Men in dresses, at the gaming table…

 Posted by on April 29, 2014  Filed as: Editorial  Add comments
Apr 292014

Jerry: I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.
Father Curtis: And this offends you as a Jewish person?
Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian!

Let’s face it, men dressing as women is darned funny. From Shakespeare to Milton Berle to Flip Wilson to Barry Humphries to Martin Laurence to Tyler Perry, from Monty Python to Saturday Night Live to The Kids in the Hall, from Tootie to Mrs. Doubtfire, there have been men willing, even enthusiastic, to pull on dresses and pitch their voices into the exosphere of falsetto, and we have laughed and laughed and laughed.

But why is this funny? It’s because men are so very much not women, and it’s uproarious to see their absurd and overwrought parody of an impression. Look at me, I’m both touchy and feely. Get a load of this, I’m proper and rigid. Uh oh, that man finds me irresistible, what do I do now? And to cap it all off, here’s a lot of screechy screaming. What fun.

I’m pleased to report that this sidesplitting trope has sashayed its way into roleplaying games as well, with exactly the same level of hilarity. Occasionally this is because a Game Master seeks diversity in his sausage party, or a player’s interested in running something a little different, but more often it’s part of some dreary practical joke (“Ha ha, you’re a girl!”). As in the various media, the roleplaying game affords us firework bursts of austerity or over-emotion or (fingers crossed) high cracking voices, but it also introduces a new and delightful characteristic: hypersexuality.

Given the range and maturity of the typical male gamer, it’s not uncommon that a female (male) character will sleep with absolutely everybody, from the lordliest king to the lowliest stable boy (and maybe one or two horses in the stable), all in the interest of manipulation, negotiation, or plain old copulation. Of course, this trait stems from the conviction that, “If I had one of THESE, I would own everything,” which is usually because the enlightened player has no familiarity with one of THOSE beyond the internet.

I have encountered these girly imitations in every Fiasco game I’ve played, and afterward, during one game’s post-mortem, I expressed my frustration about it, and only managed to come off as a psychotic, closeted homophobe. “Sure,” one of the other players said carefully, “you’re uncomfortable with two men at the table pretending to be intimate.” No, no, no, that’s not my point or my problem at all, but the more I tried to clarify, the more it seemed like I was protesting too much.

My issue was and always has been that the joke here, a man pretending to be a woman, is too easy and too obvious, quite literally low-hanging fruit. “You’re never home for dinner!” the shrew shrieks. Or, “Now that my husband’s gone, it’s me, you, and the whole hockey team,” the kitten purrs. Or, “For a cultured woman, it’s pinky out and knees together,” the nun nasals. These aren’t characters, they’re caricatures, and even worse, they’re not terribly funny.

In two different Dungeons & Dragons games, I watched a Girdle of Femininity, mistaken for a Girdle of Giant Strength, dropped onto an unsuspecting male PC, and we all hooted with joy as this paragon of masculinity suddenly developed manga breasts and an overwhelming appreciation for shoes. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I was one of the highbrow Dungeon Masters that did the dropping, but it’s nothing I’m proud of now.

I’m not proposing some kind of draconian moratorium on players having characters of the opposite sex. How boring would that be? What I am asking for–pleading really, for the sake of my sense of humor–is that the opposite sex be treated in the same way as all the parts of the character. I have seen male players wrestle with, “What would my dwarf paladin do in this situation?” or, “What would my cyborg zombie say?” And yet, those same male players never even pause to consider, “How would my female character react?”, unless it’s to follow that up with, “Slutty or shrill?”

With these sorts of characters, we male gamers have an opportunity to see through the eyes of that alien and mystical species, THE FEMALE, and genuinely act and react as we believe a real woman would. And don’t hide behind the excuse of excessive masculinity (“How could my muscles and body hair know the first thing about what a chick is thinking?”), not when many of us have mothers and sisters and girlfriends and wives as a touchstone. If you want to imagine a real reaction to a circumstance, try to imagine a real woman reacting.

Plus, it might offer a painful dose of reality when the male gamer realizes his female character’s defenses are considerably lower than the other party members. You know, because of the bikini armor.


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Dixon Trimline

Dixon Trimline is a halfling that occasionally (and reluctantly) plays a 40-something human who likes to write, dream, and travel around inside the cobwebby darkness of his own mind. This human grew up with role playing games, but his first love and his first choice was always Dungeons & Dragons. Profile Page / Article Portfolio

  3 Responses to “Men in dresses, at the gaming table…”

  1. Reading the whole article I have to assume at least some of the first half is tongue in cheek. I almost stopped reading because that was not clear. I do not like to see female characters be portrayed as stereotypes simply because they are female. I do not think a man in a dress is automatically funny. I don’t think you do either.

    • Nah, I think he’s just venting in a funny way. Now, I’d like to see a male player play a normal female character through several levels, and then have them get turned into a male character.

  2. Brian: Yup, this article is definitely me being funny. Or perhaps more accurately, “funny.” I enjoy building the old switcheroo into my writing, though it does mean I lose people along the way. Maybe I should write more clearly. Nah.

    Richard: I really like your idea of a progressive sex change. We’d finally get to see that enlightened barbarian, roaring, “No, women are not objects!”

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