Good morning everyone!
This morning I got up, got dressed, had some breakfast and had a scroll through my twitter feed from last night.
This is pretty much the same I do every workday morning, however unlike most workday mornings, this time I saw something that encouraged me to write a blog post.
The tweet was by a fellow wargamer and was commenting on games and their almost requirement to give at least one female character an ability based on seduction.
This got me thinking, and I was very pleased to link to this person my in-development files for CRYPTS as this is an example of a game where none of the female characters have these sort of abilities.
But then I think about this in more detail; why is it I have not included a seduce ability in the game?
I look at the basic monsters in the game, the 'Beasties'. Now most of the beasties are actually non-gender defined. This is for many reasons:
Firstly the aim of the game is for ease of access using your own models. If a person has a tonne of female goblins they want to use as Imps, who am I to say that these can't be used because Imps are male?
Secondly, some of the Beasties are animal like, so gender doesn't really come into it.
Thirdly who cares? If you're being attacked by Imps I doubt you're going to take the moment to perve on their boobs before chopping their heads off.
Next we have the bosses.
The first boss is Rach'Noir the Queen of the Skittering Shadow.
Now Rach'Noir is the only openly solo female boss (so far) but her abilities reflect her super-spider-like form rather than her being female. She attacks from a surprise vantage point ambushing the players from within her web, she scuttles at breakneck speed across the encounter and cocoons her prey. These abilities have nothing to do with her being female and everything about her being Queen Spider.
Next up is the Skeleton King. Now this guy is male, but there is no reason why players can't turn it around and make it the Skeleton Queen.
This guy's abilities are not based around him being male, but him being the ruler of the undead as he buffs his horde of skeletons and steals the life force of players.
So why did I make Rach'Noir female and The Skeleton King male? Simple really, I called on classic fantasy tropes; the brood mother and the undead lord. It has nothing to do with gender portrayal and bias and everything to do with what I feel tells a better narrative.
Next up is The Butcher. A giant demon who eats people for breakfast.
Now it's worth stating that at this point Demons in this game appear to be genderless. Now by that instance I don't mean I have not defined their gender, but they have none. No reproductive organs at all.
If this is the case then they would obviously not have the most obvious gender defining attributes: a penis or breasts, as both are a little pointless without reproduction and child raising.
Last but not least we have The Demon Seed and Nanny.
Now the Demon Seed, a child of unknown gender who's abilities are focussed on the combination of it being both a tentacled monster, but also a baby.
Nanny in comparison is the Seed's protector, having a high toughness and health pool she is super hard to bring down. She may be portrayed as a fragile female nanny (with a monstrous side) but her gameplay representation is one of a tough hombre.
So this is what I did for my game, but I have to be honest, at no point did I think "am I representing women in a fair and balanced way?".
To me if I started going down that route, I would be doing my game a disservice. This is not an attempt to grab female players, and to be honest I don't think I have to worry about that at all. If you listen to my podcast attached to this blog you will see that two of my playtest group are women; my wife Sarah and our friend Vicky.
Now both of these women are 'strong' women using the modern meaning, they both have well paid jobs (my wife is actually better paid than me) and they don't take any crap from anyone make or female. Both of these women have played my game and not once has the issue of gender arisen. If it did then I would listen, but not because they are women, but because I value their opinion. The same applies to my other play tester Will.
You see, this is just how I look at stories and games. I honestly don't care if it portrays a man or a woman in a compromised or sexist way. What I care about is that they are portrayed in a believable way:
Are there strong men and women in real life? Yes. But there are also weak ones.
In the past (possibly not on my blog however) I've thrown around the phrase "true equality" or as I see it, where a person is based on their qualities and flaws and gender, race, religion, sexuality etc doesn't even come into it.
I understand why some believe that positive action and representation is a step forward, but it is important to remember why you are showing that character in the way you are. Are you presenting the lead as a strong female because that character fits the story or because you have a point to prove and a chip on your shoulder?
I'm not creating this game because I want to make a political or social statement, I'm doing so because I want to tell my story and have players experience that with me.
With this in mind let's just go back to the original point: the portrayal of female characters as seductive in table top games:
Have I done this? No.
Would I do this? In this game, where people are adventuring in dark and dirty environments, almost certainly not! Who wants to get jiggy surrounded by giant spiders?
What about in another situation? It all depends on the story. If the story calls for a character who uses their sexuality as a weapon be it male or female then yes I will and woe betide anyone who dares to challenge my motives.
You see, ultimately we all have our own agenda and opinions. Some think that men are better than women, some that women are better than men.
Some on the other hand think that we're all shit and you know what? Frankly I just want to tell an enjoyable story at the end of the day.
On that note, stay safe and with hope I'll see you Cryptside.
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley