Friday, February 13, 2009

It starts on the playground

I was just reading this article about character origin and the sexes over at Trollsmyth's blog, and was happy to see an entirely new line of thinking on this old and sometimes overdone subject.

The gist of the article is that female roleplayers tend to craft their characters with much more details concerning their relations, home, how they miss home and are seeking a new one, etc. Whereas male players tend to stick with the here-and-now and leave the family tree either minimally filled in, or completely up to the imagination (however sinister) of the gamemaster.

Trollsmyth's theory is that what we all read has much to do with the sorts of characters we play, and his point is quite valid. Ever seen a guy reading a book with a picture of Fabio on the cover? And have you ever met a girl who read Lord Of The Rings who did not want more Aragorn and Arwen and much less Boromir or Gimli?

But I'm going to pile another two cents onto Trollsmyth's thesis and say it starts much earlier. In fact, it begins at playtime.

Boys like to play action games. They play cops-and-robbers, cowboys-and-indians and an entire host of games that involve seeking and destroying monsters. Boys' games usually start out with the choosing of teams. "You be the Sherrif's guys and we'll be the Merry Men" or "Pretend the wood-shed is the O-K Corral and these sticks can be guns." There may be some bickering over who gets to be Robin Hood or Wyatt Earp, but beyond that, nobody cares about why anybody's character feels a certain way toward anybody else or which one had the worst childhood.

Girls do it differently..belive me. "Let's play house." sounds innocent enough, but in the spirit of post-2nd-edition D&D, character generation can take hours and cause much pain and suffering. "Ooooh I wanna be the big sister so we can pretend she has a car and is bossy and has a boyfriend and never does what mommy tells her to do...and you can be the rich Auntie who takes us all to Disneyland.... and somebody else can be the grandmother that's really a bad witch." But of course everybody argues over who gets to be the baby so they can be Mommy's favourite. And naturally, nobody ever says "Let's pretend we're doing our chores after school.". It's much more fun when the plot involves a huge wedding, twins being born, or the discovery that the middle-sister is really adopted and that her real parents are the King and Queen of Spain.

Yeah, it's not a perfect universal truth, and in spite of thinking of myself as the tomboy who liked to upset the applecart by enticing the boys into plotting a pirate raid or vampire invasion of the girl's playhouse because I was bored with being the spinster housekeeper.... I have been guilty of creating a few "shippy" characters in my roleplaying career. ('Shippy' - (adj) - abbreviated form of 'overloaded with sissy-girly relationship-centered rubbish)

Yes, even a half-orc with no recollection of her mother or father at all can fall into this category. She may be motivated to the adventuring life because she is out to prove something to the people who picked on her as a child..or she has become obsessed with finding her birth-mother..or she is embarking on an ambitious quest to outshine the fair-haired human sorceress in the party who she is convinced has caught the eye of the male half-orc NPC.'s true.. all of it..and I suppose I should be ashamed. But the truth is that the game never suffered for it, and it gave the GM something to do..and like our GM says, "One sure way to keep a character alive is to keep the dungeonmaster entertained."


trollsmyth said...

Ashamed? Good gods, why? Yeah, that sort of play doesn't always mesh with others, but when I found people who played like this, it tore the roof off my gaming. It meant no more having to play hide-and-seek with the PCs motivations, it meant that my NPCs could be more like real people instead of just quest dispensers and equipment vendors, and it allowed me to wallow in my love of anthropology. Ok, maybe that last one wasn't always a good thing, but it was very much like going from black-and-white to color, and I choose to play that way whenever I can.

L. Beau said...

My guess is that the game as whole will not suffer from a player leaving his character's background as a nearly blank slate, but that if a player provides a few details about family, hometown, etc., then a creative GM has been given a little gift box of ideas.

Make that a creative and experienced GM. Years ago, I overwhelmed a first-time GM in a 2nd ed. D&D game with my first level paladin's two-page, single-spaced background, complete with a mini family history and a tale of woe and intrigue which explained why my PC could probably never be with the woman he loved. The poor first-timer never ran a second session.