I am happily taking on the mantle of RPG Guy.  So, expect to start seeing more articles about role-playing here.  If I become prolific enough we may give role-playing games their own category on the site. Or not.  I haven’t actually discussed it with Mike yet…

Let’s start things off with a subject that has been gaining some momentum recently: Gender roles in RPG’s.  Apparently some people believe that because women were oppressed during the Dark Ages they should also be oppressed in Fantasy RPG’s. The argument that I have heard for this goes something like, “to maintain realism women in game should be subservient to the men in their lives.”  To be honest it made me feel a little sick just to type that last sentence.  The best response to this that I’ve seen so far was to wonder how it is possible to allow for the existence of dragons, orcs, and the casting of fireball spells, but not the equality of women.

My knee-jerk response to this kind of backwards thinking is to just say, “If you can’t allow for strong female characters, or even strong female non-player characters, in your games then you need to find other misogynists to share the hate with.”  I realize that this isn’t the most helpful reaction.  But let me explain where this thought comes from.  In my opinion, and this will seem obvious to most, games should be fun.  That’s it.  Games can be educational, thought provoking, catalysts of social change, but when boiled down they should be fun.  If someone can’t have fun playing a game where females are just as strong, smart and self-assured as the males, then they shouldn’t be playing with people who prefer to believe that an ideal world would have females standing as equals to their male counterparts.  And the same can be said for people of a less Cro-Magnon mindset.  If they find themselves playing in a world that has all female characters scrubbing floors, working the oldest profession, or wearing chain-mail bikinis, and this makes them uncomfortable, they should stand up and leave.

Until very recently it was incredibly difficult to find a gaming group with which to game.  This meant you couldn’t be very choosy when it came to the type and style of play.  You had to put up with uncomfortable situations and/or abrasive people if you wanted to play.  But luckily, we now live in the future!  If you can’t find a decent group in your local area, then you can go online.  We’ve mentioned a couple of online options in our podcasts, and I will write an article in the near future that will provide more detail.

It should be rather obvious that I think it is ridiculous to force historically accurate gender roles in a fantasy setting.  It is saddening to be reminded that there are still people harboring sexism in the darker recesses of their souls.  To my companion fun-lovers I say, be patient, try to educate, and if necessary, get up and walk away.

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3 Responses to Sexism Versus Fun

  1. Jeff Healy says:

    Yes, sexism is incredibly rampant in gaming, in various ways, but I
    don’t think limiting available roles to women in historical RPGs is
    always going to be a matter of misogyny. Some RPGs do so out a genuine
    desire to hew as closely as possible to the historical source material.

    The two RPGs that immediately come to mind for me, here, are Ars Magica
    and Pendragon. Both are set in the medieval era, both are much less
    D&D gonzo fantasy and more traditional Arthurian fantasy, and like
    their source material, both are restrictive on female roles. In
    Pendragon the character creation chapter has a seperate section for
    women characters, where it discusses the roles women played in society
    and lays out the rules pertaining to making a female character, complete
    with entirely different starting skills. Ars Magica isn’t as vocal
    about it, at least in the core book, but one of the example Companions
    is a female scholar living at the covenant because her family disowned
    her for not marrying and having kids, so the attitude certainly exists
    in the game world. There are probably other games out there that pull
    from the same source material, and therefore approach the matter the
    same way. Many Victorian-era/Steampunk games also feature echoes of the
    restrictive gender roles from the age they’re based off of, although
    usually to a lesser degree.

    The authors aren’t writing the books like this to be sexist. Most of
    them recognize the inherent issues and take steps to address them,
    actually. Pendragon, for example, concludes the Women Characters section
    with a discussion on the plausibility of female knights, and ways to
    work them into your game if you so desire. But they make the default
    setting assumptions what they did because it’s part of the feel they’re
    invoking. As you say, games at their core are for fun, and sometimes a
    group sets out to have fun by engaging in a specific mythos. Sometimes
    the mythos includes elements that we recognize nowadays to be
    unpleasant. The important part is to ensure that everyone at the table
    is okay with this ahead of time. If someone doesn’t like the idea, then
    you find one that everyone does like instead. It’s just like choosing
    which edition of D&D you play, or whether to use GURPS or Savage
    Worlds. And like you said, if you just can’t reach a decision you’re
    comfortable with, then leave.

    As an addendum, I would like to point out I very specifically kept my
    response in the realm of games based on recreating a certain historical
    milieu, and didn’t go anywhere near addressing, say, the possibility of
    female Space Marines in WH40K.

    • As you say, you are talking about historical games that are trying to evoke an actual time period in human history. In that context sexism is to be expected. I was talking more of the imbalance of logic where there is a high fantasy world with monsters, wizards, and dragons, but also someone who wants to include repressive sexual roles on women in the name of accuracy. If you accept the concept of throwing magic missles, fireballs, and lightning bolts I feel that you have thrown historical accuracy out of the window.
      I think a lot of people would look at repressive gender roles as a role-playing challenge, but others will be offended, or uncomfortable when their entertainment contains such restraints.
      Basically it comes down to respect for the other members of your gaming group. If discussed beforehand repressive roles can make for excellent in-game tension for people comfortable with the concept. But it should be acceptable to all players in the game.
      I wrote the article after reading posts and responses from people who make no allowance for equal gender roles in their games. I felt that closed minded thinking needed to be challenged.
      I have been very lucky not to have encountered sexist thinking in any of my gaming groups. Others haven’t been so lucky. I’m sure that part of the problem is that Role-Play Gaming started as a kind of boys club, and thinking has been changing very, very slowly. I think its time we sped things up and encouraged the industry as a whole to recognize the increasing number of female gamers, and to stop pandering to male adolescent fantasies.–Jason

  2. […] Jason becomes the RPG Editor for The Dice Guys and talks about his first article — quick article — about sexism in RPGs. You can find that here. […]

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