Gender bender – or why I don’t like when men try to play women in roleplaying games

In MMOs the majority of female characters is played by male players. That’s a fact. And once in a while a while a male roleplayer decides it’s a good idea to play a female character in a pen and paper roleplaying game. If someone can pull this off then I am the last person to object but usually they fail miserably. And what sounds like an interesting approach to roleplaying usually is a major annoyance to all players at the table.

Have you watched the movie “The Gamers – Dorkness Rising“? In this comedy one of the male players plays a female sorcerer that usually forgets that she’s female. And that’s what usually happens when male players play female characters. They “look” female but act male. The result is usually a character that is probably more close to a teenager’s fantasy than a real woman. And that can get old pretty fast.

The funny thing is that female players are usually much better at playing males. Am I less critical when it comes to female players or are men just easier to play?

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

28 thoughts on “Gender bender – or why I don’t like when men try to play women in roleplaying games”

  1. I think chances are that if you see characters close to teenager fantasies, the player responsible is in fact a teenager. I haven't had any problems with this. In one of my games I play a female character and one of the players is a woman, and she never rolled her eyes. Really, we're no teenagers.

    I'd be more interested in the gamer story that led you to your statements! ๐Ÿ™‚

    <abbr><abbr>Alex Schröders last blog post..Comments on Fight On 2 Review</abbr></abbr>

    1. @Alex: I am no teenager either. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      But when I remember correctly most games that led me to these statements took place when I was in my early twenties. And I have to admit that I only have partial memories from these gaming sessions. Perhaps I tried to forget the whole affair. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. First, I completely agree. Most men cannot play female characters well at all and yes, teen fantasies get annoying pretty fast.

    That said, I currently have a player in my tabletop game who is doing this. He's managed to dump the "teen fantasy" aspect it's more gender neutral that really feminine. At least it's an improvement on what we usually see.

    Males are easier for women to play than females are for men to play. A huge part of this is cultural stigma. A man who can act too feminine gets labeled pretty quickly and so rarely gets any real practice that isn't ridiculed.

    Women, however, are only labeled butch if they are particularly aggressive when acting male. Being a tomboy, or less feminine woman, isn't much admired but it's rarely made fun of.

    <abbr><abbr>Viriathas last blog post..Steampunk: The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello</abbr></abbr>

  3. @Michael: Well, in that case I must assume that the teenage fantasies must have been dreadful if they still aggravate you fifteen years later, harr harr. ๐Ÿ˜€

    <abbr><abbr>Alex Schröders last blog post..Bad Luck Nice DM</abbr></abbr>

  4. Well, I think it really depends on the player. I have played a number of female characters over the years. I believe I do a pretty good job at it. In fact, I have been told by a couple of female gamers I have gamed with that they were very impressed with how much these characters seemed to act like "real women".

    That being said, I tend to be someone who delves deeply into my character's psyche anyway, male or female. I really try to imagine their point of view based off of their life experiences, and play them appropriately. Which is probably why I do pretty well when playing female characters. I don't think, "what would a woman do?", but "what would this person do?".

    Still, I would agree that playing a female character is not for everyone. I have seen people make female characters that act just like men, and it annoys me. But heck, I get annoyed when someone plays an elf that acts just like a human who has pointy ears, and I wouldn't want to ban someone from playing an elf. So I find it hard to throw down a blanket condemnation against men playing women in RPGs.

    <abbr><abbr>Robs last blog post..Learning to Fly: Addendum</abbr></abbr>

    1. As I wrote I won't object if someone pulls it off in a way that it doesn't annoy anyone around him. And if someone insist on playing the other gender I am giving him or her the chance at least.

  5. I object to any human playing a non-human. They never get it right. In fact, I object to anybody playing a character from any culture or time-period not their own. Come to think of it, just to make sure they don't role-play it wrong, better add not just gender, but race, age, profession, socioeconomic background and status, number of siblings, and taste in music.

    Seriously, we've never had any trouble like that at my table since we were about, I don't know, fourteen? And that guy was just as creepy as a male character hitting on the female NPCs and PCs…

    <abbr><abbr>Joshuas last blog post..RPG Rules and the Direction of Causality</abbr></abbr>

  6. Some people act as if they are fourteen for all their live. Trust me on that. And it's not a nice sight to behold.

  7. I've stopped playing with such people quite some time ago. But the topic was too good to not to post.

  8. Rob said: "That being said, I tend to be someone who delves deeply into my character’s psyche anyway, male or female. I really try to imagine their point of view based off of their life experiences, and play them appropriately. Which is probably why I do pretty well when playing female characters. I don’t think, “what would a woman do?”, but “what would this person do?”"

    This is precisely what I do as well. When you start thinking "I must act 'womanly'!" instead of "I must act like a human being" I believe is when you begin to fall into the pit of playing a character like a stereotype.

    <abbr><abbr>Wyatts last blog post..Character Archetype Terms You Never Heard Of</abbr></abbr>

  9. Bah! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I'm a big, hairy man, and some of my favourite characters have been female, and not because of their breasts! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I find that switching those roles up makes you think a bit more carefully about every one of your in-game interactions. I even played a young girl who was obsessed with (addicted to) her own psychic power and becoming older so she'd be taken seriously by those around her. The bottom line was a deeply complex character that was interesting to play. Eventually I scrapped her when the rest of the party was killed, but she lives on with her many believers and thralls in the campaign world.

    Anyway, my point has already more-or-less been made by other commentors: I think that a mature group should take many opportunities to subvert established ideas, and playing a younger/older/less-you character is an easy way to do that.

    <abbr><abbr>RPG Ikes last blog post..The Oleron, a giant flightless bird mount for your 3.5 game</abbr></abbr>

  10. I suspect you're less discriminating when it comes to women playing men. There's a casual arrogance to being male, especially a young male, that is alien to most women. It's that sense of invulnerability that allows us to blithely accept rides from strangers, take a shortcut through a poorly lit alley, or push the limits of our wheels. At night. In the rain.

    Granted, these are things that the heroes in our games do all the time, but guys do them without a moment's hesitation or even the appearance of forthought. It is, in truth, a small thing, but also telling if you look for it.

    – Brian

    <abbr><abbr>Brians last blog post..The Death of RPGs</abbr></abbr>

  11. One thing that I've noticed is that guys who play female chars are often trying to prove their superiority without coming into direct competition with other players. I speculate this is because these players prefer not to be involved in pecking order squabbles, of course this doesn't encompass all guys who play females, but I've noticed it as a pattern in the ones I game with. As for me, I honestly don't give a crap if my players play girls or not, my games are over chat and have a tendency to explore relationships and sexuality and so if players aren't mature enough to deal with that stuff properly then they probably can't play a girl properly. Plus if they can't come to terms with a challenge as simple as playing the opposite gender then I highly doubt they'll be able to hack it in my games.

    <abbr><abbr>Helmsmans last blog post..… In Which I Save the Print Industry</abbr></abbr>

  12. Can we stop this idiotic gender nonsense and just go with, "I don't like it when people who suck at playing certain characters play those characters, because it's painful to watch?" This is just as true for awkward types who are trying to play smooth operators as it is for chauvinists who think it's funny to play slutty/ice bitch women or kick-in-the-door gamers who pick a tactics-based class and then try to play it like a straightforward combat monkey anyway.

    Stop trying to narrow it down to male gamers' alleged inability to portray females. Especially when you qualify it with "but some of them are good at it and that's fine." Because while the rant is idiotic without the qualification, adding it really just brings you back to a more narrow version of "when people suck at playing their characters it's less fun for the rest of us." Only, if you said that about the shy ones trying to play high cha, you'd be yelled at and beaten over the head with the fact that scrawny people can play high str. So you're really just disguising your irritation with people who suck at roleplaying their characters as some deep insight into the male gamer psyche.

    Stop it. Either everyone deserves the right to branch out and be something they suck at being, or the fun of the group comes first and everyone should stick with what they're good at. Gender has nothing to do with it.

    This vitriol is not entirely directed at the opening poster, but is an accumulation of a lot of frustration with the issue.

  13. I didn't believe this topic would be as controversial as it turned out to be.

    I agree to a lot of what has been said so far and probably it's not really a problem with males not being able to portray the other gender but with people who just can't roleplay their characters properly.

    I probably picked this issue up because of the hordes of male players playing female characters in MMO games and a couple of experiences I had in games I ran or participated in.

    @Swordgleam: I understand where you are coming from, but I don't understand why you have to be so hostile.

  14. I don't see how it wouldn't be controversial, when right at the top, you say something like "D00dz cants play teh gurlz correctly but chix totally play d00dz right tho!" Chatspeak used to express humor rather than to belittle you, of course.

    The idea that it is a gender issue, and worse, that it's a one-sided gender issue (dudes just suck at it because the female mind is unknowable and alien!), just begs the reader to FLAME ON! I was honestly surprised when I read it, because I wouldn't have thought you'd be the one saying it.

    <abbr><abbr>Wyatts last blog post..The Ancient Duel: Combating Spirits</abbr></abbr>

  15. I never wrote that all male players suck at playing female characters. And I definitely didn't write that it's because of the unknowable female mind.

    Perhaps you should read again what I wrote. But I have had to experience some very bad roleplaying where males failed miserably when they portrayed female characters and because of that I am probably wary of male players that play women. I didn't want to offend anyone or let it sound as if I was generalizing. Ok, perhaps I was… a bit.

  16. Hmm… I always try to take people seriously. And if it wasn't meant seriously I didn't get it. Sorry, my fault.

  17. @Stargazer: Like it says at the bottom of my post, the hostility isn't so much directed at you. I'm just sick of this issue coming up again and again. Aside from edition wars, this is probably the most popular flammable topic (now that everyone is smart enough to keep their mouths shut about alignments).

  18. @Swordgleam: Oh, I didn't know that this is such a common topic. It was at least nothing I have noticed on the RPG Bloggers Network before. But a) it's quite possible I missed it and b) it's probably more often an issue in RPG forums.

  19. My beloved wife is reading this over my shoulder. She wants me to add that guys are easier to play because the don't know they're being played.

    Given her ability to accurately predict my behavior and my inability to predict hers even after 20 years I suspect she's right.

    <abbr><abbr>Vulcan Stevs last blog post..Gaming in the Universe of…. Inkheart</abbr></abbr>

  20. @Vulcan Stev: That's my favorite comment so far! Tell your wife she's a genius! Thanks, that made my day! ๐Ÿ˜€

  21. I dont' know why it's so contraversial either. Not too long ago, somewhere here in the RPG blogosphere, a female blogger was doing a very in-depth survey on female gamers and this subject came up. It's DAMN common for men who play female characters do be very juvenile.

    And if you haven't run into it, instead of being an ass to the rest of us, count your lucky stars because it's the most idiotic gaming I've ever seen.

  22. I haven't played a female character at all – but I've started really digging this NPC female from my Dark Ages. I think it's a comfort thing and it's a knowing there are differences and similarities in gender way of thinking/acting. It's not bad, it just is. That being said, most of the interactions have been not as RP as maybe you are talking about.

    <abbr><abbr>Chgowizs last blog post..Best Greyhawk Bard EVER!</abbr></abbr>

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