So, March 8th was International Women’s Day. I suppose this makes me late on the uptake, but I wanted to make sure I was doing this post justice. Fair warning, this post is as much a commentary on the expectations of women in western society as it is on gaming. Don’t worry, I don’t have any intention of turning my blog into a soap box for issues in geek culture, or the wider world, but I couldn’t pass over this topic and ignore it.
Last week’s piece, and the one coming up next week are both pieces that offer snapshots into the thoughts and emotions of important NPCs in Color of Dreams. Both are female. At first, I thought it was just coincidence, or an artifact that I am co-GMing CoD and we tend to split NPCs along gender lines. But it got me thinking about my other games, and which NPCs matter the most in them.
The movers and shakers in my worlds are women. In Hope’s Vangaurd, Terri Gonzalez was the head of the Academy and the most visible NPC. By the end of the campaign, a majority of the villains in that game were female. In Seven Deadly Virtues, the leader of the house is female, and she controls pretty much everything – or at least tries to.
First I thought this heavy bias shouldn’t be surprising. After all, I identify as female. But to close the investigation there is to imply that no matter how different two women, they are all more similar to each other than any woman is to a someone of another gender. And that does a disservice to all genders.
Yet there is a grain of truth not to be abandoned here. I am far more confident creating a female character than a male character. I know what makes female characters compelling to me, both in psyche and action. I have far more confidence in their believably. So does everyone else. People are far less likely to question the validity of my female NPCs because as a woman, I’m supposed to know how other women think and act. At worst, inconsistencies can be brushed away as the character being irrational, just like real women. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth though. I don’t like the idea that I write mostly female NPCs because flaws in their believe-ability can be waved away like flaws in their personality as being inherent to their gender.
I think the real answer is best highlighted in reversing the question. Why not? Why shouldn’t I create worlds where women are powerful? Why shouldn’t we tell stories that revolve around women as both heroes and villains? And of course, the answer is: no reason.
Science fiction and fantasy have long been genres where strong female protagonists are welcome. If it makes gamers uncomfortable or unhappy to play in worlds where women dominate, whether in political power, social power, or just plain screen time, then they can take their time elsewhere. My characters may spend time apologizing for existing (because it is in their personality), but I will not. If GMs have god-like power over their worlds, then I am a God that builds in her own image. I fill my worlds with women of crucial import to the story, be they the beggars on the street, or the president in the oval office. And through my games – and games from many other people who choose to write important female characters – perhaps we can influence perceptions. Perhaps we can build a world where equality is a fact of life, not a concept to be explored in games due to it’s novelty.