Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cross-Gender Characters Revisited

As I reach the end of the alphabet, I've started looking for new ideas for Monday Miniatures, so I asked for some ideas from my friends as to what they would like to see on my blog, and one of the responses was this:
"I'd like for a revisit on the cross-gender playing (from the 31 January, 2011 post). Why is it when an author pens characters in both genders it is considered normal, but if a player wants to explore a character that happens to have the opposite sex they are looked at funny? People used to show up to local cons wearing shirts that read, "I don't play with guys who play CHICKS". I still get grief from my fellow PFS players who have yet to play with either of my male characters (I have two female characters, 12th & 10th level, and two male characters, 7th & 3rd level). Next character is going to be female (largely because I found a picture I like and imagined the character from there)."

The article he is referring to is "Sizing up the Cattle" in which I discuss warning signs of potential problem players. Since I've written it, I have had several discussions on the topic, and the point which is consistently brought up is my listing cross-gender character choice as an indication of a problem player.

I don't retract my statement. The initial article was not meant to be a hard and fast set of rules to determine the worth, or ability of the player in the long term, but merely an early warning system for potential problems. Think of it as a Tornado Warning, sure you don't have to get into the cellar when you hear the siren, and nine times out of ten its probably a false alarm, but when you find yourself in the land of Oz you'll be kicking yourself for ignoring it. 

I am not opposed to people playing cross-gender characters, but it does require a level of skill and maturity that most players don't possess. Sorry, guys, but it's true. With so many factors that need to be controlled to maintain a stable game, allowing a player of unknown skill level to jump in with a potential game-breaking character does not seem like a smart move.

Now in response to the question posed. 

I believe the issue here is one of play style. PFS(Pathfinder Society) is an organized play society based in the Pathfinder world. From my experience, organized play tends to focus heavily on mechanics and less on role playing. Gender in the pathfinder system has as much impact on mechanics as eye color, which for those of you reaching for your books, is none. So, from the perspective of someone who is playing the game from a mechanical viewpoint, playing an opposing gender is unnecessary, which means you are either doing it because you are a deviant looking to live out your perverse sexual fantasies, or because you want to slow the game down with dreaded role-playing, which may lead to there not being enough time to get all the rewards the module has to offer.

As for why it is so readily acceptable to put on a female voice in fiction and a little unnerving at the game table, well that's because in a work of fiction you aren't having interactions with the female characters through the medium of your buddy Phil. This level of suspension of disbelief is difficult to achieve even when dealing with trained actors, so it is asking a lot of the other players to go along without flinching from time to time.

The rest I would put up to immaturity and the homophobia of those with little to no security in their sexuality who are afraid they may jump over the table and start making out with you because your roleplaying is the closest thing to a woman showing interest in them that they have ever experienced. Sadly, this is one of those things that falls on you to be the bigger person, if your group is uncomfortable with the concept of cross-gender characters then you may be S.O.L. and have to shelve the character till you find a group that isn't so skittish. The needs of the many, yadda, yadda, yadda....Them's the breaks

So GMs, when a player shows up with a cross-gender character, you need to understand what he/she is looking for in his gaming experience and compare that expectation to the game being offered. 

Players, remember to set your expectations to the level of the venue. You wouldn't show up to a game of Battleship and expect an existential journey exploring the futility of war, so don't show up to a module looking for a deep exploration of character. I know first-hand that it is frustrating when your only source of gaming is organized play, but the key is to scratch the itch you can, and keep looking for your game of choice.

Good Gamin'


  1. I think your bias -- right or wrong -- against OP is shining its full light here. I will note that while PFS have less 'roleplay' and more mechanics that a solid home campaign (though a good portion of home games are combat after combat, interrupted by the occasional trap and trips to the marketplace to buy new magic goodies), it is head and shoulders above LFR and LG in terms of interaction. The problem is that the 'roleplay' happens within the party. With a consistent group, that can be a lot of fun. With good players at a random convention or game day table, that can be rewarding as well. PFS is still nowhere near as good as Living Arcanis was (where players got through the combats as quickly as possible to get back to the 'roleplay'; there was a story that we didn't want to miss).
    The biggest sign of the problem gamer I have seen is not cross-gender (I've seen the genders get crossed from both sides and learned to ask about the character before just assuming), but in 'group think'. The players who get together as a group and choose a shared race and motivation (in PFS, this is represented by being part of the same faction) and treat this as though it satisfies all 'roleplay' implications down the road. It is also terribly exclusionary to other players who sit down with groups like this. They don't want to know about anybody's character that doesn't fit their narrow focus, and they don't want to help accomplish goals that aren't theirs. These players never cross genders. They revel in their immaturity at the gaming table (which, given that most lead very productive adult lives away from it, isn't that damning), which is another big warning sign.
    The other players I would put far above the cross-genders are the 'couples' (including that weird mother-son team that went through Midnight's Own Masquerade) who refuse to play apart from one another or to play their characters differently from their real-life relationship. I found myself telling a friend's wife that her PC didn't love her husband's PC (her husband's PC being married to a cohort and not-at-all interested in humans or human derivatives) because the disregard for the integrity of the characters bothered me. That was in OP.
    I will take your point on bringing the wrong expectations to a game. I understood how some players became very frustrated as I wanted to turn Battle Fleet Gothic into an RP experience where the communications between the command ships was acted out. However, I didn't draw out my actions in doing so. I took up the same amount of time I would have just moving the ships around. My opinion is that delaying the moving our one's units is a much bigger breach of expectations. I will also take heed that much of tabletop has been made a little too combat and mechanics 'friendly', leading some players to believe that playing a character is an afterthought.
    But I will forever hold that real roleplayers should feel encouraged to play the characters they envision so long as they can do it without disrupting the enjoyment of the other players and GM.

  2. I'll start by saying, yes I am bias against organized play. I have yet to play in an OP game that I've truly enjoyed, and I've played in RPGA, LG, and PFS.

    As far as there being other warning signs, I'm sure there are dozens more, and the ones I listed are the ones that have cropped up on more than one occasion, Cross-Gender included.

    As far as putting RP into non-RP games, I'm all for that, but all players need to be receptive, or it doesn't work.

    Also, when you are dealing with "good" players, or even known players, these warning signs take a back seat to your personal experience. If you know the person coming to your game with a female pyromaniac drow is a great roleplayer, who has never presented you with anything, but amazing gaming experiences, then the warning signs take a back seat to what you already know about the player.

  3. hmm...few extra commas there.