She’s a girl, give her the healer char

The title of this post is a line I — and my female gamer friends — heard many a time in the 80s and 90s in the context of tabletop RPGs, at least the “PUG-style” ones you’d get at conventions. Rivs said something similar today, and after I shredded him to bits in my comments (not really, I just like to sound more formidable than I really am) it occurred to me that there’s post material in that.

This isn’t … quite … a post on gender issues in gaming. At least I’ll pretend it isn’t so you male gamers don’t go all defensive on me and tell  me it’s natural that games should assume maleness in all things, and give me lots of reasons why that’s so and why it’s ok for that to be so.  Yes, I’m pulling your collective leg, mostly.

girlygirlAnyway, here’s what did intrigue me this morning — the generally accepted notion that “women prefer to play healer-types in online games.” I was initially going to refute that resoundingly, because most of my characters tend to be DPS types and always have been: my favourite AD&D characters were rangers, rogues, and pallies (more for the undead smiting than for the healing, and for the possibilities inherent in playing ridiculously self-righteous characters in the face of more morally ambiguous situations), and it’s a trend I’ve kept up through half a dozen other RPGs and now over half a dozen MMOs. When I play online, the two things I prefer are hitting things hard and hearing the snicker-snack of very sharp blades; arrows are nice too.

However, I do play healers too, and I have come to enjoy playing them, and it’s actually fairly well established that women do seem to prefer playing healers — or rather, I suspect, cooperative/supporting characters. Healers just happen to be what the holy trinity-type games tend to offer up by way of cooperative roles.

So here’s what I’m wondering. Is that because we women are hardwired to be nurturing, because we women just don’t have what it takes to be nasty like men (grr! argh!)… or because several millennia of civilisation tells us that what we really want to do is raise kids and take care of men?

The nature vs nurture debate is one that utterly fascinates me, partly because in most cases it doesn’t have an unambiguous answer, and I like ambiguity. Are serial killers born, or made, or both? Are women-as-healers born, or made, or both? Sure, those questions are wildly different from each other in seriousness, but they have the same roots.

Personally, I don’t expect to ever get a definitive answer. I know plenty of hard-hitting women and I know plenty of men who play healers in games, often a lot better than I ever could. Maybe the real question is: should we really reduce people and playstyles to a set of marketing demographics? Demographics have their uses (to marketers), but as soon as you focus down past the basic data and look at real people, it seems to fall apart.

I don’t like to be pigeonholed. That’s probably what it comes down to. So next time you assume that the healer has to be a “girl” (don’t even get me started on that term, boys), and the next time I assume that the trash-talking hulking fighter has to be a boy, maybe we should stop and think. Challenging one’s own assumptions is healthy.

(Edited with link, just for the ChannelMassive boys. 😉 LrnUrRefs! Sheesh!) I’m not a number, I am a free woman!