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April 18th, 2006


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05:46 pm - Including Women Gamers
So, I recently noticed Matt Wilson's post of "A Feminist Gaming Manifesto" and (Manifesto, Part 2) (found via John Harper at Attacks of Opportunity). This I think followed from Vincent Bakers' "A problem for feminists/pro-feminists", which in turn fell out from a bunch of discussion of Macho-ness (starting I think with Tony Lower-Basch's "Are you Muy Macho?").

So Matt Wilson noted that the recent Forge Midwest gathering had 6 or 7 women out of 50 people. So I'm pondering this compared to other conventions I've been to recently. My local mainstream conventions (ConQuest and KublaCon) seem to have roughly 15% women. I'm preparing to go to Knutpunkt 2006, which I think has maybe fifty-something women out of 147 registered people (hard to tell with Finnish names). Last November I went to AmberCon NorthWest, which had 38 women out of 85 registered.

So, the question is, what drives this? I have a general essay on "Gender Disparity in RPGs", for example. However, it doesn't address the specific question about the differences among these communities. So there are fictional content differences, structural differences, and style differences.

Offhand, I'm not sure. Structurally, Amber games and most Forge games are more like mainstream tabletop games, though they have differences. They are generally played with a group of friends in a campaign. Forge games tend towards short but still multi-session campaigns. Larps, especially Scandanavian art larps, tend to be organized as events with a different social context. For example, the Parlor Larps series are always one-shots for 5 to 8 players. The relatively complex rules are a barrier to entry for traditional and to some degree Forge games. On the other hand, they also allow for more spread of ideas via publishing -- so I'm not sure of that.

In content, they're also pretty diverse. My Knutepunkt games last year were the most distant from traditional tabletop RPGs -- partying at a disco, a bunch of cats in a nightclub, a gameshow, and a group of child scouts lost in the woods. However, both Amber games and Forge games tend to have similar content to traditional tabletop. Amber is modern fantasy, while Forge games tend to follow common tabletop genres (Wild West, horror, superheroes, samurai, etc.).

So I think I go back to my hypothesis from the essay -- that there is no magic bullet in terms of structure or genre for the gender gap in RPGs. Rather, it is in the implementation. As Matt Wilson says in his manifesto: Consider both genders in your development. Too often, both writing and play of RPGs assume men and then belated handle women separately, via a sidebar or special handling.

However, this isn't even feminist, in my opinion. Matt Wilson's manifesto is more a "Include Women Gamers" manifesto, compared to the current default which is to largely ignore them. I think it's necessary to consider women before you can be feminist, but including women isn't by itself feminist. Actually feminist gaming would encourage non-normative statements about gender and gender roles. But that's another topic. It's a good and necessary first step to consider and include women.
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From:chgriffen
Date:April 19th, 2006 01:54 am (UTC)
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I'd like to add to the communities survey the fact that almost all of the online chat freeform RP communities I've participated in during the past 10 years, and there were many, had more female than male players.
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From:mcroft
Date:April 19th, 2006 02:36 am (UTC)
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This was going to be my second point, but chgriffen beat me to it. I was specifically thinking of some LJ games I know of, but the principle is the same.

However, I'm not sure how a game design community can successfully interact with a game play community that does not want designed games. It's not hostility, from what I've seen, it's more a sense of inapplicability.
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From:chgriffen
Date:April 19th, 2006 02:43 am (UTC)
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I'm working on a game design that addresses that issue.

Overall, freeform players believe they don't need rules to play. However, they have frequent points of frustration: lack of resolution and lack of focus being the main ones. Those can be addressed.

Overall, though, I think that Techniques rather than rules are helpful. For example, for a freeform game I GMed, I had the players write traits for their characters, with a number from 1 to 5 for each trait. The number was not the effectiveness of the trait, but how much the players would like to see that trait come up during play. That alone did wonders; I knew which player wanted to play out and kick ass in fights, which player wanted to be the one to stand up to authority, whether the player of the "hunted by the law" character wanted to actually have that come up or only be a backdrop, etc.
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From:mcroft
Date:April 19th, 2006 02:49 am (UTC)
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I like the Techniques idea. The play that I've seen described as 'good' in the group I'm thinking of was further explained as 'we really hit each other in the issues!'.

The idea of a Freeform Gamer's Toolkit (or whatever it ends up being) might help bridge that gap...
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From:chgriffen
Date:April 19th, 2006 02:51 am (UTC)
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That's a kickass name... I'll steal that. Thanks. :)
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From:mcroft
Date:April 19th, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)
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Interesting. I have three different responses, so I'm going to post three different comments.

I was at Ambercon US in Detroit last month and it ran 31% women (see Con Chair's Report, which was more male-centric than previous years.

None of my easy theories make sense. Ambercons frequently let you create your own character, so you don't have to worry about playing a character you don't fit with (or which is the wrong gender), but Dogs, Burning Wheel, and PTA (to name some Indie games I've played) would give you the same advantage. I wanted to suggest that there's a similar pickup but less retention, but that doesn't make much sense with the Forge Midwest gathering.
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From:mcroft
Date:April 19th, 2006 03:14 am (UTC)
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The 15% figure you mention is interesting; it's not very different from the "roughly 1 in 6" we expected at cons I was involved in during the late 1980s, just pre-Vampire. Once Vampire hit, we were asked to run it by our sponsor (the FLGS owner, based on what he was selling...). For those games, we got 33%, sometimes 50%, and the whole con went up to 20-25%. Only some of those new players slid over into other games, but some did. My wife's anecedotal experience is that there were more women in the hobby in the 1990s than now. She was 'the only woman at the table' then not so much, now it's back to that.
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From:immlass
Date:April 19th, 2006 12:52 pm (UTC)
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On consideration: When we play indie games? I'm likely to be the only woman. When we play Amber or Vampire? More women.

Strong exception: The Dogs group in Albany was 50-50, but that's an Amber-based group, considering we met all those people through playing Amber online.
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From:zdashamber
Date:April 19th, 2006 03:37 am (UTC)
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I think you've recognized that you have hold of the wrong end of the stick in looking at the in-game stuff. Genre, crunchiness: this is all in-game stuff. "Solve IC problems IC, OOC problems OOC." Gender disparity in gaming is an OOC problem, which has to be solved by OOC methods. That is, socially.

I'm putting together a post about that Physics study I mentioned, and specific actions that could be taken... I'll comment again when I've finished.
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From:heron61
Date:April 19th, 2006 06:29 am (UTC)
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I largely agree, but there are also games and game genres that are more likely to appeal to women. For example, while both men and women play both Traveller and Seven Seas, the % of Seven Seas buyers who are women is far higher and on-line communities related to Traveller have few women in them.
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From:zdashamber
Date:April 19th, 2006 08:39 am (UTC)
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Didn't Traveller come out in the 70s, while Seventh Sea came out in the oughts? Checking Wikipedia... Yeah, 1977 vs. 1999. I'd suggest that the people who form the social core of Traveller are a living fossil of that era, and likewise the people who form the social core of Seventh Sea. Thus, the Traveller people solidified their unquestioned ideas of who should be in a group in an era when gaming was really not very welcoming to women.
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From:heron61
Date:April 19th, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC)
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Fair enough. However, sales figures also indicate (as I mentioned in another post on this thread) that some genres draw considerably more female customers than is average for RPGs. Given that this is also true with literary genres, this is hardly surprising. Obviously none of this is a hard and fast rule, but it's also clear that Vampire drew a lot of women into gaming and that women are the primary consumers of pirate and western RPGs and of no other RPG genres that I know of. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that historically (and in some cases this continues today) many literary genres and subgenres have been deliberately gendered. Until the 1970s SF was specifically and deliberately marketed at boys and young male adults. While this clearly didn't mean that women did not read SF, there were a lot more men reading it back then. Changes in the way SF is marketed has been a significant factor in changing this balance (at minimum, the fact that female SF authors have largely stopped using male or androgynous pseudonyms on SF books covers has definitely helped). Given that IME, interest in a specific genre of roleplaying comes largely from an interest in the literary genre (ie someone is unlikely to be interested in playing a horror game if they actively avoid horror literature) it seems unsurprising to me that genre has an impact on such things.

On a related note, I am quite curious if the inclusive and non-offensive nature of WOTC's D&D art has drawn more women into buying and playing D20 (or more accurately, driven off fewer women) than AD&D art, which featured far too many examples of female warriors in bondage gear that was masquerading as armor. However, I had no data about that, and I'm not at all certain that this data exists in an accessible form.

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From:jhkimrpg
Date:April 19th, 2006 09:15 pm (UTC)
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I don't have any hard statistics on this among novels, but the fantasy genre has generally been popular with women. According to film genre statistics (in Films Preferences by Race, Age, and Gender), fantasy films are more popular among women than men, whereas science fiction is more popular among men than women.

So I don't think it's the genre per se. I'm sure there's an influence in how the genre is approached (like the style of leather armor :-), but as Madeline says there are social factors which may be more important.
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From:heron61
Date:April 19th, 2006 09:46 pm (UTC)
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I completely agree. However, I also think that these same social factors have a great influence on both literary or gaming genres. For example, the settings of most fantasy games (with a few notable exceptions like Exalted, Blue Rose, and a few of the more anime-inspired fantasy settings) are clearly inspired by the fantasy novels of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and (early) 1970s, where fantasy was a very different genre than it is today - one which (like the SF of the day) was deliberately marketed at boys and young men (to the extent that having a female protagonist was quite literally a difficult thing to sell editors on back then).

In short, I don't think there's anything at all innate about gender and genre, but more that genre is strongly influenced by historical considerations involving both marketing and expectations.
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From:zdashamber
Date:April 20th, 2006 08:07 am (UTC)
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I definitely agree with you about genre and the historicity of gender relations to it. If you're right about western-genre RPGs having a female-enriched player group, it'd be fascinating to figure out how that came about--it's my impression that the Western genre was heavily directed towards men.
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From:jhkimrpg
Date:April 19th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC)
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Well, I think that the contents of game books and games does have an influence on who plays. However, they may not be the biggest influence.

So, to address your good point, let me consider more out-of-character factors here.

Both AmberCon NorthWest and Knutepunkt had easier access to alcohol than most gaming conventions than the mainstream conventions I'd been to. I think they're both organized around more time being spent hanging around and partying. Somehow there's more feeling of closeness for both of them. There were ceremonies at the beginning with many (if not most) participants present in both cases.
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From:immlass
Date:April 19th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)
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Datum: I would never have attended an Ambercon without strong online links to a play group I knew would attend and a sense of community with the players I already knew. While the booze wasn't an attraction in and of itself, the social nature of the con was.
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From:heron61
Date:April 19th, 2006 06:23 am (UTC)
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One other interesting pit of data from the producer of Seven Seas and the other (mostly D20) pirate/swashbuckling high-seas games and supplement is that women are their primary customer base. From all the data the producers can find (convention sales, on-line sales, etc... women make up around 2/3 of the people who buy them, so RPG genres are very definitely gendered.

IIRC, I think that Deadlands is similarly mostly bought by women, but I'm not certain I'm remembering that correctly.
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From:heron61
Date:April 19th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC)
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I have no idea how much Ron Edwards' attitudes affect the balance of people attending Forge cons, but his comment in one of Vince's post about gender in gaming (post #14) is fairly disturbing and might well have some impact on the numbers of women attending.
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From:immlass
Date:April 19th, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)
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I was considering saying something about attitudes in the Forge community.

The Forge is a USENET-style community. My experience is that it takes a specific personality type to be comfortable in such communities, and while it's not exclusively a male personality--I, for one, used to do pretty well in them--there are more men than women who have it. It doesn't surprise me that the Forge drew a more strongly male audience than an Ambercon does. (The Amber mailing list suffers some of the same problems, but there are other fora for Amber players.)
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From:zdashamber
Date:April 19th, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC)
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It's been my experience that mailing lists are in general more egalitarian than forums. It's a mechanical thing--on a forum, for example, there's the ability to set up a private section where the ruling clique can spread anonymous lies about people behind their backs. On a mailing list, though, everything goes to everybody.

Forums where the top posters are listed, or where post counts are numbered on every post, have a greater danger of the voices of those posters seeming more authoritative and becoming normative; I'd agree that the Forge suffers from that when it comes to including women gamers.
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From:heron61
Date:April 22nd, 2006 06:36 am (UTC)
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Format definitely makes a difference, which is yet another reason to mourn the demise of rec.games.frp.advocacy as the primary online RPG theory forum, since usenet was one of the most egalitarian formats the net has ever had. Of course, the downside of that very egalitarianism was that it was impossible to limit offensive or deeply annoying behavior w/o creating a moderated version of a newsgroup.
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From:badgerbag
Date:April 22nd, 2006 06:29 am (UTC)
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I knew exactly which comment you meant without having to look... Yes, quite disturbing to see it laid right out like that, though he's said it before. It sums it all up nicely in a nutshell.

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From:alephnul
Date:April 20th, 2006 07:19 am (UTC)
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Also, Indie/Forgist game theory is frequently actively hostile towards the major gaming trends that are less overwhelmingly male: it is frequently hostile towards all freeform, hostile towards immersive, hostile towards LARP, and particularly hostile towards Vampire. While it is also frequently hostile virtually every other form of non-Forgist gaming as well, it is more likely to be respectful towards old school D&D (which is considered to have done what it claimed it would do) and towards ADDe3 (or however that is anacronym'd) which is viewed as good design (not Nar).

So it is not entirely surprising that a school of thought that (generally) feels it has nothing to learn from the games played by the majority of women gamers is not a huge draw for women gamers. Someone coming from having enjoyed Vampire or LARPing or online freeform (or face to face freeform) or heavily immersive TT is likely to look at Forgist theory (and games) with puzzlement. That player is much more likely to be a woman than a player coming from an old-school D&D background.
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From:heron61
Date:April 22nd, 2006 06:47 am (UTC)
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Definitely excellent points, some of which I'd not considered before. Upon reflection it does seem that part of the problem is that the Forge is often most hostile to those games that women are most likely to have played or at least those games that are most likely to have gotten women into gaming.

Of course, one of the things that is both interesting and amusing about this is that far more people (the vast majority of whom are, IME at least, women) are happily roleplaying in on-line FF (typically media-derived) roleplaying message boards, chat rooms, and yahoo groups (such as the many hundreds of such games for Buffy, Star Wars, and almost any other popular TV show or movie you can name) than have every played tabletop RPGs, the Forge, or any of the issues we are talking about. If you include those people as role-playing gamers then I think that there are more women than men who roleplay, they just exist in a community that is largely (but not exclusively) separate from the tabletop RPG community.
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From:zdashamber
Date:April 20th, 2006 08:00 am (UTC)
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Bwa-ha! I finished the massive "specifics of what can be done to fix the problem" post!

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