Although in reality you may be a magazine editor, a stay-at-home mom, or a retired office manager, in role-play games, you can be a starship captain, an elf wizard, or even an adventuring liontaur. But the greatest role-play challenge -- and certainly the one that provokes the most debate -- may be playing a character whose gender is different from your own.
After all, if you have crossed the Ice-Wastes of Domon-Dur as an arctic dwarf, or sailed the Ethereal Plane with the Gith, why is it so far-fetched to play a character of the opposite gender? I think that many gamers consciously project themselves, or an aspect of themselves, into their characters when they play; to play cross-gender, then, is to admit that you have a male or female aspect of yourself that you can project into a character of the opposite sex. Some people have a really hard time grappling with that. Instead, they object that it is impossible for a man to get inside a woman's head (although one seldom hears the flip argument).
Here's a revealing quote from Grimmy Moonflower, who feels that way: "You can whine about freedom to be whoever you want, but nobody has any business playing a gender that is not their own. It's like a dog trying to be an orange. Men and women don't even think slightly the same, and it is almost a crime to try to trick others."
Some women, like young gamer interviewed in this article, agree: "I think guys who play female characters -- it's creepy. There's something wrong with that."
And in addition to the "can't be done" argument, there is also the fear of looking foolish. Put more thoughtfully, Tom has a few interesting points from this thread:
1.) I've never really seen a very convincing portrayal of a woman by a guy at any of the gaming tables I've sat down at.
Gender issues poke some people in the wrong places, even in the context of "just a game." Cross-gender play, even in a G-rated game with no sex, makes some people uncomfortable. And even if you are secure enough with your own sexuality that cross-gender play is no skin off your apple, you may be turned off by the antics of those who can't stop giggling, or who are trapped in a "total-slut/ice-bitch" mindset. Games like Dungeons and Dragons are meant to be fun -- if cross-gender play ruins your fun, feel free to find a new gaming group!
2.) If I play up the feminine aspects of a character, I feel like I run the risk of being offensive or just stupid. If I try and smooth that out, there's no appreciable difference between playing a man or a woman so I may as well play a guy.
But is it true that men just can't play women convincingly? Jeff Kesselman says they can! He says that cross-gender play is an interesting exercise, in the sense of acting out someone different from yourself: "The frustrated actor in me was intrigued by the challenge." He also has an anthropological motive, looking for "new social experiences to explore." That goes for women playing male characters as well, of course.
Well, for those who are cross-gender curious, here is some advice:
In online games, it is easy to conceal your real life gender, and so it is easier to play cross-gender with verisimilitude. In MMORPGs, where vast numbers of players lose the thin veneer of civilization they may have accumulated in their 16 years on the planet, some males play females in order to get freebies, while some females play males in order to avoid getting hit on and verbally abused.
What about romance and sex in the context of cross-gender play? Some people play cross-gender to add romance, some to avoid it. Some people enjoy acting out their sex fantasies, sometimes in juvenile ways. Others just want to create compelling, three-dimensional characters; there are even games, like MatchMaker and Blue Rose, that focus on relationships. Certainly, the range of games and gaming styles out there has something for everybody.
This is the fourth part of a seven part series on sex in role-play games: