So I occasionally get to talk to fun people about RP because I write this blog. Some of them also write blogs too, which is double awesome. Yesterday was one of those occasions, and I was talking to Badger, who mentioned that he was finally getting to where he felt comfortable RPing female characters. (Badger apologizes for the technical difficulties on his site right now, but I wanted to provide a link anyway!)
If you check out my character list, you’ll notice that all of them are female.
I am, in fact, female, in real life (OMG A GIRL ON THE INTERNET). And though I have several male characters rattling around in my head, I’ve never been able to RP one convincingly enough for my own satisfaction. This is, of course, my own personal failing, but it did start off an interesting conversation.
You see, at this point, Badger replied:
“It’s odd, isn’t it, that playing something like a Troll or a Night Elf is second nature, but playing a Generic Dude is hard”
He’s right, of course – it can be hard for some of us to RP as members of the opposite sex (though fortunately not all of us have this trouble!). But it got me to thinking.
And I think what makes this hard is that “gender” is a preconceived idea that exists outside of game.
Whether or not “gender” is correct, biological, chosen, culturally shaped, or whatever, gender exists in the real world. Night Elves, however, do not.
Night Elven culture is defined only by a loose set of history and ideas we call “Lore” and which can change at any time. Even the human cultures, in game, are mishmashes of real cultures and fictional ideas, things we can “assume” with little trouble. It’s easy to pretend to be a Troll, because there are only a very few things that define what a “Troll” is – and those things are very flexible. Lore is, after all, a set of guidelines and frameworks within which we create our characters – and those guidelines can change any time, given the whims of one Chris Metzen and the lore team.
Real life gender may still only be a culturally defined set of guidelines (and I say culturally defined since gender stereotypes change radically across the world stage) – but they’re things we deal with on an every day basis. And we are, in a sense, programmed to have those identities and expectations (and, unfortunately, to look poorly upon those who don’t comply with our pre-existing gender ideas).
If you look at the backlash received by people that do not fit into the gender they appear to have, or do not fit into any easily identified gender at all, you can see where this problem lies. Our culture – particularly in the “Western World” expects male humans to fit into one pattern and female humans to fit into another. In the absence of defined gender roles in game, we then transport those assumptions wholecloth (more or less) into Azeroth – along with all of the nastiness that comes when our preconceived ideas are challenged or questioned.
And of course, this doesn’t even begin to look at the gender equality, patriarchal monarchies, magic ruled societies, and how “gender” ends up getting expressed as a game mechanic.
So why is it that one is easier than the other (at least for me)? What makes assuming one thing less hard than assuming another?
It comes down to playing pretend.
Night elves, Dwarves, Trolls, Orcs – they are pretend. Fiction. Imaginary ideas of cultures in which we can all play imagination together, and even if those imaginary ideas are similar to other imaginary ideas in other stories and games, they’re still in the realm of pretend. I can take on the role of a Troll, and fit it into a character concept, because what I make “Troll” out to be is just as right (as long as it’s within the framework) as anything else.
Gender, on the other hand, is something that comes from outside of game, so it comes with a lot of excess “baggage” – baggage that, for me, makes it more difficult to be satisfied with RPing male characters than I can be with the various female characters I’m already working on.
So what about you guys – do you RP across the so-called gender lines? Pick one and stick to it? And what about playing a female to male or male to female gender swap using the Blizzard account modification transmogrifier?
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