This is something that comes up on various Geek Girl communities I visit with fair regularity. At least once a month someone somewhere asks the question “What do you guys think of cross-gender playing? Do you allow it as GMs? Why or why not?”
Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll recall that I’ve had some pretty scathing things to say about guys who play female characters badly. I’ve got some pretty scathing things to say about women who play male characters badly as well. And, honestly, both groups are guilty of the same basic thing. They don’t play the opposite gender as if they are people, they play a cartoon of how they THINK the opposite gender should behave.
The Geek Girl’s Top Five Ways To Screw Up Playing A Girl (if you’re a boy):
1. Battle lingerie, chainmail bikinis or other improbable armor
2. An otherwise tough character who is afraid of “icky” things
3. A character who is far more squeamish about the taking of life or torture than a male character with a similar backstory
4. An “intellectual” character who is constantly led by her emotions or feelings, rather than logic or deduction
5. Over-sexed/Frigid due to sexual abuse*
The Geek Girls Top Five Ways To Screw Up Playing A Boy (if you’re a girl):
1. Always cold and logical
2. Overly violent for no reason
3. A complete dick for no real reason
4. Over-sexed/Hits on everything in a skirt
5. Completely lacking in subtlety
Okay, it was pretty hard to narrow it down to the five sins that make me most insane, but I think that about covers it.
Now, that I’ve told you at least part of what constitutes poor cross-gender playing, how do you do it well?
One thing to remember is that men and women are NOT separate species, nor are they that difficult to understand. Really, basic human motivations do not differ much from gender to gender. First and foremost is the drive to survive and to meet those needs that enable survival. Then comes the aquisition of sex, stuff and comfy beds. Now, while the genders are socialized to meet these needs differently, fundamentally they aren’t that different.
Tip 1: Watch the members of the opposite gender that you know and that you interact with every day. If you’re thinking of playing a smart girl character, watch the smart girls that you know and hang out with. Wanna know how a big jocky guy is going to act? Watch some. Eavesdrop on conversations, watch how people interact. Really, working retail or anywhere in public is invaluable for this. Once you get the jist of how certain types of people act in certain situations, it’s pretty easy to start extrapolating their behavior in other areas.
Tip 2: During character creation, pay real attention to your character concept. For example, think hard about what qualities a cold-blooded assassin is going to need completely separate of gender. An assassin should be cold, logical, meticulous, intelligent, pay strict attention to detail, be observant, conversant with several weapons and the master of at least one. Where does gender come into any of those things? It doesn’t. Do NOT go out of your way to give your female assassin a bunch of “feminine” skills she’ll never use. Also, don’t give your male researcher guy a bunch of fighting and weapons skills just because he’s a guy.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: sometimes people suck at the skills that are often assigned to their gender by society. I can’t sew, I cook passably well but I don’t like to, and I freaking hate housework. My husband can’t build things, doesn’t do yard work and, while he knows how to operate a computer, the minute it glitches he yells for me. On the other hand, he is an amazing cook and LOVES to do it. I am really good with the computrons, enjoy heavy yard work and I can build stuff.
The main thing to remember when playing a member of the opposite gender is that, first and foremost, they are a person. Play them as a person, don’t worry so much about throwing in clever little “gender cues.” You want them to come off as genuine people, rather than cartoons.
I’m not saying that sometimes cartoonish depictions don’t have their place. I have played more than a few cutesy, sex-crazed catgirls in cinematic, one-off games. I’ve also played the cold, emotionless killing machine in some of those same games.
Okay, I have to sign off. There’s a small apricot cat stomping all over my chest and keyboard. He’s pissed. It’s past his bedtime.
*Sexual abuse as a plot hook or character backstory will have its own column soon.