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April 15th, 2008

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03:57 pm - 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.)

(80 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 01:04 am (UTC)
Among other things, the emphasis on evolutionary justifications takes the whole thing into a realm that publishers, authors, artists, layout people, and the like can't do anything about. That's dumb.

Geoff Grabowski has told this story in public, I know: At one of the cons before Exalted's schedule debut, he was chatting with varioud industry folks and someone in WotC's production department insisted that you just couldn't put anything but a heroic white guy or at most a statuesque unrealistically posed and clad white woman as the central figure on a cover, because gamers would never buy it. Exalted 1st edition features a black woman front and center because Geoff felt confident this was nonsense and pushed WW production to make it happen. It did, and the game obviously has a substantial female fanbase, just as Werewolf does.

To me, "evolution nyuk nyuk" is basically a "get out of my responsibilities free" card in cases like this. There's so much we can do on a practical to make games more appealing - and, just as crucially, less off-putting, not always the same thing - to wider audiences that I don't think any of us is in the slightest position to talk about deeper hidden truths. Maybe after 20 years of serious effort at weeding out unnecessary alienating clap-trap, but not now.

[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 01:23 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 01:26 am (UTC)
Everway is the game that made me excited about games. 3rd edition made me not ashamed to follow my bliss and play bards. Jonathan Tweet, it seems, every time he opens his mouth, makes me want to shove my dice bag in it. With the greatest of respect for his creations, mind you, but evo-psych just-so stories =/= creator of Everway in my head and makes me that much more irritated than if someone whose work I respected less said that above foolishness.

Granted, I seem to remember him saying other things that made me wince and want to leave D4s where he might walk barefoot.
[User Picture]
Date:May 31st, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)

Everway & 3rd

"With the greatest of respect for his creations, mind you, but evo-psych just-so stories =/= creator of Everway in my head and makes me that much more irritated than if someone whose work I respected less said that above foolishness."

I just love defying people's expectations and being hard to categorize. It's probably too much to hope that my example gets people to re-think the whole "ev psych = hate speech" equation.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
Not to mention women's basketball is huge... and has been since the very beginning of that sport.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 04:05 am (UTC)
I'd like to see Mr. Tweet go up against a woman rugby player, and then we'll see how his evolutionary theories play out.


Every hobby has at least one.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 09:33 am (UTC)
I hate to go look at the article, because when you wrote "evolutionary" the first thing I thought of was how rpgs evolved, rather than how people evolved.

The article's nonsense, of course. But the evolution of rpgs might give us a clue. They began with wargames, and those are male-dominated. And what you find is that rpg groups are often continuous but with changing membership. If a group begins dominated by boys, or girls, or Jews or whatever, it's likely to stay so dominated, even if its membership changes over the years.

I mean, who'd want to be the only boy in a group of girls, or the only girl in a group of boys, or the only goy in a group of Jews? It puts you off, and takes quite a strong person to ignore it all.

So it started male-dominated, and during the evolution of rpgs has tended to stay that way.

But if you're starting a fresh game group with all new players, it's not hard to get women to give it a go at all, in my experience. It's only hard to get one woman to join a group of 3-5 men - particular if some of the men are stereotypical quite fat/skinny, badly-dressed boys. But start up a group of n00bs and it's easy.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
I actually have an all female gaming group, because several were new to it, and didn't feel comfortable gaming with the male gamers they knew.

IT IS AWESOME!!!! There are 8 of us (including me) and we've played a year long Victorian Vampire arc that got quite bloody and horrific, and we're starting up Unhallowed Metropolis. Next on the agenda, one of the other girls wants to co-run a BPRD game.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 01:43 pm (UTC)
I'll note that one of the things that's been bothering me, specifically in relation to Everway, is that Everway explicitly addressed the straining bodice issue as well as construing roleplaying differently. The opposition suggested by Tweet's recent comments wasn't always part of his thinking on this.

This in no way excuses, moderates, or forgives his evolutionary psychology stuff.
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
Tweet's rants on his website indicate that as he's gotten older, he's changed his thinking on things and has apparently become a lot more conservative.

He must be the universe's karmic balance for me -- I started out fairly moderate-to-conservative.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
The thing that actually upsets me the most about this is that we KNOW from controlled studies that just saying this stuff has a significant impact on people's participation. There was a great study on women in math that illustrates this. Both groups of subjects (there were men and women in each group) were told about women's disproportionately low participation in mathematics. One group was given a biological explanation, and the other group was given a social explanation. The women given the biological explanation performed far below the men in their group; the women given the social explanation performed as well as the men did. So just saying "You can change this" actually changes people's behaviors and demonstrated abilities.

Attributing something to biology is NOT a neutral choice. It is not about "sharing the facts" or "sharing my ideas." It actually DIRECTLY CHANGES HOW PEOPLE ACT. What Jonathan Tweet is saying is actively reinforcing the status quo - at a level below the conscious that we can't access or refute. Fucking infuriating.
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
Here is something we were told in Sociology:
It's not saying something is biological that is the problem, but what social issues/meanings you put on it*.

Do note, that I am way more biologist in my leanings than our poor Sociology TA, we did argue a lot about the issue.

* Edit, and from what we talked about, you're not angry about the meanings he put on it, but what other people can do with what he said, which I think is not entirely, well, "Fair"? Heh. And no, the meanings that can be put on it are not "fair" either.

Edited at 2008-04-16 08:44 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:April 16th, 2008 08:57 pm (UTC)
DoveArrow said on the original blog post, something that I feel I must respond to:
Also, even if young boys weren't actively excluding the young women in their lives from the game, there might have been other cultural factors at work. For example, many games take place at friend's houses during sleepovers over the weekend. How many women do you know that are allowed to sleep over at a boy's house for the weekend when they were young?

Games were played over the weekend, at sleepovers, so boys didn't invite girls, but likewise, girls wouldn't have invited boys, so it doesn't push for boys over girls, it pushes for them playing in a same-sex environment, which could just as easily have been that of girls' majority, or parity, just apart.
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
Girls haven't evolved the sleepover gene.
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2008 04:10 am (UTC)
Ugh, I made the mistake of going and reading the comments on the various threads.

Chlorine. The gene pool needs more chlorine.
Date:April 24th, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)

What makes tabletop different?

Current data on computer gaming demographics, including WoW in particular, indicate that in many specific segments women outnumber men. In WoW, adult women are a larger segment than teenage boys, which is counter to the average person's assumption about WoW affiliation.

So it's not like "girlz is scared of orcs" or "women don't like that fantasy stuff." This leads us to look at the social dynamics of gaming pretty strongly.

My theory - I don't know many people who have entered tabletop gaming at an advanced age - it tends to be something you started when you were somewhere around junior high school age and then, sometimes intermittently, did over time from there. At these ages the genders frequently don't mix in a normal cooperative sense, with pressure to "hang out" with your own sex and interaction with the other is more highly scripted and restricted than later in life. Since gaming is a social exercise, this might explain why groups would stay largely same-gender, and since gaming is largely taught instead of learned "from the book" you can see how their might be a high degree of longitudinal consistency.

When gaming groups I've been in have made an effort to invite women as new players, I haven't found them to be less receptive on average. Of course everyone's personal experience isn't wide-ranging enough to be more than anecdotal, but there it is.

More anecdote - I have a five year old daughter, who really likes gaming so far! She sees me do it and then always wants to come with me to gaming, to "play dice" with me at home... But I'm already having to combat crap she gets from school, where she has started coming home and asking me "is that a boy game or a girl game?" (Apparently some of the boys have huge Pokemon card collections already; some like to share and discuss it but some insist already it's a "boy game.") She likes WoW too, which she refers to as "playing dwarf." Did you know a "dondon" is a pink type of murloc that likes to steal chalk? That's her story anyway. And in terms of the violent aspect, she's always encouraging me to "go over and kill that guy!"

Date:April 24th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)

Re: What makes tabletop different?

I figured, I know a woman! Let's ask the ex-wife.

"So, why do you think fewer women than men roleplay?"

"Well, there's the ogling and the haranguing and the folderol... Some women are into that I guess..."

"I can see that in terms of joining a largely male gaming group. But I started roleplaying by buying a game I saw in a store and reading it and getting friends to play. Why do fewer women do that?"

"Are you kidding? Have you ever been in a game store? They're the absolute worst of the batch. It was hard enough to get my comics fix when I was into comics, you'd go in and ten guys would be staring at you like you were an intruder."

And then it struck me - we had a female gamer join our group in Memphis. She was a typical Dallas girl, little black dress and heels on the weekends, high maintenance with little dog, the whole deal - but she discovered gaming ang liked it! Then, one day, we were coming back from margaritas and stopped into the local gaming store. Shortly, she said "I'm... going to wait outside till y'all are done." The leering and weirdness drove her right out the door.

It may be less a barrier to entry at the gaming group level and more a barrier to entry at the getting the games level. Now that RPGs are stocked at B&N or can be purchased more readily over the Internet, we can see a reverse, and the large female contingent on WoW probably proves that out. They don't have to "brave the freaks" for that!
[User Picture]
Date:May 3rd, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC)

am I welcome to join?

Would I be welcome to join this conversation if I promise to be nice? Or do you think that's just asking for trouble?

-Jonathan Tweet
[User Picture]
Date:June 7th, 2008 05:12 am (UTC)
Some years back, I went to a panel on Women and Gaming at Arisia. agrumer asked if we weren't beyond that sort of thing -- I forget his exact words, but it was basically, "Is there anything new here?"

Now, I've been very lucky in my experiences, but my answer was, "When I stop hearing stories about how the male gm or the male players decided to have their (male) N/PCs try to rape the female player's (female) PC, then maybe we will have nothing more say."

I guess I need to add some more conditions. One of these is, "When I don't have to keep reminding people at the table every time they refer to my male PC as "she" that I am playing a guy."

You understand, I hope, that the people referring to the male PC as "she" are not bad people. They are not sexist. They are just confused. This is a situation that happens at convention games, which also means that they are often sleep deprived. But, it is annoying.

The time I was most annoyed was when I asked outright if folks would get confused if I played a guy, was assured that it was fine -- and still had my PC referred to as "she". Again, these were not bad gamers. They were, in fact, excellent gamers, and the game, a midnight session of Ganakagok, totally kicked ass.

Hm. There was one guy in this game playing an old woman. No one forgot that he was playing a she.
Date:June 13th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
As a female into several kind of gaming, including the D&D genre, I find it frustrating that this kind of outlook is still prevalent. I would point out to those with the "girls aren't gamers" mindset that they are a member of a subculture, and as such it doesn't really benefit them to turn off people who are interested in joining them, no matter what gender they are. I imagine that the general explanation is that these men are the type who are afraid that merely being around women too much is a method of castration...I've dealt with the type before and I'd say that many women probably drop out of the gaming world not because they are intimidated but because they don't have the patience to deal with this type of militant jackassery.

[User Picture]
Date:May 31st, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)

"girls aren't gamers"?!


'I would point out to those with the "girls aren't gamers" mindset...'

That's not me. I've met a few men with this mindset and tried to set them straight. The phrase "girls aren't gamers" is weird because boys aren't gamers, either. The vast majority of boys don't play tabletop RPGs and aren't interested in them. The same can be said for girls. Anyone who wants to sit around for hours playing a tabletop RPG is already an exception, whether they're male or female.

For my part, I've worked for years on improving the appeal of RPGs to a broader audience than white males. Personally, the last game I ran (a Parlor Larp) was half women, and the last Everway campaign I ran had four women and two men. Do I get double political-correctness point if a woman in the Everway campaign was black? What if one of the women in the Parlor Larp was Japanese?

That said, it sure looks as though the hobby invented by, developed by, and sold to mostly males has a built-in bias in their favor. If you don't believe in any built-in gender differences (Dr. Money's discredited view from the 70s), then I can't be right, but otherwise it's hard to believe that a male-dominated enterprise would have no gender bias.
[User Picture]
Date:July 30th, 2008 07:49 am (UTC)

Sharing the spotlight

One issue which comes to mind is a tendency for many men (and women) to pay more attention to what men are saying and thus give them a larger share of the spotlight, even when women make up the majority of the group.

I could drag out the empirical data for this (back from when I was did sociology of education as an undergrad), but I'm sure people can recognise it.
This is, imo, a socialised rather than genetic matter.

It can really put people off. If the name of the game is cooperative storytelling and one's contribution is denigrated or ignored disproportionate to the quality then the person is going to be annoyed and eventually either seek an all-female group, or a group that's more conscious of spotlight sharing or - most likely - just drop out altogether.
[User Picture]
Date:May 31st, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Sharing the spotlight

Spot on.

Males are more likely to interrupt each other in conversation, females less likely. We don't need to agree about how much of this is social (some) and how much is genetic (some more) in order to identify this as an issue.
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