The ability to play just about any type of character you can imagine is one of the biggest draws to role playing games. Many, like me, get interested in RPG’s due to being able to live vicariously through a character in a different reality. For many, this also provides them with the opportunity to experience a viewpoint from a different gender. After my very first AD&D 1st Edition character, a Dwarven fighter named Erbin Penderak (the name was stolen directly from the wonderful novel “Urshurak” by Jerry Nichols and the Hildebrandt brothers Greg and Tim) died during a battle with the Vampire Strahd Von Zarovich, I decided to try my hand at playing an Elven archer-type of fighter. However, as I built the character with the aid of my new GM, Steve, the image that kept popping into my head was of an Elven woman, or more accurately girl, since she was only about 125 years old.
Being a teenager in 8th grade in 1979, I was of course very uncomfortable with my own self, and thought I would be ridiculed by my fellow players if I tried to play a female character. Fortunately, I was wrong. Turned out that the character was treated just fine, without all the stereotypical goofy remarks and sex-jokes that I expected. They were fine with a guy playing a female character, as long as the guy played her like a real person, and not just an objectified toy.
So I did. I started re-reading all the Tolkien I could get my hands on, and anything else that talked about Elves. I started to develop my own ideas of their culture, and tried to play that character fleshed out and as realistic as possible, considering the circumstances. I tried to comprehend the viewpoint of a female character from a race that lives thousands of years, and built up quite a back-story for that character.
Unfortunately, in the almost 40 years since then, I’ve found that sexism and misogyny thrive in role playing groups just as they flourish anywhere else in the world that has stupid men. I encountered the dark side of role-playing, where the game was used to live out fantasies of violence of the worst type against women. Not just against female characters, either. Female players of role-playing games often suffered at the hands of the guys just as bad, and most didn’t stick with the hobby, understandably. That trend seems to be turning lately, thankfully, but there’s still a long way to go.
My current character, the one I’ve been playing the most recently, is also a female Elf, a Druid. It’s been commented by the DM and other players that they respect how I play a female character. That’s from lessons learned, and situations observed. Sexism and misogyny have no place anywhere, and that includes around a tabletop playing RPG’s. If you have a female player, or someone who plays a female character in your group, be brave enough to treat everyone with respect. Just because the character may be fictional, it’s no better cracking sexist jokes against her… that kind of behavior propagates hate, and letting it flourish around your table lets it flourish everywhere else.
Take a stand, and if you haven’t tried it before, give playing a female character a shot. Maybe it will help you understand a little better what women go through every day, especially if you have a DM who runs adventures realistically.
Regardless of whether you try a female character or not, or even if you happen to have a female player in your group, remember that respect outlasts jokes. Respect outlasts hate.