October 10, 2009

Cross-playing: Some observations

When looking for articles that could relate to the blog I found this article that takes its time to get to the subject matter. One thing that is mentioned in this article was cross-playing, or playing a character that was the opposite gender of your own. This writer focuses a little more on players doing it as a "study of females".

After I read it over a couple of times, I found myself somewhat offended. "Study of females?" How can one truly study women's behaviors by pretending to be a woman? It sounds like an opportunity for caricature more than any kind of meaningful study. If one was to study females, wouldn't one want to be around an actual female?

It seems in this article the authors wants people to know that individuals who cross-play are not perverted players looking for a more intimate kind of experience (like the ones my friend Joel informed me of earlier this week).  I can understand that concern.  But I don't think cross-playing is a way to understand how it is to be a woman.  I really think that it's because certain players just would like to try something different, and to them being a woman is very different.

I have rarely wanted to cross-play merely because I never had a male player character in mind.  And a lot of my female friends are the same way.  Speaking for my own experience, I have only cross-played once, and that was a character that was based on my younger brother for a Unknown Armies game (he was a Urbanomancer who used a shot put with legs built by a Mechanomancer as a weapon).  But a lot of the time, I don't find myself inspired to make a male character.  I find it's easier for myself to make interesting, complex characters that are of my own gender.

I have had one person cross-play in a campaign I ran before.  In my game he played a lesbian elf druid, and when he had to leave the game this character stayed as an important NPC.  My friend, in fact, always cross-played his characters.  In college my friends and I teased him a lot for it, but now that I look back, he may have had the same problem I had.  He was just inspired to play characters that were women, and wasn't as inspired by his own gender.

This isn't to say male characters are boring.  They usually aren't, especially if you get a creative player behind them.  In the same game I had a friend who made one of my favorite characters I ever ran a game with.  His character, a wizard who's family noble standing had been stripped away, ended up finding his lost brother, falling in love with the Queen that was his boss, planned almost all of the battles down to a T to help guarantee success for the party, and ended up destroying his nemesis quite swiftly.  This player, and his character, was many times too smart for me to catch up with him when I was planning game.  So again, male characters can definitely be intriguing and fun to play.

I think in the article above, the author was a little narrow-minded about the whole thing.  I have yet to have someone cross-play merely for the study of it.  When you're making a character that is merely for philanthropic purposes, there isn't a lot one can get from that intellectually.  It is best to make characters that intrigue you, that you want to play because you find qualities in their personality redeeming or entertaining.  You discover a lot more from that then one does from making a character that is simply female for the sake of being female, or some similar situation.

Also, if people want to learn more about women, they first need to talk to real women.  They do not need to pretend to be women, which will result in faulty observations no matter how many ways you try.


  1. I have a couple of horror stories about male players with female characters. It has gotten to the point that I do not allow cross-gender RP in my games.

  2. I have seen cross-gender playing done well and I have seen it done terribly--it depends completely on the skill of the player. The ones that seem to have no real-life grasp of what real women are like, don't seem to have any concept of what real *people* are like either.

    I play male characters pretty frequently; it all depends on what fits the concept, and i think i pull the off just as well as the female characters i create.

  3. definitely interesting things to think about ...

  4. What about the Game Master? They control NPC interaction with the characters, and so are cross-playing on a regular basis.
    I think the only times I ever played female characters were some one-off games with pre-generated characters assigned by the GM. I felt awkward doing it, and I recall getting "razzed" by the other guys. When I was acting as a GM I was probably equally awkward running the female NPCs, but there wasn't the same teasing from the guys.
    In retrospect I might have been a better GM if I had more experience cross-playing.