Role-playing games give us an opportunity to see the world through eyes not our own. They let us walk in the shoes of another, and think in ways we might not ourselves. Role-playing is a great exercise in social dynamics and cultural exchange. No matter who you might be in real life, there is no reason you cannot be whatever you want to be, or think might be interesting, at the game table. Be that another species, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, or even gender. After all, is there really that big of a difference between someone pretending to be a blue-skinned elf as there is someone pretending they are of the opposite sex?
I am a Gamemaster, and thus I play the part of every non-player character my players come across. As such, it has made me very comfortable in playing a variety of roles, including women. What is the trick? Well, there is no trick. Thinking of them like people before I think of them like women is still the most helpful thing I can do. That comfort has extended to when I am given the chance to be a player as well, and have played several female player characters. Some have been rather tom-boyish, others have been very feminine. It is all a difference in character. I have also played very feminine male characters, and even have a personal favorite in a certain Shadowrun dwarf gun-dealer who takes flamboyance to a whole new level. To me, playing someone of a different sex or sexual orientation is no big deal. However, this is something that can make other players uncomfortable. In my monthly Anima game, we have a player who has taken that plunge and begun playing fem-fatal character. An assassin who uses her feminine wiles to lull her targets into a false sense of security and then kills when they are at their most vulnerable. The character is a young, eastern woman of incredible beauty and grace. The group has taken it well, although some are not quite sure how to role-play their interactions with her given that her player is male.
Playing someone of the opposite sex or of a different sexual orientation than yourself is something you need to take great care in, especially if you have representatives of said demographics in your game group. Playing a female character just so you can have her act like you wish females would act can come off as very offensive, as can playing the overly flamboyant homosexual. Be respectful of the people you have chosen to emulate through play. Learn about them. Try to understand them, how they feel, how they might respond to how you are portraying them. There are already enough negative stereotypes in the world. We do not need to add to them.
Be respectful of others. I should not even have to say this, but I will. Through gaming, we are given a unique opportunity to try to understand others in a way most people cannot imagine. We can pretend to be them, or at least people like them. In doing so, we can further our own understanding of what makes us different, but also of what makes us similar. We can find common ground. Gender discrimination, homophobia, racism, religious animosity, all of these things exist in our world, but as far as I am concerned they have absolutely no place at the game table.
Within the game itself, though, is a whole other matter.
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