Let’s get this out of the way first because I need to display my biases and privileges before you read this piece. I am a straight, cis-gendered, Latino male. At age 32, I am on the older edge of the Millenial generation. Gaming is a lifelong hobby of mine, primarily of the pen-and-paper variety, e.g. Dungeons & Dragons and Shadowrun. Anybody who’s gamed with me at any time in my life knows there are two universal truths about me.
- I always gravitate towards the cloak-and-dagger type characters.
- I typically play women characters.
My MTG Commander decks follow this same pattern. 3 of the 5 decks I own feature women commanders in Azami, Lady of Scrolls; Breya, Etherium Shaper; and Saskia the Unyielding. My other two decks feature one male commander and Hypnotoad as commander. Plus, I’m in the midst of designing Karametra, God of Harvests; Ephara, God of the Polis; and a partner brew with Tana, the Bloodsower and Tymna the Weaver as commanders. Most of my favorite comics characters are women: Rogue, Wonder Woman, Carol Danvers, Kamala Khan, Stephanie Brown, and the list goes on. Intriguing and engaging female characters are a perennial favorite of mine in all nerdy pursuits, always have been.
However, back to gaming. People who discover these patterns and preferences usually ask, “I get that people have their favorite character class, but why do you always choose to be a woman?” The short answer is “because I want to.” The confrontational answer is “Why do you care?” Long answer? Well, let’s start with the reasons everyone assumes I play women.
What I Don’t Do
Unfortunately, upon discovering that I prefer to roleplay women most people tend to view me as a real-life Howard Wolowitz. For the record, that show is complete garbage and no one should watch it. Wolowitz is an overgrown man-baby and borderline sexual predator who pretty much views women as objects and/or penis receptacles. People assume that I roleplay women because I want to live out sexual fantasies or make my character have a naked sleepover pillow fight with other NPCs. No. I have literally less-than-zero desire to turn a character into a walking sex object.
On the other hand, other players assume that I’m gay. Since I’m playing a female character that (apparently) leads people to the (allegedly completely logical?) conclusion that I must be gay. But why? What inherently pins me as gay since I choose to play a female character? I don’t get it. I’m not gay, and that’s pretty much that.
But Why, Then?
That’s a slightly complex answer, but it all boils down to the reason why most of us play RPGs in the first place: escapism, to become someone that we are not. I will never truly know what it is like to be a woman: how they socialize, how they interact, how they conduct themselves. Sure, I’ll never be a dwarven knight or a half-elf wizard either, but dwarves, elves, and hobbits are all imaginary. There is no baseline for a real-life Legolas & Gimli or Merry & Pippin. However, half of the human race is women. Sure, it’s awesome to be a necromancer, but I find it interesting to see how that might be different as a woman, despite being fantasy. This is a social experiment for me, and an attempt to understand a world but I will never get to experience in real life.
Additionally, I also believe in representation. It’s no secret that most gaming is geared towards men. Men routinely have cool cyber arms or kick-ass plate mail. Women get Red Sonja bikinis. To a certain extent, I feel responsible for changing this perception at the kitchen table level. My women get armor, fun weapons, and constitution scores that rival barbarians. I remind my playgroups that my characters are women when they misgender my characters. Sometimes that changes the dynamic of the group I’m with, both within and without the game. I get that minute glimpse of being a woman in gaming, and it’s unpleasant to say the very least. This helps me remember to be inclusive, accepting, and welcoming of any women that I game with. I’m not looking for a gold star; I just want to try new perspectives. If there are not any women at the table, I feel it necessary to have at least one in the game.
What Have I Learned
I learned a lot of male gamers don’t understand how socializing works. My women characters have been hit on, excluded from conversations, and been talked down to. I have literally been in a play session where the GM was apparently so frustrated that I didn’t want to play a dude that he took it out on my character. “You want to play a girl, we’ll treat you like a girl.” Slow your roll, dude. Sure, it is very easy for me to just get up and walk away from these incidents because my fictional characters get the in-game hate. However, this is reality for a bunch of female gamers. I don’t feel great about witnessing this. If I catch heat from compatriots just for choosing to play as a woman, I can only imagine that harassment against actual women is incalculably worse.
I don’t pretend to have any answers to this conundrum, but men need to do better. I challenge you to play a female character in an RPG. Try to make her a well-rounded, flawed character with an engrossing backstory that doesn’t include assault or abuse. Think your way through a problem without immediately resorting to “I use my feminine wiles.” Design them for combat. Give them a romantic relationship that isn’t expressly for everyone’s titillation. Add diversity of gender to your raiding party, and see if your GM is smart enough to have that affect gameplay in a meaningful, fair, and un-spiteful way. I wish you the best of luck, and game on.
How do you roleplay?
Tell me in the comments about your choices as a roleplayer.
Dante is the resident comic book savant of The Geek Embassy. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember, and now that he’s a librarian he gets to advocate for comics in libraries and get paid for it. He’s also a tabletop gaming fan, especially those that involve cards, with favorites including Sentinels of the Multiverse, Magic: The Gathering, Bang!, Smash Up, Star Realms, and 7 Wonders. Dante is a library professional at Portland Community College in Hillsboro, OR.