Sarah Darkmagic has an interesting post up about why random rolling for gender is a good thing for the hobby. She makes some interesting points which (I hope I don’t butcher this) basically boil down to: most gamers are men, most gamers aren’t into gender-bending, random-rolling for gender would produce more female characters and force us, as a community, to consider female-oriented stories as much as male-oriented stories.
She’s commenting on a tweet from @PelgranePress that said “RPG idea: define your character. Last thing – roll for character’s gender.” For my part, I think Pelgrade’s idea is kind of great, but Sarah’s strikes me as more than a little abrasive. Let me explain:
Pelgrade’s idea is essentially to build an entire character and then determine randomly whether your character is male or female. I think that this is a pretty great idea because I regularly hear gamers saying, “I don’t know how to play a female character” (or, less commonly, the opposite). And my thought is that, for the most part, if you’re trying to think of “what would a girl do in this situation” rather than “what would a person do in this situation,” you’re already coming at it from the wrong angle. Yes, there are practical considerations to take in terms of the upbringing and personality that men and women might have in the setting of your game. And it’s probably that women are going to feel threatened in situations where a man might not, and so on. But in general, I think that once the personality and upbringing of your character is determined, whether they’re male of female has a rather small impact in playing them. Pelgrade’s idea, from my perspective, ensures that you build your character as a full person rather than focusing on one (obvious) piece of the whole.
Sarah’s point though strikes me as abrasive for (I imagine) the exact reason that she thinks it’s a good idea: it would force people to play as women. This bothers me for the same reason I don’t want a random roll to determine my character’s race, class, or attributes: maybe I don’t want to play a dunce wizard. Maybe I don’t want to play a brawny dwarf. And maybe I don’t want to play as a woman. Not because there’s anything wrong with any of those, and it doesn’t mean I’ll never play one, but simply because I want to choose the I want to portray. I don’t want to pick a role out of a hat. One of Sarah’s basic premises is that most gamers are men and most aren’t comfortable with gender-bending — so the solution is to force them to gender-bend? That sounds like a wonderful way to turn off a large segment of the community.
I have no problem with women gamers, and I have no problem with female characters. I regularly gender-bend, and some of my favorite characters etc., etc. But it’s because I chose to play a female character because there was something compelling that I latched on to. It may be one thing to encourage game designers and module authors to consider female-oriented stories when they put pen to paper, but forcing players into roles they don’t want or aren’t comfortable with sounds like a bad idea. Sarah’s comments are a great thing for The Industry to take note of and improve the overall availability of and support for female-oriented play, but it shouldn’t be forced on any given gaming group.