Building character #2: Sex and Sexuality

I recently stumbled upon a blog post on the topic of Sex and Sexuality in pen and paper gaming. I found some of the considerations intriguing. When I create characters, I rarely put any emphasis or thought into their sexuality and only choose a gender based on aesthetics. Although the overwhelming majority of my characters have been male. I will not go into much detail about inclusiveness (I support it) and the need to do so. To summarize, I’d actually like to have a female player (or more) in any games I’m involved with because it allows for a different perspective and contribution to the role-playing experience.

The Challenge

That said, the stereotype of lonely gamers is not without warrant. I would attribute this to poor social skills and low self-esteem but also a very elitist mentality which can turn off women or “outsiders” from joining the hobby. At our table, we have one other major issue though. One of our regulars has an obsession with women with enormous breasts. Now at face value this doesn’t really sound too problematic. We all have our physical preferences in a partner. However, allow me to explain. Throughout our 17 years or so of gaming together, we’ve noticed this player only creates 2 types of characters: the ends justify the means brutal [male] character or the slut with cartoonishly gigantic tits who tries to seduce anything or anyone (seriously, he wanted to seduce a centaur in one campaign under the assumption it was hung like a horse).

[Insert image here]

This makes certain players, myself included, very uncomfortable at the table. On the one hand, his character tries to seduce our own which is awkward for most. Second, his characterization of women falls dangerously close to objectifying them at best, and a misogynistic caricature at worst. Now, before you ask why do we still play with him, I’ll also come to his defense. Outside of gaming, he’s a very progressive individual and a really nice and generous guy. So long as one avoids the topic of sex and sexuality. He supports equal rights while occasionally falling prey to things like victim blaming (i.e. you shouldn’t wear revealing clothing if you don’t want to attract attention, etc).

Now, are there promiscuous women in the world? Of course. However, the issue comes where the characters in this case are only motivated by sex or pure unfettered hedonism. Now, as a one off, this can be seen as a “blip” or just wanting to experiment a concept. But seeing this NEARLY. EVERY. SINGLE. GAME. FOR. 17. YEARS. has become tiring and also occasionally offensive to my sensibilities. His argument is he never gets to experience what he is looking for with the character archetype. A legitimate complaint, except it neglects to consider the other members of the group. After so long, it is clear we will not pursue the experience he’s looking for. Now, I’ve found techniques to placate him by brushing off, “fading to black” or summarizing what happens and move on. However, this does not dissuade his behaviour.

Seduction

On a side note, the other fellow game master in our group recently rejoiced when the player stated he would stop making female characters in his campaigns because the former didn’t understand seduction. This did not dissuade the player at the next opportunity however. I personally had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I found that statement ironically laughable but then realized I’d be the one who would have these characters come back over and over again in my games.

You see, the player himself doesn’t understand seduction beyond the physical. Often his approach in any game is to create characters whose stats represent physical attractiveness. In a sense, his portrayal of the character is that looks are enough to not only create attraction, but for the character’s targets to become blithering idiots willing to do anything for sex… after it is given freely. Now, one can view sex as a form of commodity. However, when given freely it devalues the gratification. So if you later offer the promise of sex in exchange of getting what you want, you lose leverage (and interest) in the negotiations. You see, these characters and the player think themselves manipulative without the irony of say a Cersei Lannister who thinks she is, but in reality isn’t.

Now, persons of power will attract members of the opposite sex by virtue of their social status regardless of appearance. High status individuals will have leverage from the get go because they likely possess what the other person wants. In this case, the character is offering repeat sex (already devalued because the novelty has worn off), and wants the high status person to more or less give up their own goals, assets, whatever to the person. This is not how seduction works. You have to flirt, build attraction, entice to make the person feel an overwhelming desire for sex with the seducer. A fundamental case of putting the cart before the horse.

The other way to deal with this as a fellow player in a game, is to create characters who wouldn’t be compatible with his. Women (although all his female characters are also bisexual) and other races when applicable. I’ve considered creating a homosexual male character as well. Although, I would make it painfully obvious it is a character who simply happens to be gay and not a “gay character”. The distinction is important.

LGBT

It is all too easy to make a male “gay character” flamboyant or effeminate. The reverse of the “butch lesbian” also falls in this camp. This is a matter of insensitivity or maturity because many gamers aren’t necessarily exposed to those communities. In fact, the crossover to video games and its community is strong and the words “gay” or “faggot” as derogatory are casually thrown about. While my table doesn’t have any LGBT players as far as I know, there is a sense of portraying such characters as a source of mockery. Something, I have been guilty of in the past. Surprisingly, in our Fading Suns game, we recently had the inclusion of a lesbian NPC. A very minor character, she wasn’t portrayed as a joke but was hitting on my character at a party. My character respectfully declined but managed to set her up with the female slut of our party for a one night stand. However, at the same time the NPC was a one-note character. Her only described characteristic was being a lesbian.

Ideally, a character’s sexuality shouldn’t have any bearing on others’ opinion but that is a naive position to hold. If a character is openly gay, other characters who are gay might look to the person as a potential partner or someone who sympathizes with them. Just like how a heterosexual male might approach a female who he is physically attracted to compared to meeting a random guy. Regardless of the situation, each situation requires a certain maturity but more so for the homosexual because of the history of prejudice. Bioware has been very inclusive in including romantic interests in their games across a spectrum. I recommend anyone to take a look at how it is treated there.

In our society, heterosexual relationships are seen as “normal”. There are rarely any issues where this comes up as problematic. Although there can certainly be cases of sexism, power dynamics, abuse or sexual assault involved. I find the latter two are often utilized as a way to show a character’s vileness where the first two are more subtle and often ignored.

SEX

As for sex itself, this all depends on maturity but also comfort in one own’s sexual identity. I am a heterosexual male, so will try to avoid coming off as talking down to the minority or repressed. North American culture is very sexually conservative in comparison to say Europe. When not being puritanical, it is often depicted as salacious or gratuitous in media. One need but look to HBO and its treatment of the subject as a perfect example. Even a channel which does not shy away from sex, it is often done in poor taste. Their scenes will include [female] nudity for no reason whatsoever. Perhaps it is my own views of sex, but I see it as something very personal and intimate. Such scenes turn me off both literally and figuratively because of the presentation. There is nothing wrong with casual sex and if others are into it, more power to them. I just don’t derive the same fulfillment from the experience.

Now as for gaming, because of that personal nature I ascribe to the act, I do feel discomfort in expressing it in front of others. I think this is something others might feel too. There’s also mental imagery. It can be hard to disassociate the player from the character visually. So if a player described a character while performing sex, for others they would be picturing the player during the act. This can lead to breaking boundaries between individuals.

Suggestions

As a game master/dungeon master/storyteller/whatever, I do try to imply to my players what sort of campaign I want to run so they can create characters accordingly. This creates and manages expectations among the players. As adults, sex will often be a topic as we are “more mature” than when we were teens. Unfortunately, there are some who don’t take the hint, and in the future I will flat out define the boundaries of my DM style but also allow the players to partake in a dialogue. For the most part, I think my table would be happy to do away with much of it. I see the way the other players tend to roll their eyes whenever the “problem player” acts (or attempts to) out his sexual fantasies.

As a player, I will ask the game master what he is looking to accomplish in his game. Does he/she want to tell a story? What style of campaign? What are the themes to be explored? These are questions which will help define your expectations and realize what best suits the campaign and table. This avoids the topic of sex and sexuality becoming an issue at the table; both if it plays an important part or is not included.

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