jhkimrpg (jhkimrpg) wrote,

On Gender Disparity in RPGs

There has been some recent controversy over gender and gaming, bringing up the spectre of evolutionary psychology again that I last talked about in 2006 commentary on an article by Chris Crawford.

Edit: I wrote more on my issues with evolutionary psychology in general in a post on my personal LJ.

Sirriamnis of Geek Girls Rule noted about a recent panel discussion on gender in a post on "Gamestorm 2008", saying,
Then we attended a panel called "Why does gaming mostly appeal to guys?" The title of which we took exception to. Fortunately all of the panelists felt this way as well. However, if I have to hear one more guy talk about how girls play with Barbies until they're ready for something more, I am going to kick him in the shins. We kind of took over, explaining that girls had been more or less excluded from gaming for years. Nearly every woman there had a story about not being able to game when she first wanted to because she had been told that girls didn't game or couldn't game.

robin_d_laws' posted on the same panel "Gamestorm Day 4", where he described the panel as:
The noon "Why does gaming appeal mostly to guys?" seminar began with a thorough rejection of the premise and moved on to a justifiably optimistic take on the hobby's slow yet inexorable march toward gender parity. This was one of those panels where if anything there were too many good points being made by too many interesting people. My take on the gender and gaming issue is, in a nutshell, that we're seeing a massive cultural shift where the geeks are inheriting the earth, and that the population of gaming-ready girls and women is growing as nerdly activities become ever more mainstream. Overall response from the audience provided perhaps the most hopeful take on the subject than I've seen at any con -- including Finland, where they've pretty much achieved gender parity. This allowed the group to move on to the thornier topic of ethnic and class divisions in America, and what gaming could to do bring in the groups in those categories it currently has little truck with.

Jonathan Tweet (co-author of Ars Magica and D&D 3rd Edition) then posted a response on his blog at WotC entitled "gender and gaming", saying,
Roleplaying, as currently construed, appeals disproportionately to guys because it's mostly about the things that men evolved to enjoy: hunting and warfare. It's about a group assembling to undertake (imaginary) risks for glory and dominance. It's the same reason that team sports, such as basketball, are more male, whereas women compete to be judged beautiful and worthy (ice skating, gymnastics). TCGs are even more male-oriented than RPGs as they're about direct conflict with little to no story or personality. When I was in Finland 5 years ago, the TCG players were typified as guys without girlfriends. LARPing has more female appeal because it's more about personalities, relationships, clothing, and make-up. Finally, the quality of gamer men is a factor. A Finnish gamer I met said she got into gaming as a way to meet good-looking guys. The US gaming scene has less to offer along those lines.
This was responded to in two Astrid's Parlor threads, first "Jonathan Tweet on Gender and Gaming" (now locked) and later "Gender Blog Discussion".

First of all, I'd like to explain why I am annoyed by this and what difference I think it makes. The evolutionary explanation is that the D&D gender disparity is "natural" for how RPGs are constructed. If that is accepted among the set of people that care about the gender disparity in RPGs, it has a couple effects.

1) In practical terms, it encourages focusing on ways to construe role-playing completely differently -- i.e. RPGs about completely different subjects, or very different storytelling-focused systems like Everway -- as opposed to addressing issues like having a woman with a straining bodice on the cover. I feel that presenting . For example, Werewolf: The Apocalypse is very much explicitly about taking risks and adventure for glory -- explicitly so. However, my experience is that it has been popular with women.

2) Presenting the difference as essential suggests that to make games appealing to women, they must be less appealing to men. I don't believe this is true. It is interesting that Tweet cites Finland as achieving gender parity, because it seems to me that in Finland -- not only is there more gender parity, but gaming in general is relatively more popular than in the U.S. I suspect that bringing more women into the hobby could make the hobby more popular with men.

3) It suggests that women tend to not be interested in competitive games such as trading card games, requiring more "story and personality". While I don't have any hard numbers on this, my experience is that more abstract boardgames and card games have more female participation than tabletop role-playing games and wargames.

I also take issue with the evolutionary logic used, similar to my issues with Chris Crawford's article. I think they're a bit of a side-track from the gaming issues, though, so I'm not going to detail them here. (cf. my evolutionary psychology post on my personal LJ.)
Tags: feminism
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