Monday, August 9, 2010

Does Being Gay (or Female) Matter in a RPG?

One of my biggest hobbies is role playing games.  Now I don't mean those kind of role playing couples get into while in bed doing the doggy dance.  I mean the kind one plays with the use of interestingly shaped dice, interactive storytelling, pencils, paper sheets and character concepts.  I have been a gamer for many years and I noticed that while some games totally ignore the relevance of having a male or female character, other games love utilizing it as an in-game mechanic.

Gamer partners are easy to please.  Just buy them a nice new set of dice
for a present when you run out of ideas. 
It led me to wonder, is it good or bad when role playing games ignore gender and sex in a game?
Role playing games have always allowed me to explore character concepts which I probably would never have the chance to (or in some cases, never morally or logically be inclined to doing) in real life.  My first actual proper rpg character was a female Paladin named Shel Downwind (I use such disclaimers because my very first game was some elven ranger on a volcano) who had a ring of regeneration and eventually was pivotal in saving the Realms from the Avatar Wars in our gaming group.   Later on, I would find myself playing  an insane Malkavian vampire named Gabriel who believed that if one stared at a dying man's eyes at the moment he expired, one would glimpse the soul and know true beauty.  Crazy scary stuff eh?  More concepts  came and went and ultimately, I've played characters who were male, female, alien, transsexual, straight, gay, closeted, homophobic, religious, insane, militaristic, compassionate, devoted, crazed and more.  The point was, role playing games allowed me to explore a lot of these things in the safety of my own home without ever  actually illegally performing such things.
My friend Mara is wondering when I last shaved as I try to explain to her in brief the system for
White Wolf Gaming Studios' Scion.
The role playing game community, years back, seemed neck deep in straight guys alone.  For me, it wasn't until the rise of popularity of Anne Rice novels and the emergence of White Wolf's World of Darkness that gay gamers as well as gay characters started to become more visible.  And while most gaming books still retain the straight-male-geek demographic as their target market, some like White Wolf have attempted to sound more gender savvy (like in White Wolf books, the pronoun "she" is used instead of "he").   Later companies tried to reflect an awareness of such a shift in their books by adding disclaimers that the pronoun "he" was merely used for simplicity sake and not intended to mean only males were expected to play the game.
They should have made this scene last for half an hour.
Clearly there was an attempt to be much more gender sensitive in some ways.  I wondered however, if this sensitivity extended as well to the actual game itself?  Did being straight, gay, male or female matter in a rpg?

Decided to post this rather than the expected Dragon Age image.
White Wolf Gaming Studios, creators of games such as Vampire: The Masquerade, Vampire: the Requiem, and Exalted, approached sex and gender as something vital only depending on the setting of the game.  For example, in their Dark Ages using their old World of Darkness line, playing a woman meant having the flaw (Second Class Citizen) which was to reflect how during the period, women were seen to have less rights and freedoms than men.  In their Exalted line, on the other hand, there are merits to reflect being fertile or not since in that game, certain character types can bear interesting children if mixed and matched.  A recent book even used numerous movie and tv tropes as the basis for outlandish (and possibly offensive) merits available only to those who are playing a woman.
Crazy = Straight Jacket.
Dungeons and Dragons on the other hand once tried to reflect the differences between men and women by setting different "ranges" for how a man or a woman's Strength can start at.  There were also differences in their typical "starting ages" as well as "maximum old ages".   So yes, there was a time in Dungeons and Dragons when all female characters could never be stronger than male characters, even if both rolled 18 for Strength in their initial character creation.

DC Heroes (and for those who are familiar with the many variations, here I am choosing to view the MEGS version) doesn't care if the character you create is male or female.  And thankfully, this nicely is reflected in how the comics do have characters of immense strength or ability, regardless of gender.
Alex Ross, you rule.

Houses of the Blooded nicely reflects the importance of romance and drama in a character concept but like DC Heroes seems to have little care of whether or not a character is male or female.  The game nicely shows you how the creative flow of a game isn't supposed to be in the hands of the game master/storyteller alone.
This book is barely $5 for the PDF.   Trust me, it is worth every single penny.
I'm just happy a friend found a copy of the physical book in a booksale here in Manila.
It was in Weapon of the Gods that I felt a nice balance of setting reflective systems with the freedom to play women who are or can be stronger than men.  Weapon of the Gods allowed one to purchase Lores that expanded one's background or ongoing destiny in the game, and among them were the options to purchase Homosexuality, being a woman and the like.  Such purchases then opened the options to buy other setting enhancing things such as how homosexual men can use a special martial art to shift their chi to masculine or feminine, or how women can have a Lore that allows them to carry a child to term and yet remain fit and capable of active martial arts combat.  The game nicely reflected the fact that role playing games might cater to players who will predominantly want to play male roles, but still had enough system crunch to interest players who wanted to explore gay and/or feminine roles.  Sadly, EOS press, which publishes the game, seems to no longer be online.
A pity it is no longer in print.
I wonder though if there are games out there that nicely cater to players who want to truly explore games where being male, female, homosexual or heterosexual, matter.  The irony however is the more you try to make such things "matter" the greater the chance you end up looking like you're being predisposed or biased towards one or the other.

Me running FIGHT! where non-gamers are invited to roll three green dice in hopes of besting my roll.  The hearts on my chest were reminiscent of the Life Meter in Zelda games.  I'd lose a heart for each dice roll lower than theirs.  Ultimately, this was me trying to make people have fun even without computers.
But since role playing games are all about exploring character concepts and creating stories, I would love to see or hear about gaming systems where players are encouraged to try concepts that might be very distant from who they are or what they typically play.    It might help people see role playing games as more than just the lonely straight sexless geek guy's hobby, and make them realize a lot of us gamers actually get much more sex than you average straight non-gamers than you think!


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