jasona - Column for 1/22

Playing the Female

Ok, so I'm breezing through the latest articles at Gamespot.com and I notice that they've got all their young editors (bastards, they get paid to write about the games they play) to write a weekly column (hey, Sun Ra, do I get paid for this column?). One in particular, The Female Lead in Gaming just raised my hackles.

Sure, sure, it's my liberal background that's all a-gog at his typical male-centric remonstration. And I won't even go into the fact that he's completely missing the point -- that women want female characters not for the boys to play with, but so that women will have some interest in playing the games. His own point about how annoying it is for men to play a female character is precisely the point of all the women -- they want to play computer games but really can't get past the macho gloss the games are painted with.

You cannot market to an audience that doesn't want to look at your product. It could be that you've developed a brilliant puzzle game, or a clever and interesting story-based RPG, or even a riveting economic simulation -- but if you force the player to pretend their character wears camouflage pants, chew cigars, grabs his crotch and yell "Boo-ya!" all the time, you're not going to get many females to engross themselves in your game.

But enough, I digress and I said I wouldn't.

The part that irked me was his statement that:

It reminds me a lot of my pen-and-paper role-playing days ... but something was "wrong" with you if you were to play a female character
Say what? RPGs are a story, and every story has characters. When you create a character you need to ask yourself what is it that makes this character interesting. Why does this character work in the context of the story?

Does this 21st century Freud think that there's something wrong with all authors that write stories will opposite gendered characters in them? Sure there's something to "writing what you know", but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Should Shelly have never written about a male Frankenstein? Should Shakespeare have omitted Lady MacBeth? Should Christie have never written her Hercule Poirot series (1)?

A good 10-15% percent of the characters I play (on the PC or on paper) are female characters. Some (mostly the PC ones) are merely dictated their gender because I thought of a clever name (2), but the rest are defined because a female character was most needed, or more interesting to play at the time the character was rolled up. What sort of a wimp would hold back from playing a more interesting character because "oh no, what will the boys think?!"

Look, even if someone, over a lifetime of playing RPGs consistently chooses to play cross-gender -- this only means they might want to pick up a clue and examine their own life. But damn it, what sort of pigeon-hole mindset slams these people as "wrong"? You're an editor of a magazine, for Christ sake, take some responsibility for what you write (3).


1) ok, bad example, Hercule was never much of a man. And, come to think of it, Lady MacBeth certainly wasn't played by a women when she first premiered. But that's not the point. Every great author out there today writes great stories, with interesting character of both genders -- because happening to be a certain gender "makes" the character.

2) Face it, there isn't much role-playing in on-line games. The majority of people on line are concentrating on advancing their characters to the next level. Do they stop and chit-chat? Do they buy each other drinks and even tell tall-tales of their exploits? No. They go back to the leveling mines... sword in hand.

3) Hell, for one thing it'd be those very boys who'd want to play girl characters who'd want games with girl characters.

Columns by jasona