There seems to be a bit of traffic at the moment regarding gender issues in gaming, so here’s a quick roundup and my thoughts.
peasantbutcher from tenletter has been posting installments from her college paper called “the case of the bitch: gender and identity construction and formation in role-playing narratives.” The latest bit, Part 5, got under my skin a bit. Its main argument appears to be that since society is inherently gender biased, so are RPGs (Q.E.D.), and their designers are clearly partly at fault for propagating those stereotypical views – but with no evidence of that. In my opinon, though there are of course the occassional game that is quite sexist, many are not. Many of the gender complaints about more modern games seem to be to be of the specious variety. Take John Kim’s “Gender Roles in RPG Texts.” It faults D&D 3e because of the evenly gender split four iconics, Lidda and Mialee are less ass-kicking in combat than the two male characters. However, even if this were reversed, you get complaints about the “Amazon stereotype” (as in Part 4 of the paper). Of course if the woman is a sorceress then she’s the “femme fatale” stereotype (see the Hero Wars part of John Kim’s article.) I start getting that “So what exactly would make you happy?” feeling about it.
Then we have the “Geek’s Dream Girl” and her Open Letter to Shelly Mazzanoble, whom she chides for her girly-girl-ness as discussed in Mazzanoble’s book, “Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress.” It’s a strange letter, as it offers a collaboration after calling her “ditzy” and “idiotic.” I can’t say I’m the target market for the book; it does seem a bit over the top – I have a friend who’s a pedicure-loving show/purse/makeup-aware woman who also plays D&D, and I’m pretty sure she’d dislike it as a bit condescending. However, I must also admit some ambivalence about a gaming/dating advice site with the tagline “Helping guys like you get girls like me.” Now who’s stereotyping? Most of the commenters seem put off by the whole thing, though none of them have had the class (unlike me!) to make Seinfeld-esque “Rowr! Catfight!” references.
And where’s our old friend dungeon_grrl in all this? She’s a gamer, and likes showing pictures of titties. We men love titties. Now that’s feminism we can get behind. But apparently her “Alban Elfed” celebration went horribly wrong and she’s been off the grid for more than a month.
I think what is making me grumpy about this is that I’m currently playing a female character in our Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign. I like to widely vary my character types over time in race, gender, skill set, and personality. I’m an immersion player and enjoy constructing alternate personas and trying to “get into their mind” during the game. I recently read, and I wish I could find the link, a blog post criticizing (men) playing cross-gender players in general, and one in particular, for his offense of referring to his character in the third rather than first person, which means of course that he is objectifying women as “the Other” blah blah blah. Jesus, I refer to all my characters that way, male or female, even though I’m an immersion guy (I say “I” at the table, but in later writeups it’s just good form for clarity). And I feel criticized by proxy by all the people complaining about every cross-gender depiction anyone does.
Let’s say an offer of sex comes up in the game, then if you do it, you’re playing a slut stereotype. If not, you’re playing the bitch/ice princess stereotype. If you just kick the guy’s ass then you are the Amazon stereotype. If you buy him a drink and talk instead you’re a tease. If you Charm him you’re a femme fatale. I would think that feminists would learn that it is this exact same labeling that is the cause of much of the sexist hassle real women get! (Or you can claim that an offer of sex to a female character is inherently sexist, because a) Lord knows that never happens in the real world and/or b) sex isn’t something any woman would ever want, it’s just a form of male subjugation. I regard both of those beliefs poorly.)
All characters are going to have something in common with some stereotype. Assuming you regard all stereotypes as negative, and see any commonality as “being” that stereotype… Then you’ll never be happy with any depiction.
In general I think complaining about stereotype is poorly thought out anyway. Sure, if you are playing a one-dimensional character that is nothing but a stereotype emulation, that’s one thing. But stereotypes exist for a reason – in the real world, there are many different familiar categories into which people, despite being unique and precious little snowflakes, fall. There are jocks and goths and soccer moms and hipsters… And though unique, they share certain common bundles of behavior and belief. Objecting to characters taking any part of that is to object to the very nature of simulation!
I always find it particularly entertaining when I am portraying a specific character trait, or modeling a scene, after something a real female friend of mine has done, and people criticize it as “wish fulfillment”/”a woman wold never do that”/whatever. I think, “on the behalf of my friend X, fuck you…”
All right, apparently I need my nap now. Good night!