Sam and I just listened to “Female Characters,” episode 42 of the . 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?