Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Take on Gender Differences in D&D, Part 3

Real life has been eating my energy for gaming and blogging, unfortunately. I'm going to be away from internet access for much of March, so that should cut down on my blogging as well. I put my Skype campaign on indefinite hold, which was sad, as it's been going since 2010. Hopefully I can pick it up again some time in April, with much more prep done.

Anyway, my momentum's been lost for this series, but I'm going to finish it out. First, as promised, two more points about gender differences in D&D:

Point 1: We can't seem to agree about which attribute scores to mess with. Strength seems to be something people usually agree on, but there are myriads of opinions about just about everything else (well, except for Intelligence; at least everyone seems to agree to leave that one alone). Are women more Dextrous or less dextrous than men? Do they have better Constitutions than men or worse? What about Charisma? And what is Charisma? As the definitions of Charisma have changed from Old School to New, has the applicability of Charisma bonuses based on gender changed? And should female characters receive a bonus to Wisdom, what with women's intuition and their generally higher emotional intelligence?

As you can see, this is all very confusing, and there's no way we'll reach any kind of broad consensus among gamers who are open to gender-differentiated attribute scores. What does that mean? I think it means that there's no point in trying to put forward a universal rule of gender-differentiated attribute bonuses. Do what the people sitting around your table think makes sense (within the limits already described earlier, namely, don't send the message that women aren't welcome at your table).

Point 2: One issue that Brendan pointed out in the comments to my last post in this series is that it's still sending a message to women that they are "other" or at least not normal when male characters roll 3d6 six times, straight down the line while female characters get their attributes tweaked.

My solution to that is simple: use only bonuses or penalties. Let's say, for the sake of simplicity and argument, that we decide that male characters should have a Strength advantage over female characters and female characters should have a Constitution advantage over male characters. Instead of giving female characters a +1 to CON and a -1 to STR, give female characters a -1 to STR and male characters as -1 to CON, or, the other way around, give female characters a +1 to CON and male characters a +1 to STR. Both genders get tweaked; neither gender is the mechanical default.

Finally, I promised to describe a situation in which you shouldn't ever use gender-differentiated attribute scores at your table. That situation is simply this: it makes one or more of your players uncomfortable.

See, sending messages is a complex thing. It isn't enough to simply intend well and put work into a message; the sender isn't the only variable when it comes to messages. There is also the receiver of the message, something the sender can't control.

In certain parts of the world, like the US, certain hand gestures are congratulatory or happy or simply signify greeting. The "thumbs up," the "ok" sign and the "peace" sign, especially, for this argument, with the back of the hand facing the recipient, all are happy, congenial ways to shape your fingers and gesture at someone where I currently live; all of those gestures are liable to get you punched out in other areas of the world. Sometimes it's a good idea to learn what gestures mean to your recipients before you gesture, and sometimes it's an even better idea to just leave well enough alone and keep your hands in your pockets, because you'll hurt someone's feelings and it's just not worth it.

It's possible to talk this kind of thing out with everyone in your gaming group, and discuss gender politics at length and share all our hang-ups about gender and how this or that rules tweak makes us feel as a person, as a man, as a woman. It's probably a really healthy conversation to have, actually, except that it's around a gaming table.

See, gaming is, at least the way I play, supposed to be generally lighthearted fun, an escape. While intimate, vulnerable and safe discussions about gender political theory, practice and our daily lives are great, I don't think that gaming should be sparking them on a regular basis. That would both cheapen the very valuable discussions and weigh down the airy gossamer fantasy that gaming is. Have those discussions start because of something else, something that isn't trivial and something that isn't one person imposing rules on others.

If someone at your table doesn't want gender-differentiated attribute score modifiers because of their personal hang-ups and hurts and feelings about gender, gaming isn't the time to work through them. Just go back to rolling 3d6 down the line, or however you roll in your games. It isn't worth it; just stick your hands in your pockets, don't make any well-intentioned hand gestures and enjoy yourselves together around a gaming table for a few hours.