One of the attractions to gaming is that it allows the player to explore worlds and personalities that they would otherwise never experience. Fantasy wish-fulfillment is a major part of the hobby. We play aliens, robots, mutants, demigods, superheroes, elves, wizards, detectives, sentient gas clouds, and everything that falls in between.
Yet there aren't many gamers I've met who'll regularly play the opposite gender to their own, at least in a tabletop game. I suppose the reasons are different for everyone. Some guys find it uncomfortable to act like a woman in front of their friends, especially if a romantic sub-plot comes up and they're expected to flirt with a male character. Some people, like myself, just find it easier to get into the mindset of their own gender. Others just haven't really thought about it much and choose their own gender because it's what first comes to mind when creating a character.
Now, I'm not saying I find it difficult to portray women. I have lots of women in my books and frequently use female POV characters. But that's different. That's work, and I work very hard to make sure I'm not screwing things up when I write women. My crit partners will tell you, one of my biggest sources of insecurity as a writer is the fear that someone will read by books and think "there's no way a real woman would think that!"
Gaming is fun. It's my downtime. I want to play characters I find comfortable and easy to slip into. So when coming up with character ideas, my mind tends to tick off the "male" box. It's a habit. But it's one I wouldn't mind breaking, in the right circumstances, where I don't feel quite as much pressure to "get it right."
For example, I'm playing through Mass Effect again, this time with a female character. I'm flirting with Kaidan, and fully intend to romance Thane in Mass Effect 2. I'm enjoying the experience, in no small part because Jennifer Hale is an amazing voice actress. Also because I find I'm looking for more strong female protagonists these days.
Someone once said to me that the female Commander Shepard is so much more impressive than the male. Where the male Shepard is a badass, female Shepard, Femshep, is like a force of nature. I found this interesting, since Femshep has the same dialogue and physical actions as a male Shepard. So, setting aside the comparative quality of the two voice actors, what we have is people crediting the female Shepard with being more impressive than the male, despite the fact the two do exactly the same things. The only difference is gender. Are certain actions more impressive, more heroic, just because it's a woman doing them?
In contrast, are gentler, softer actions, like showing compassion or caring for someone with an injury, considered more kind if the character is male?
Society holds men and woman to different standards. It's unfair and I believe it's most often damaging, particularly when a woman is shamed for behaving like a man with regard to her sex life, or when a man is mocked for showing a feminine side. But can this inequality give rise to positive responses? Is it right that we applaud an action more when a person is acting outside of typical gender stereotypes? Perhaps. Perhaps things have been so unfair for so long we need a little extra positive reinforcement to fix it.
One thing I love about gaming is the chance it offers to explore these concepts. We can create our own stories, where men and women can show their weaknesses, their softer sides, and find the strength to overcome their challenges.
Hmm, this topic became more of a ramble than I'd intended. Still, it's given me some things to think about. What about you guys? Anything to add?