21
April 2018

LARPzombie1

There are few topics in gaming today quite as hot as that of gender in games. Questions of gender equality, representation, and fair treatment have been rampant throughout the geek community. Within LARP, however, these topics represent a challenge to designers and game organizers who must keep in mind the complexity of gender when creating game plots, modules, and NPCs for their worlds. Organizers have to consider a lot of questions to provide gender-friendly plots that will make players feel comfortable while on their fictional adventures.

What does it mean to write gender-friendly plots for your games? The key comes down to creating and managing player expectations about how gender will be represented.

 

Who is your game written for?

Each LARP is helmed by a game organizer whose job it is to not only set the tone for the in-game world, but whose choices set the tone for the way gender is perceived in their game world. A LARP organizer has a difficult task of deciding how gender is defined and accepted in character in the fictional world they want to create. While this task might seem like a no-brainer on the outset, there are a lot of tricky pitfalls that come with accepted gender norms that a designer can build in out of simple subconscious habit.

GenderImage1The first question that is often taken for granted is whether gender in-game is only a biological factor or a question of gender identification, i.e. whether or not the game world has transgender characters. This often runs hand in hand with the question of whether or not transgender players are welcome in a game, a fact that sadly is not a universal in all LARPs. While that question is more out-of-character, if a world does not have a place for transgender characters, then the designers are making a frank statement about their consideration of what is and is not male and female. That can signal to a player that, even though transgender players may be welcome in the game, transgender characters (and by extension their players) don’t have a place in that game universe to tell their stories.

A second question when considering your game audience is the way in which characters are treated based on their gender. Are all of the characters who are powerful NPCs male? Are the women expected to portray themselves in a particular manner, such as those of submissive to the man? What about the way in which male NPCs are constructed and perceived? The main fact to consider is whether or not the portrayal of genders in the game world adheres to a stereotype that might pigeonhole players into a particular portrayal without room for diversity of expression. If that is the case, players whose values, ideas, and identity out of character do not line up with your design might find your game world restrictive, stifling, or just unwelcoming.

The third question is the often attached but separate and complex issue of sexuality, which can come hand in hand with gender representation. In a modern day, it shouldn’t have to be asked whether or not gay characters are allowed at a game, but if players identify that all of the NPCs and plots are designed towards male-female relationship lines, then that will also inform the way in which relationships are considered the game.

Bottom line: whatever gender decisions you make when creating your world will be mirrored back in what players perceive as acceptable or ‘in genre’ for your setting. The organizers, as in all things, set the tone.

 

Be Prepared To Be Held Accountable

It’s important to note at this juncture a very troubling and difficult idea: some games will choose to represent gender in a way that might be considered problematic. Game designers have the right to choose to represent gender in their games in a way that might establish ideas about men and women that do not conform to what an individual player, or even a section of players, feel comfortable with or want. As difficult as that may be to accept, that is the game designer’s right. An organizer has the right to choose to make a game world that does not allow transgender characters, or that establishes women in a place of ‘traditional roles’ that excludes women from positions of power. What an organizer must realize, then, is the kind of message that sends not only about the world they design, but the kind of community of players they want to cultivate. By making these design choices, an organizer is signaling that they want to tell stories that will include this content, whether to reinforce those ideas or to challenge them. Those design choices will then tell players to expect certain treatment of gender in game and will signal to a player whether or not the game is right for them. Organizers then, as cultivators of their community, must be prepared to be held accountable for those choices when they are questioned if a player does feel excluded. If a player approaches a designer and asks, for example, “Is your game welcoming to transgender characters? Why or why not?”, you should be able to answer this question. After all, as a designer, you should have made that choice for a reason.

 

How To Continue Managing Expectations

Once the game organizer has fleshed out how gender is treated in their setting, these established design choices must continue to be mirrored throughout plot implementation. If players are to feel comfortable with the ongoing treatment of gender in the game, they need to see the trends set at the beginning of the game continued through ongoing plot and new hooks that enter game.

This game had a queen: does yours? Okay, so it's Felicia Day on Supernatural in a LARP. That was a gender choice.

This game had a queen: does yours? Okay, so it’s Felicia Day on Supernatural in a LARP. That was a gender choice.

When plots are introduced by game organizers, they may force players into situations where they must conform to gender ideas outside of their character design. This may put said players in uncomfortable situations. A typical example that can come up is the introduction of an NPC that makes romantic advances towards characters. Do the NPCs only hit on the opposite gender, or are same-sex relationships a possibility? Are you accidentally assuming when writing NPCs that all the characters they might interact with are straight? In fact, are you assuming all your NPCs would also be straight? Similarly is the issue of genderizing plots that are put out in the first place; When someone comes running into town looking for help to rescue their kidnapped children, are they automatically a distraught mother? More importantly, do they always look for the male fighters to save the day? That kind of implied bias in NPCs can set a standard for gender expectations in play that will be mirrored back by the player community. If your sexy succubi in game are always women out to enslave men with their sexuality and you don’t consider putting in male incubi too, you’re reinforcing stereotypes with your ongoing design and you’re signaling that that trope (and what it can say about women in general) has a home at your game.

An even more insidious example comes when any game has mechanics which take away player choice in relation to genderized activities. Love potions and mind control are typical dicey plot points, as they take away a player’s right to choose not to engage with romance or a sexual element being introduced. This kind of mechanical removal of player agency is problematic to begin with for removing a player’s choice, but it becomes doubly so if it puts players in a situation that violates their character’s gender or sexuality choices.

 

Maintain The Player Trust

If whatever gender choices were established by the organizers are not upheld by the in-play hierarchy and ongoing story, then the game has effectively pulled a bait and switch on players. It established cues in the design which are not then provided to the player base. At that point, the organizers have committed a cardinal rules violation: messing with player expectations. Players come into games trusting that the rules established by the organizers will be respected, even by the organizers, and rules established about the treatment of gender are no different. Should they be changed during gameplay without a good reason, both in and out of character, then the basic trust between organizer and player has been violated. Players have a right to speak up and to require explanations as to why their trust has been misused. If things are not resolved to their satisfaction, they then also have the right to vote with their feet – and dollars as might be the case – and seek a game where their game expectations will be met.

These problems can be headed off by a simple application of forward design thinking and clear communication with your player base. In a time when so many gamers are taking a critical look at representation in gaming, it will save a lot of time and turmoil in the long run if designers make sure they’re doing the same.aracer.mobiпродвижениераскруткапрограмма для взлома вай фай сетичехол клавиатура для ipad airкредитные карты с 20 лет без справокcasino online us playersescort dubai high classcasino makine oyunlar?Big computer deskпутевки на майские ярославлядетский фитнес в марьино

Shoshana Kessock

Shoshana Kessock is a game designer and writer who has worked on over a dozen larps over the years. She is the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions, an independent tabletop and larp publication and production house, and a full-time storyteller at Dystopia Rising New Jersey. When she isn't writing for LARPing.org she is getting her masters degree at NYU in Game Design, working on several theater LARPs including The Unofficial Dresden Files LARP and writing both fiction and tabletop RPGs. She lives in New York.

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7 Comments

  1. Skavra August 6, 2013 9:27 AM

    As a transwoman, I find the suggestion of inclusion of trans characters in the game a little strange. I, and I can only speak for myself, would never want to play a trans character. I’m making a character who can help me to avoid that aspect of my life for a weekend, and making gender dysphoria a defining aspect of the character would utterly defeat that. When I’m in character, my character is as female as any other female character in the game, because what parts you have beneath the costume are out of game to begin with.

    I’m also not sure I’d be super comfortable with a non-trans player playing a transsexual character. It could be done well, and respectfully, I suppose, but it seems far more likely to become a caricature or a comic relief character, which would make me feel exceedingly unwelcome at the game and be a constant reminder to me and to the other players that I’m different.

    I think the arguments about gender roles and player expectations are pretty spot on, but the points stand well enough if you take gender out and include other issues like race or religion. Establishing the culture of the game and letting the players play with it is very important, and many great stories can be told in an in-game culture which makes some of the players a bit uncomfortable, but the point about consistency and giving the players what they’ve been told to expect rings very true. If you, as a game designer, want to push the envelope and have your player base feel a bit uncomfortable with an aspect of the culture, it can be done well. It’s also easy to lose control of it and allow it to become something which hurts feelings and ruins friendships, though, so it should only be done with foreknowledge and thoughtful planning – all involved need to know what to expect going in.

    The only way to tell a story about achieving equality is to start with inequality, and that storyline is one which could bring a lot of personal meaning to a game arc for many players. But establishing a game world with ‘opportunities’ like this without doing so intentionally seems like a recipe for disaster.

    Reply
  2. Aaron Vanek August 6, 2013 2:04 PM

    Great article again, Shoshana!

    Reply
  3. Nathan Hook August 6, 2013 4:26 PM

    You point you didn’t mention is, do you allow players to play characters of the opposite gender? (e.g. Mad about Boy mixed run insisted everyone play female characters, Just a little loving allowed females to play male parts, but not the reverse, due to a gender imbalance in the character pool).

    A related question, do you allow characters to pretend to be the other gender? That can be very confusing (how can other players tell a woman playing a male character from a woman character pretending to be male?)

    Suppose we are playing a larp set in middles ages France. The answer to your question about transgender character may be ‘yes, but you’ll be locked up and possibly burnt at the stake like Joan of Arc for wearing clothes of the other gender.’ Equally, in some setting, openly gay character may not be inappropiate player characters (closet gay ones are a different matter, but that may be implausible in some settings).

    Reply
    • Shoshana Kessock August 6, 2013 11:26 PM

      Historical games are great examples of where your game design is going to be crucial in indicating to a player what the attitudes represented and explored about gender are going to be like in the game. Your example of Middle Ages France is a good one. If you play a transgender character, your story is going to be ABOUT being transgender and what happens. If the player is okay with that, and if the GM is interested in letting those stories take place (ie making a place for them at the game) then that’s cool. But the expectation of what that will mean for the player’s experience has to be up front.

      As for characters pretending to be other genders? Why not? A character can assume the mantle of another gender the same as a person would. We assume when we step into the game space that we are accepting the reality of what is presented to us, and if the person identifies pronouns in character a specific way, I believe those should be honored – the same way those pronouns would be honored in reality.

      The issue of games that say that characters only represent specific genders is another one, but that is again a design choice. And as I said in the article, has to be purposeful with a response behind it. Mad About the Boy is an example of a game whose design has purposeful gender choices which make for the game experience that the designers wanted in the sessions they ran.

      Reply
  4. Pete Woodworth August 7, 2013 4:49 PM

    Great article! I personally feel it’s interesting to explore the ideas of gender and sexuality in gaming – one of my Dystopia Rising characters is openly bisexual. The first time I flirted with a male character at game, I think people thought I was kidding or that it would be some kind of joke, but I made sure to make it evident that I was sincere and that it wasn’t a gag. Some of the players seemed a little confused as to how they should react, but a few of them approached me later and we had good IC chat about sexuality. It was an interesting moment, and I’m curious about how it will develop in the future.

    Reply
  5. Nathan Hook August 7, 2013 5:05 PM

    Characters (not players) pretending to be another gender raises general issues of the use of disguises. If someone is in disguise, it’s unlikely to actually fool other players for long. Should they allow their characters to be fooled (which might be appropiate in a panto or shakespeare comedy type genre) or see through the disguise? Either rules (as some larps do here) or guidelines are probably helpful, if you expect disguises to feature in the larp.

    Another point : do you need to have 2 genders at all? Some larps include types of being which don’t (e.g. spirits/angels./faeries with no physical gender, giant insect people where the warriors are all infertile females ruled by a fertile queen, shapeshifters, etc.)

    In the UK there has been a fashion to design fantasy races that naturally produce more males than females, to reflect the gender distribution in the larp. those races have then developed cultures to handle this biological limit. Maelstrom has two cultures of cat-people that did this, one had having slave armies to dump the excess male population into, one had a matriachial culture where each women rules a pride of males.

    Reply
  6. Hana April 29, 2014 5:03 PM

    My only argument “against” this is that some larps like my own are boy scout organizations and are not allowed LGBT* friendly characters. Because of being a boy scout organization, however Trans* men and women are able to choose the gender of there character.

    Reply

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