ing to put female char­ac­ters through some expe­ri­ences that she would­n’t apply to males. There was a fair amount of talk about the Hero­ine’s Jour­ney and how it dif­fers from the Hero’s Jour­ney and some dis­cus­sion of men play­ing female characters.

It was a real­ly good episode, and while it is long I encour­age you to give it a listen.

(This is going to be about adult top­ics, so if that’s going to both­er you, don’t fol­low the cut link!)

I kept burst­ing out with com­ments while lis­ten­ing, which prob­a­bly drove Sam nuts. For instance, why do they only con­sid­er rape as a female issue? Men get raped! It’s a real­i­ty! If you have a game in which rape might hap­pen, it should­n’t be restrict­ed to female char­ac­ters. Rape isn’t about sex, but pow­er, and rape is a way to emas­cu­late a man. Male ani­mals mount each oth­er to show dom­i­nance, and so do male humans. Is the top­ic just too hor­rif­ic for the male major­i­ty of gamers and GMs to con­sid­er it?

We end­ed up talk­ing about the issues for a while after the show end­ed. I wish we’d record­ed the con­ver­sa­tion because I would like input from oth­er gamers and it would be bet­ter if you could just hear us. Since we did­n’t, I’ll try to recap some of what we talked about. Under­stand that this is about the thoughts the show pro­voked in me, not direct­ly about The Game Mas­ter Show.

Oh—the more I think about it, the more I’m real­iz­ing that I haven’t expe­ri­enced any of the weird­ness I’m talk­ing about here with oth­er female play­ers, only males. I’ve played with one female, our dear Son­ji, more than any­one but Sam. Hope, Waya, J‑Chan, Leah—all of them seem com­fort­able with deal­ing with what­ev­er comes up in a game.

The games Sam and I play don’t shy away from the dark. There are seri­ous issues that come up. There’s a lot of gray instead of black-and-white. Because sex­u­al­i­ty, repro­duc­tion, and emo­tion­al bag­gage are major parts of real lives, they come up in our games. Let’s be hon­est: If sex­u­al­i­ty isn’t sup­posed to come up, why does­n’t every­one play androg­y­nous, asex­u­al char­ac­ters? Why both­er with know­ing whether some­one is male or female? If you can’t tell me what your char­ac­ter’s sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion is, whether he’s a vir­gin or a play­boy or the more nor­mal in-between, what his atti­tudes toward sex and so on are, I don’t think you know him. If most peo­ple in his cul­ture get paired off and set­tled soon after puber­ty, why isn’t he on a farm with a wife and a pas­sel of kids? If her cul­ture prac­tices arranged mar­riages, how is it that she’s out a‑heroing? If he or she is a noble, why isn’t he or she at home learn­ing his duties and arrang­ing for heirs and spares?

Char­ac­ters who have sex might get preg­nant, after which they have to deal with the con­se­quences. For instance, being in a world of mag­ic means that you could be exposed to weird ener­gy before you even know that you’re preg­nant. What does that do? How does mag­ic affect repro­duc­tion in your world? Do wiz­ards keep fling­ing spells right up to the moment of deliv­ery, or does some part of their pow­er get tied up in baby­mak­ing? Being an adven­tur­er means that you’re fre­quent­ly in phys­i­cal dan­ger. Does your char­ac­ter take mater­ni­ty leave? Can she? Where? What’s to pro­tect her from the con­se­quences of past adven­tures, like old ene­mies track­ing her down? What does she do after the baby arrives—put it in a sling and go on fight­ing that way? Find some­one else to raise it? Set­tle down to be Mom­my? Is there a Dad­dy in the pic­ture, or does he take off?

I know, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, that some peo­ple don’t want to mix that much real­i­ty into their fan­ta­sy. I don’t under­stand it, though. How can you pre­fer card­board char­ac­ters? If the sto­ry and char­ac­ters are impor­tant (and to me, they’re the most impor­tant part), how can you just refuse to fol­low where the sto­ry goes?

I know that one per­son who joined one of our home games for a ses­sion or two was dis­gust­ed by the fact that my char­ac­ter had twin infants, and nursed them before hand­ing them off to her wife and going off on an adven­ture. He would­n’t say exact­ly what was offen­sive about it, but appar­ent­ly, it was too real. What? Would he be offend­ed if I, as the play­er, had an actu­al infant and fed her dur­ing the game? (That’s some­thing that has hap­pened more than once dur­ing games in our home, so it isn’t a moot point.)

Oth­er things that seem to be off-putting, from my lim­it­ed expe­ri­ence, are char­ac­ters who active­ly use their sexuality—or just express it. It hap­pens all the time in books and movies that the same peo­ple like. Why is it weird in a game? The same guys who loved see­ing Wil­low and Tara make out in Buffy are uncom­fort­able with a les­bian or bisex­u­al female char­ac­ter exist­ing in a game. I won’t even start on how they react to queer male characters.

If a char­ac­ter has any­thing dark in her past, like abuse or rape, again, it’s ver­boten. Do these guys not real­ize that many, if not most, of the women they know in their lives have expe­ri­enced the same things?

I have to won­der if the fact that many peo­ple start­ed gam­ing when they were young is part of the prob­lem. I think I would have want­ed to grow in my gam­ing as I grew as a per­son, but I can’t know that. Do they want to stick with the same rel­a­tive­ly lim­it­ed tropes for­ev­er? Is it a way of cling­ing to inno­cence in one part of their lives?

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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3 thoughts on “Adult Gaming

  1. I sus­pect that a lot of folks don’t want to deal with any­thing at all dif­fi­cult in their gam­ing. Sex­u­al­i­ty is cer­tain­ly not a sim­ple nor easy top­ic for lots of peo­ple, so any­thing that gets into that can be scary. Even nurs­ing can be scary — it involves boo­bies! And boo­bies that aren’t just for star­ing at! 

    I like get­ting into the details of a char­ac­ter’s life, and how she reacts to things and how the world reacts to her. I like that in my fic­tion, too. But that’s me. 

    I would have loved to have been there for that conversation 🙂

  2. It hap­pens all the time in books and movies that the same peo­ple like. Why is it weird in a game? The same guys who loved see­ing Wil­low and Tara make out in Buffy are uncom­fort­able with a les­bian or bisex­ual female char­ac­ter exist­ing in a game.

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