The Distaff Perspective

Copyright Laura Trauth 1998

"Women don't roleplay. Unless they are dating the game master - and then they don't do it very well."
"Women do roleplay and, in fact, they are better at it than men."
"Women aren't any different than men at all. Some are good roleplayers, some aren't."
"No, women only play psycho-angst games like Vampire because they can't (or won't) handle more rules-intensive games like Rolemaster...."

Hmmm... stereotypes. Something roleplayers have to take a lot of flack for outside the community, no? Can they really help us at all as we relate to each other? That's part of what this column will be about. The Distaff Perspective is a column about women roleplayers, but more importantly it is a column about all roleplayers. How can we learn from our shared experiences - stereotypical or not - to make our games better!

This is not just a column for our female readers! After all, it would be a bit sexist of me to assume that it's only going to be the ladies out there who want to talk about this stuff... And I know for a fact that just mentioning the differences between male and female gamers on the Rolemaster discussion list will double the message volume for a few days, so I have reason to think there are a lot of you out there who have something to say on the issue! With your help I hope to map out the boundaries of the stereotypes we've all been exposed to. And not just the stereotypes about women! Are men really into gaming just for the hack-and-slash, monty haul campaigns? I know several who'd have a big problem with that (and a couple of women who'd say it applies pretty well to them!).

Why bother? Well, even if we, as members of the roleplaying community, decide to reject the stereotypes, we have to accept that, at the moment, most gaming companies perceive them. Whether or not angst-ridden White Wolf games really do have more appeal to women, White Wolf was one of the first companies to actively market to women. The Vampire rule book was probably the first gaming book (or for that matter the first set of any sort of instructions) I had ever read that used feminine pronouns instead of masculine! It was jarring in a way, but attractive. While I'm really too much of a rules-monger (oops, cat's out of the bag!) to settle for White Wolf, I found that approach refreshing. And obviously many other women did too. The majority of the female gamers I have met became involved in the hobby initially through White Wolf or some similar flavor of roleplaying or live-action gaming. Functional stereotypes or just good marketing? Either way, the choices White Wolf made in marketing their system significantly changed our hobby!

There's more to this column than just how and why women roleplay, however. As a women's historian, I spend a lot of time thinking about how women have lived throughout history. Much of what I learn academically I try to apply in the creation of roleplaying worlds and devious plots - a trick I picked up long ago when I first realized how much the works of J. R. R. Tolkien are rooted in the medieval history he studied. Well, what does women's history have to contribute to gaming? Initially I thought it would all be negative. Women have had seriously restricted positions in almost every human society, after all. And there has always been tension over the social spheres that men and women controlled. But then I started thinking that maybe this sort of tension could make for good roleplaying... For example, there are legends in European history of women so devout they disguised themselves as men in order to join monasteries. So what about a character who is a magically talented woman in a culture that forbids women to learn the mystic arts.... Say she ends up doing the same thing... Here, in a little transplanted "women's history," are the beginnings of a really interesting character!

That leads me on to the second topic you will find being discussed on this page in future issues. As a scholar (read eternal student!), I am always looking for ways to incorporate all sorts of interesting external pursuits into my gaming, and not just women's history! The Scholar's Bookshelf will alternate with the Distaff Perspective in bringing you reviews of non-gaming books and resources which you may want to include in your game. From books on geology and climate, to baby name books for creating character names, to New Age divination tools used as props, I will be bringing you assorted reviews and suggestions for your games. Gotta put all those years of hopelessly obscure education to use somehow, after all!

Now here's the thing... conversations are always much more interesting when they aren't one-sided. This is a column for your opinions and suggestions, not just mine! So send me your experiences from the distaff side (as women roleplaying, as men roleplaying with women, as game masters thinking about gender roles as you design cultures.. you get the picture) and let's see what we can learn form each other. And send me your suggestions for non-gaming resources as well, and I will put them on "the Bookshelf" where we can all learn from them! Until next issue...