Apr 252011

Before I begin, let me just say: Hi, I’m Anthony, the owner and proprietor (can I even use that word?) of Reality Refracted. For those not in the know (you’re all in the know, right? Right?), Reality Refracted is a gaming blog much like this one, where I go on and on about whatever bit of gaming trivia catches my fancy on any given day. Today though, I’ve decided to come on over here to Stuffer Shack and rant at you to come read my blog. Actually, I want to talk to you about your characters, and how you go about making them. So, without any further ado, let’s begin.

How do you make a ‘good’ female character?
No matter the medium, creators who reportedly make ‘good’ female characters get asked this question a whole lot. Some creators, particularly female authors, have walked out of the interview the second that question was asked. The reason? Well, I hate to break it to everyone, but women are not a magical enigma sent to befuddle the great sages of the world. They are, at their core, just people like everyone else, and by treating them as special – or thinking they need special rules to be done well – you are only doing yourself and them a great disservice.

You want to keep this fact in mind whenever you’re making a character, no matter what the gender, race, or other differences may be. People are just people, so treat them like people and you’ve suddenly got a much better character on your hands. In other words? A strong character will always be strong, regardless of the gender or race of the character. For those of you that don’t believe me, look at Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, a strong character no matter the gender. (Though, for the record, I think canon Shepard should be female, not male).

But they wear pink!
Yes, and boys wear blue, Orcs are green, and Dragons all have different colored scales. What is your point? If you are looking to point out that there are differences, then I can’t argue with you. A man and a woman are simply not the same thing. They have different strengths, different weaknesses, and get a different colored diaper at birth. However, the fundamental core aspects of being a human are still there. The psychological rules that work on men, work on women, and vice versa. Behaviors may be different, but once again, the core is the same.

So why are we different then?
I’m glad you asked. The reason for those differences is… society. Humans are fundamentally social creatures – yep, even us gaming geeks – and the impact society can have on us is absolutely huge. Even people who say they don’t care what others think of them, fall prey to societal standards. Even worse, we’re not even out of the womb for five minutes before society starts hitting us with these things.

Think about it for a second. As a child what images were you presented with? What ads did you see? What people did you meet? This is where a lot of gender differences come from. At an early age, boys are exposed to imagery and experiences that introduce and reinforce what a boy is supposed to be (traditionally, loud, boisterous, adventurous, brave, protecting, wears pants, etc., etc.).  At the same time, girls are exposed to similar imagery, only it reinforces very different things for them to be (again, traditionally: caring, mothering, nurturing, focus on fashion, dresses are ok, emotionality, etc., etc.).  As we grow up, these images are expanded on and added to every step of the way.

Inherently, this isn’t a bad thing. After all, things like this are how a society socializes their children into knowing the rules and expectations of their society. It teaches a normal state for the child to see the world through. However, it also applies pressures. Boys, for example, are pressured into going out for sports and being outdoorsy. Girls on the other hand, are pressured into focusing on appearances, and training to be a mother later on in their life. By the time this boy and girl reach high school, their upbringing has been so different on such a fundamental level that they can’t help but look at the world from different angles. This, in turn, leads to the frustration of men and women seeing things in completely different lights, and wondering just where the heck the other came up with their view point.

Ok, Mr. Sociology, but how does that help me?
Well, quite simply, I’ve given you one of the big pieces of the puzzle. The trick to making a good character, one that acts consistently and is believable within their world, is to look at the world from their perspective and not yours. If you are a guy looking to make a female character, go back through the character’s life and try to envision the stresses that were put on the character as she lived her life.  The roles society expected of her, versus the roles that she wanted for herself – how did they interact? How did they form the person she became as she found the balance point between what she wanted to be, and what she needed in order to fit in? If you can find it – and it takes practice to do so – you’ll find all of your characters growing stronger and deeper. For girls trying to do the same with guys – and face it, you have as much problem with this as we do – do the same thing. Envision the stresses put on your guy, or how society would push/support/hinder him in achieving his goals.

Shaping a character this way is more about making the psychology for the character, rather than just a backstory for them. Like I said, it takes work, but if you can pull it off, you start getting some very interesting characters. Characters who the other players keep pointing at and going “yeah, they’re consistent…but what the heck are they doing?” It can be a great feeling to get that out of your fellow players too.

Oh, and as a last note. If you are having problems with making a character of a different gender, but aren’t comfortable doing all that imagining I just recommended, try to simply cut gender out of the picture and just make the person. A strong individual, as said, will stand on their own regardless of gender, and this could be just the starting point needed for further exploration of characters of every type of race, gender, and species.

Have fun with it, and Happy Gaming!

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Anthony Laffan

Anthony got pulled inside the interwebs in 1998 with, of all things, a first person shooter called Starsiege Tribes. Since then, he trolled around the net claiming to be Delirium incarnate until a wicked fairy bashed him across the back of the head and showed him the wonders of game design and sociology. Now, despite the pleas for mercy from those nearest him, he continues to try to apply both (game design and sociology) to the world and games around him in the vain hopes of understanding something. Do not confront this man, he is very likely dangerous and will talk your ear off at the slightest hint of interest in anything he likes. Profile Page / Article Portfolio

  10 Responses to “Male Character? Female Character? What’s The Difference?”

  1. It’s interesting that this article went up today. A new player at our table made a female character at his first session with us this past weekend, and we were taken by surprise. I’ll have to show this post to our players.

  2. I want to commend you for a legitimately thoughtful piece on this subject; attitudes about gender in the RPGing community are awfully primitive much of the time and I clicked through fully expecting to wince.

  3. In all my years of gaming, I’ve been in four different groups. Two out of the four groups had guys that occasionally played female characters, and it’s just how we gamed.

    The other two groups thought it completely strange when I pulled out a female character.

    I can say that I’ve never once thought about trying to play an opposing gender character true to her gender. I think I might pay more attention, now, should I ever play another.

  4. I’m male. I’ve encountered some resistance to playing female characters, mostly by people unable to articulate a reason for their resistance. Mostly I’ve been able to play through or around it. I grew up in a family where women climbed mountains, rebuilt houses, and excelled at sports. It didn’t occur to me until later that this was an atypical upbringing. Needless to say it has informed my writing and roleplaying. Your point about focusing on the person is spot on!

  5. Good article. As I have often said, “We are playing games where we play elves, klingons and super-intelligent shades of the color blue and you are hung up on a player with a character of a different gender from them?” A strong and well thought out character will work whatever they are.

  6. @ Anthony – Nice article, and thank you.

    @ Sean – Well said indeed.

  7. Glad to hear you all liked it.

    My roleplaying upbringing is a bit unusual, in that a lot of my formative teenage years was spent online, roleplaying a female. Only, instead of the usual adolescent boy playing a girl, I was playing another female player’s kid…which made for some interesting developmental stuff. Since that time, I’ve had several people tell me my girls are better than my guys, and well..that is amusing.

    Anyhow, it generally baffles me how much the gender swap gets people at times. I can understand some discomfort. Some people have bad experiences with it. Others just have difficulty looking at a friend and picturing the opposite gender. But in general, people are just people. Treat them like that, and you’ll be amazed how they come out.

    It has been my opinion for a while that at some point in everyone’s RP career, if they really want to expand their horizons, then you need to try gender bending. Nothing is going to get you as out of your comfort zone faster than having to face a whole different set of cultural expectations. Of course, everyone’s mileage may vary.

  8. “Oh, and as a last note. If you are having problems with making a character of a different gender, but aren’t comfortable doing all that imagining I just recommended, try to simply cut gender out of the picture and just make the person.”

    This, exactly. When I (a male) play a female character, it’s rarely a human/elf/dwarf. This tends to be because the kinds of characters I end up making female are the result of those huge backstories where I create an entire society and civilization. That usually means my female characters are gnolls, or deva, or tieflings…something where I’ve already put so much thought into building their personality from the ground up that it’s much easier to determine how gender might factor in.

    If I’m just ripping out a quick stat sheet, I usually roll dudestyle, because it’s one less thing to have to craft. I’m a dude, I can play a dude, because dudeing is what I’m about.

    Great to see an article that gives this some serious consideration; I’m going to recommend it to a friend who writes a lot about gender in gaming and see what he thinks!

  9. Interesting article, Anthony.
    Personally I generally prefer to stick to playing female characters, but if I ever decide to try out playing a male, I will keep this in mind.

  10. It is always something I have found interesting. I always applauded the fact that D&D never limited gender in the creation of their characters. To think of the political scandal… Anyways, the article is refreshing and insightful. I have recently played my own designed female character for the first time in my whole career.
    I actually never thought about actually doing it until I played Valenae and Keira from the D&D encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade pre-generated characters. For some reason or another, the gender seemed to fit the bill for both characters. It did not favour anything except for my gut feeling that the class fit the gender.
    Gender means nothing in this game except to add some spice to the story.

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