The Female Gamer Dilemma

edited September 2012 in Game Design Help
(Usual disclaimer about these only being generalizations and there are many exceptions, blah blah blah)

This topic evolved from a conversation with a woman in my gaming group, who obviously games, and with my wife, who doesn't. The gamer girl population increases every year. In many avenues, females can actually outnumber males. While this is good news, the bad news is how little this is actually changing the games themselves. At a BlizzCon panel discussion an female querist was booed for suggesting that maybe the female characters should be able to wear clothes.

But the problem goes way deeper than that. Even within RPGs where female gamers are not only accepted but delightfully encouraged, the roles they prefer are often within healer, support, or diplomatic archetypes (again, major generalization, but largely true nonetheless). Wish fulfillment seems to be the more desired form of escapism as opposed to power fantasy or strategic simulation.

Tabletop gaming's roots are wargames, and this continues to form the foundations of almost all mainstream RPGs. The point is ultimately combat, no matter how many peripheral rules and options exist within the particular game system. And at the end of the day, many women just aren't interesting in killing things and taking their stuff.

Assuming you accept my premise (and I know that's a big if), this should be informing game design, but it isn't. With the notable exception of Nobilis, even games with female contributors ultimately seem to be about fighting. Beyond the wargame roots, the other obvious explanation is that combat is the most easy and obvious form of conflict, and it's hard to build any kind of play that doesn't revolve around conflict.

The video game world started to figure this out, and we got the Sims, a fantastic series of games (It is; deal with it) that is also more popular than the Bible. A Second Life is still in existence, largely due to its popularity among female gamers.

I also believe the popularity of Game of Thrones lies in its evolution from the Tokienesque war of good vs. evil toward a focus on individual characters striving toward deeply personal goals.

The question is this: If the bedrock of tabletop RPGs were not male-centric wargames, but rather a different female-centric or androgynous premise, how would it look different? How should this change in thinking change the way we're designing games?
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Comments

  • Check out Emily Care Boss's three short games about the human heart: Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon, and Under My Skin. I think those would form a good basis for a new strain of design.
  • I don't really see this paradigm in the games I play. In my current Dungeon World campaign, the only female player plays a Druid. She typically morphs into various animals -- whichever will be the most useful in the given situation (squirrel or sparrow for scouting, bear for combat, etc.). The bear was by far the most memorable. Heads were ripped off.

    In the last game of Dread I played, my wife portrayed a lecherous corporate schmuck who was handy with firearms. While the rest of the guys around the table were trying to evade the menace or back-stab each other, her character was chasing tail and shooting anyone who got in his way.

    That last example may be a tad gonzo, but the point is, she had a grand time inciting violence and delving into the more reprehensible stereotypes of rich men (to paraphrase her post-session assessment).

    Perhaps I don't play enough 'mainstream' RPGs to see where you're coming from.
  • Monsterhearts is another good example or a game that has evolved far outside the war-game vein; there is /violence/, but not /combat/. It also handles emotion and melodrama VERY well. And it appeals to a bunch of fringe-gamer and even non-gamer women I know.

    Typically it's methodical step-by-step combat that turns off the women gamers I know, not the violence itself. When it comes time to get dirty/bloody the female gamers I know are willing to go to levels the guys are sometimes surprised at. Honestly the step-by-step combat thing turns off a lot of new-to-the-hobby guys too; it's really the people who grew up with it that seem to like it.
  • Anecdote time!

    My girlfriend hates "story games bullshit" where we "talk about feelings" and would rather move her dragonborn barbarian 5 squares at a time towards the bloodiest, most granular rules-heavy combat she can find.

    Non-ladies should not assume what all ladies like.
  • Perhaps it's actually the fact that it's easier to assume a bunch of generic stuff about men and still being right (like we all want a good combat, complex rules, strategy, etc) than to assume a few things about women and start designing from there. My best guess is that designing RPGs for female gamers involves rules that deal with the emotional world of the characters more than strategic combat rules. And yet skinnyghost's girlfriend is proving me wrong.
  • She doesn't prove you wrong, she proves that no group is homogeneous. There are big group of gamers and potential gamers out there that don't like traditional war-gamey games; this group includes both guys (me included) and gals. There is a group of female gamers that feel disfranchised by modern trad games. THESE GROUPS OVERLAP. Stereotypes can be bad, If you refuse to make ANY assumptions about groups (because we are all beautiful and unique snowflakes) you lose the ability to make any decisions about a market.
  • Assuming anything about any large group of people is probably a mistake.
  • edited September 2012
    It's really hard to talk about what men/women want or what is male/female-centric. It might be better to approach the topic by looking for things that games don't do well and filling those niches. If a disparity in the number of women vs men who engage in RPGs is a problem, filling those niches might be an answer.
  • Can I just point out that there's a bit of irony present when hobbies (computer games and RPGs) that, 20 years ago, were viewed as bastions of sad outsider antisocial nerd culture have become socially acceptable to the point where they now represent an element of dominant culture and oppression.

    That being said, I think that the problem you've identified is already being addressed as part of modern long-tail economics, the premise of which is that in the contemporary state of reduced production costs (it's comparatively cheap to produce and market a PDF game text, and way cheaper and easier to do decent layout - look at the ugliness of the first 5 years worth of D&D books in comparison) and increased communication and delivery (way easier to set up a website to market a game and make at least a little money off of it than it is to negotiate the old ways of brick and mortar distribution), products will come available to satisfy more niche elements of a market rather than only focusing on the most dominant demographic.

    And that seems to be happening at a reasonable rate.

    And it's a solution that is self-compounding. More games that are available that satisfy more diverse interests results in more diverse demographics becoming involved which results in more market available for more diverse games.

    Yes, the biggest hitters with the highest production values (and therefore the highest production costs and the need for the broadest market appeal) will target the primary demographics more.

    But the long-tail market will continue to grow as long as niche demographics continue to be able to find suitable niche products. And that seems to be happening just fine.
  • If rollerblading games hadn't come from wargaming roots I except that more of it would be like Nordic Larp and freeform.

    http://nordiclarptalks.org/post/576668918/introduction-to-nordic-larp

    http://lizziestark.com/2012/08/08/nordic-larp-for-noobs/

    The role playing game hobby would be more physical I think if it hadn't come from wargames. And while stories of war and physical conflict has a place in some of the stories, it not predominate but just one possibility of many.

    -------

    But I think TaoJannes goes to far in abut his generalization of what women want and don't want. But more importantly:

    This is not about women really.

    The issue here is that the roots of the role-playing game hobby wasn't built to provide other stories then "Conan the barbarian killing stuff." I don't know about you, but I think the number of people that don't think stories about "Conan the barbarian killing stuff" is the best kind of story include pretty much everyone. Not just women. Except for the very small group "some teenagers, mostly boys".
  • If a company wants to expand its audience, I would suggest:

    - Create welcoming, safe, and low barrier to entry environments.
    - Don't design content that pushes desired groups away.
    - Create a diversity of content.
    - Hire a diversity of people.
    - Don't generalize.
    - Be different.

    My friend recently ran a D&D 4E campaign that had very little combat. His players were bored to tears. Finally the players asked, "when can we hit something?" and the DM replied, "I thought since half of you are women you'd want less fighting and more story". Food was thrown at the DM.

    That said, different people want different things. So make different things. An easy way to make different things is to hire different people.
  • It also stands to reason that there are plenty of males out there that are into more emotional, non-combat oriented games. In my last game of World of Shadows, the two male players didn't fight anyone, despite constant opportunities to bust heads and shoot people. They were most interested in following their character's desires and daily lives. There was action, but no combat.
  • Skinnyghost, you're right. However in design it's part of the work to assume there would be people that would like your game, based on your own assumptions of what these people would love to play. So it's also like Jacob said. As a designer you don`t use stereotypes, but you need to make a few assumptions to focus your design. Of course, this has nothing to do with prejudice.
    The assumptions I make when designing go more about the kind of things the players will do with the material I'm designing, and what I should and shouldn't include to make their experience more enjoyable.

    Perhaps mease19 approach would work better in this case. Let's listen other players and form an opinion of what they want, regardless of what we think players from different sex may want.
  • edited September 2012
    As a member of one gender, I know the things I personally prefer in gaming (which may in fact change from day to day, and have done so). Any general statements I may make about what members of my own gender prefer in gaming come only from my own experiences with other members of my gender. Any general statements I may make about what members of another gender prefer in gaming come from an even smaller set of my own experiences which may not in fact reflect the experiences of members of the other gender.
  • I'd like to echo jenskot here. Diversity of subject matter is pretty important.

    Also, I'd suggest considering the issues people will have when trying to tell stories in your setting. For me, if I sit down to a combat-heavy, D&D-style game, it's easier to come up with male characters by using the stories I have read that fit well with the expected behavior of our characters (re: LotR, most European myths, etc). Sure, I can just switch the gender, but often people start saying that she doesn't really feel "female" to them. I also run into people trying to enforce their limited view of world history. It's frustrating. Not every group has this problem, and not every person playing female characters gets as frustrated as I do, but it's one thing to keep in mind.

    Now if we switch the focus to something that tends to be more female-dominated, such as the homefront during a foreign war (see US during WWI and WWII) or a domestic war but not on the frontline (see US Revolutionary War or Vietnam), we have many more story options to pull from.
  • Heya, there's some interesting ideas in this thread.

    The original question though was this:
    ==========
    The question is this: If the bedrock of tabletop RPGs were not male-centric wargames, but rather a different female-centric or androgynous premise, how would it look different? How should this change in thinking change the way we're designing games?
    ==========

    Q1: Huh. I'm not good with alternate history stuff. What if the universe was a giant cube? What if America won Vietnam? Ultimately, from a pragmatic point of view (in other words, it seems like you want to come up with things that are meaningful to us in play, given the rest of your post), I don't think this is a very meaningful question or thought exercise: We only have the world we have, answers and solutions won't really come from speculating an alternate history, IMO.

    Q2: I'm not a designer (just a player/advocate) so I can't answer that, but I'm reading the thoughts in this thread as they seem to be more from a dice-hit-the-table play standpoint.

    -Andy
  • The indie RPG movement was started primarily by a group of guys (yes, guys) who wanted to look at how RPGs could be redesigned in ways that would focus more on how to construct stories and less on how to simulate tactical combat. (Yes, that's an oversimplification - I'm not writing a 7 page Ron Edwards style essay on the subject.)

    That movement lead to more games that do different things in play.

    That lead to more people being able to find games that are a good fit for their interests. Including a closer to even percentage of women than was previously represented in the hobby.

    But also, gaming by women became more popularized in the video game market as well, which enhanced the number of women willing to look at RPGs as a potential activity and reducing the social barriers.

    And, as I said before, more diversity in audience leads to more diverse product production in a reduced production cost environment.
  • Hi, let me wreck this whole thread. (rubs fingernails on lapels, cracks knuckles)

    The main issue with these kinds of discussions is that in RPGs there is no central organization which can make systemic changes (other than D&D Organized Play, more on which in a minute.) So let me quickly talk about chess.

    I was involved in competitive chess in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I was a bad chessplayer but I loved it, and I ended up the most organized guy in my college chess club, so I was President. This meant I organized some tournaments, and got to interact with all kinds of other tournament organizers, pro chessplayers and officials. In the US, the US Chess Federation was and is the premiere organization for competitive chess.

    Everyone recognized that in the 60s and 70s the game had a huge problem with horrible, misogynist environments at chess tournaments, and outright hostility towards female chessplayers from the bottom of the hobby world to the top of the competitive world. There were trailblazing, brilliant women who pushed their way in, but overall it was just a very ugly situation. In the late 70s, the outcry became too much and chess organizations started to open their doors and shut down sexist actions at tournaments. Codes of conduct, etc. Yet when I came around, competitive chess at your typical local tournament was still around 80-90 percent men.

    A lot of hand wringing ensued. "Why is it like this? We've opened our doors, it's not gross and unfair like in the old days!" When I learned to post on Usenet in college, this was what was heard. (Maybe something really IS wrong with their ladybrains, concluded many morons.) So the USCF decided to go further and entered partnerships with the Girl Scouts and other women youth organizations to teach chess, to organize chess tournaments specifically for them, and to actively seek out and promote women in chess. You would have thought they proposed abolishing the rook. The screams and howls of people saying that this was discriminatory, that this was unfair to men, etc. were amazing. This is the first time I knew that "reverse discrimination" was bullshit - and ever since that time I have always remembered that. ("Did he just say 'reverse discrimination'? Okay. I remember that. That's bullshit.")

    By the time I left competitive chess (after college, like a lot of people), I was still a shit chessplayer, but the stats were coming in and the USCF had doubled, in a very short amount of time, the number of women players in competitive tournaments, even in regular old local tournaments. Doubled.

    So start from this position: you're in a hobby dominated by white dudes. How does this change? It changes with actively seeking out women to join the hobby, not just making sure that the hobby isn't gross and horrible to them. Women are capable of pursuing their interests just fine, but nobody, women or men, will slog through a horrorshow of harassment, rape threats, and garbage just for some leisure pretendy funtime.

    Now let's look at the RPG hobby itself. In America, the majority of roleplayers start by playing The Current Edition Of D&D and never play any other game unless it's The Next Edition Of D&D. If they end up not liking D&D (anymore) then they don't find another game, they leave the hobby. This means that the key element, the gatekeeper of the hobby is organized play of D&D. This puts the RPGA in the position of the USCF in my earlier story.

    Thus I reach the conclusion: if you want more RPGs that "appeal to women", then you need more women RPG designers and players, and if you want more women to design RPGs, you need more women to play RPGs, and overwhelmingly, in America, that means you need them to play D&D. (There was a time when you could substitute a White Wolf LARP for the RPGA, but that time's past.)

    This is all as prologue to my suggestion: organize an RPGA chapter and do active outreach with your community's women's organizations.
  • edited September 2012

    Non-ladies should not assume what all ladies like.

    (Usual disclaimer about these only being generalizations and there are many exceptions, blah blah blah)
    Keep in mind I'm not asking how to make a "girl game". I'm asking to look at how mainstream design has been unconsciously designed by dudes for dudes, and how starting from a different point of view can and should affect our game design.

    As another analog, when DC unveiled the New 52 the number of female contributors dropped from 2% to 1%, Barbara Gordon was Batgirl again, eliminating the female character of Oracle, and Amanda Waller got a makeover that should disgust every comic reader on the planet. The question isn't "How do we get girls to read more comics?". The question is "What are the males who make up 99% of the room assuming without realizing it, and how can they be doing it differently?"

    And as Cordley points out quite articulately, the even more important question is "How do we get some gals up in here?"
  • Oh, whoops, ignore my post then.

    I don't know anything about game design. :)
  • But I think TaoJannes goes to far in abut his generalization of what women want and don't want. But more importantly:

    This is not about women really.

    The issue here is that the roots of the role-playing game hobby wasn't built to provide other stories then "Conan the barbarian killing stuff."
    Truest post evah! What I want to lift forth from the OP is "While this is good news, the bad news is how little this is actually changing the games themselves".

    But OK. I think nowadays we got a pretty good diversity in games. The only thing is that the really big ones haven't really changed much, even if we can see small changes in the way of thinking even in the biggest RPG out there. So I think it's on it's way on changing. It only takes time and awareness.
  • The question is this: If the bedrock of tabletop RPGs were not male-centric wargames, but rather a different female-centric or androgynous premise, how would it look different? How should this change in thinking change the way we're designing games?
    Female-centric and androgynous-centric wargames could be interesting but I have no idea what they'd look like or how to design them.
  • JDCorley: I do think you got the right of it.

    Lets say I'm a teenage girl looking for a new hobby. What am I most likely to end up doing:

    Hobby A: If I heard about it, and f have friends that already doing it I might be able to join the hobby. The effort the made trying to reach out to me is that they have tried stop being horrible to people of my gender. Or at least they tried to be a bit less horrible.

    Hobby B: They are trying to reach out to me, actively try recruit me and make me feel welcome.
  • The question is this: If the bedrock of tabletop RPGs were not male-centric wargames, but rather a different female-centric or androgynous premise, how would it look different? How should this change in thinking change the way we're designing games?
    Female-centric and androgynous-centric wargames could be interesting but I have no idea what they'd look like or how to design them.
    Much faster and more bloodthirsty with more vendettas is my guess.

  • edited September 2012

    The question is this: If the bedrock of tabletop RPGs were not male-centric wargames, but rather a different female-centric or androgynous premise, how would it look different? How should this change in thinking change the way we're designing games?
    Those andogynic gender premises exists. We don't need to treat it as a hypothetical question. Lets look at the roleplaying game "markets" or game cultures that got a 50/50 gender mix. Like Larping in the Nordic countries. Hence, my example of Nordic larp. Therw ARE game markets that where the designers, and the costumer have a 50/50 gender balance. It not some hypothetical question.

    Look at the RPG cultures that already exists that have even gender balances.

    There are even more of them. Lets look at the thousands of Harry Potter play by chat of forum that exist on the web that tend to have even gender balances that haven't developed out of wargames but rather out of childrens natural role playing and a love of Harry Potter, etc.
  • A useful line of discussion might be: What are real world situations where men and women are on equal footing or where gender is moot? Can we makes games about those things?
  • edited September 2012
    Thus I reach the conclusion: if you want more RPGs that "appeal to women", then you need more women RPG designers and players,
    True, on both points and for slightly different reasons.

    At the table level, having more women present will tend to make more women comfortable being present (Not that there are not women who are perfectly fine with being the only woman player around, but those tend to be the exception, just as the reverse is true. There are men who are willing to attend a knitting circle, but they are also the exception.)

    And at the design level, having more women involved in the design process is more likely to produce more content that will appeal to more women. Likewise, having more women who write and edit books increases the number of books that more women are interested in reading. (Again, this is not to say that there's never been a woman who was interested in reading books mostly by male authors/editors, just that having a heavily male-dominated production process reduces the aggregate appeal of the output.)
    and if you want more women to design RPGs, you need more women to play RPGs,
    Sure. The overwhelming majority of designers are regular players, so this follows.
    and overwhelmingly, in America, that means you need them to play D&D. (There was a time when you could substitute a White Wolf LARP for the RPGA, but that time's past.)

    This is all as prologue to my suggestion: organize an RPGA chapter and do active outreach with your community's women's organizations.
    This is the part of the logic chain that I don't think follows.

    To look at a parallel market for comparison - computer games.

    In the 1980s and early 1990s, the primary market for computer games was the same as the primary market for RPGs - teen to young adult males, mostly non-minority ones.

    In early stages, production costs were prohibitively high. Building and delivering a game presented a huge cost risk.

    By the mid-to-late 1990s, core production costs lowered. Electronic distribution began to become viable. Free or cheap core gaming engines were produced that people could build on top of.

    Also, the types of games being produced became wider and wider. Sure, you had male-oriented games like Street Fighter and gun games. But you also had more abstract games like Tetris that were pretty androgynous. Games like that tended to attract a less male-heavy fanbase.

    The combination of reduced production costs and a widening audience lead to an increased diversity in offerings. Which was self-reinforcing - more games appealing to women created more women games and more women game producers and more games appealing to women.

    Sure, in the current marketplace, you still see examples of male-centric development and marketing. And you see examples of misogynist gamer community, as the OP mentioned.

    But you also see lots and lots of counterexamples.

    In order to introduce women into computer games, you don't have to introduce them to Battlefield 3 or make them play a scantily clad elf in WoW. Just because those games are the biggest and most popular doesn't mean you have to play them in order to say you enjoy playing video games.

    Maybe they'll get interested in Harvest Moon or Bejeweled or Mass Effect. Or maybe some weird little indie game like Limbo will capture their imagination. I know a lot of young women who cut their teeth on rhythm games - Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero and such.

    For my wife, the only computer games she likes are Bejeweled-style puzzlers and the occasional pixel hunt adventure game like Monkey Island. Nothing else holds appeal. But that's fine, cause there's bunches of puzzlers and pixel hunt games available for those rare times that she wants to play a computer game.

    I agree that outreach is helpful if you want to even the ratios more (and in my experience, ratios are already coming much much closer to even, which is awesome).

    But I don't agree that that outreach needs to be D&D-flavored in order to work.

    If you want to get more women playing RPGs, I think filling your gaming bag with Monsterhearts, Fiasco, Sorcerer, Trollbabe, Laser Ponies and Dungeon World is going to be way more effective.

    Plus, you can carry all 6 of those games around with less strain on your shoulders than just the core D&D books would cause, so there's a bonus.
  • edited September 2012
    Those andogynic gender premises exists. We don't need to treat it as a hypothetical question. Lets look at the roleplaying game "markets" or game cultures that got a 50/50 gender mix. Like Larping in the Nordic countries. Hence, my example of Nordic larp. Therw ARE game markets that where the designers, and the costumer have a 50/50 gender balance. It not some hypothetical question.

    Look at the RPG cultures that already exists that have even gender balances.

    There are even more of them. Lets look at the thousands of Harry Potter play by chat of forum that exist on the web that tend to have even gender balances that haven't developed out of wargames but rather out of childrens natural role playing and a love of Harry Potter, etc.
    This is important - part of the way that women and other groups are excluded from gaming culture is by border-patrolling and drawing arbitrary boundaries between that define "real" games negatively against other kinds. To use a video game example, consider the split between "hardcore" and "casual" games. These distinctions are ridiculously simplistic (lots of women like FPS games, lots of men like Bejewelled) and serve only to perpetuate inequalities. In my opinion, changing design practices and better representation, while important, are only meaningful in conjunction with people involved in gaming need to step up and actively re-making gaming culture as a social context that isn't utterly toxic for people who aren't white men.

    EDIT: Also, "getting more women into gaming" really means getting more novices into gaming. When we talk about "women" not being into certain kinds of games, or having trouble with certain systems, we're actually talking about people who don't have a lot of experience with games - not some sort of inherent female characteristic. So, again, making gaming culture open and safe for people who aren't "in on it" is the most productive thing we can do.

  • edited September 2012
    Based on a bit of what Jason wrote, I just looked some stuff up. The Girl Scouts have merit badges for RPGs (even if the mainstream doesn't quite know it). My daughter is a Junior (age 10-12) and at her level there is one called Creative Play: Playing the Past with this description:
    Dream up a character: a girl or woman who lived in another time period. Maybe a poodle-skirt-wearing Girl Scout from the 1950s, a Wild West cowgirl, a medieval duchess, or a Japanese princess from long ago? You can be someone who really existed or a historical woman from your imagination. Give yourself a new name and get ready to live history.
    I wonder what an RPG event would look like for eight or ten girls that age.
  • My girlfriend really loved the heck out of the minotaur slayer she played in our 4e Dark Sun campaign.

    But that aside, she is also really excited about Ryuutama. She likes games where there's action and adventure, but also personal relationships and cuteness. Her favourite video game of all time is Final Fantasy VI, not least because it juxtaposes adventure of an epic scope with really tender and tentative interpersonal moments. The stakes are huge but the moments are small and touching.
  • edited September 2012
    In my opinion, changing design practices and better representation, while important, are only meaningful in conjunction with people involved in gaming need to step up and actively re-making gaming culture as a social context that isn't utterly toxic for people who aren't white men.
    Do you think this is not happening at all? Or just not enough?

    Personally, I think that as the audiences diversify on multiple vectors, which I seem to see them doing in my limited experience, that some of this happens on it's own. Sure, there are disgraceful counterexamples of reactivity, but that happens in nearly all cultural shifts.

    There's a lot of people at my local convention that aren't white males. And the proportion seems to be growing. Sure, it's not representative of the nation/state/county/city/whatever as a whole. But it seems to be diverse enough that I don't think it counts as toxic.

    When I first started larping, the male/female ratios were pretty far off. So if you had a cute young unattached female attend a game, she'd get waaaaaay too much attention from the seething geeky males. Eventually the ratios improved enough that things got more comfortable. Seems pretty reasonable these days. For a couple of reasons. One - there's more than one unattached attractive female present at a time, so the attention gets spread around. Two - the overall player base has a higher percentage of older players around who set a good example of good conduct and help discourage poor behavior. Like if a group of young guys is having a locker room style conversation that is getting rude and disrespectful, there are more people around likely to call them on it.

    Not that attractive females never get excessive attention, but it no longer stands out as being worse how it would be in any other mixed social situation.
    EDIT: Also, "getting more women into gaming" really means getting more novices into gaming. When we talk about "women" not being into certain kinds of games, or having trouble with certain systems, we're actually talking about people who don't have a lot of experience with games - not some sort of inherent female characteristic. So, again, making gaming culture open and safe for people who aren't "in on it" is the most productive thing we can do.
    This is true only insomuch as you accept the notion that widespread cultural adoption and acceptance is inherently good.

    I'm not sure that's always the case. The acceptance of TV and movies as a form of entertainment is nearly universal. And the result is a hell of a lot of bad TV and movies being produced.

    Musicals are the most popular and, in general, the least fascinating and provocative form of live spoken word theatre (and if you count live stand-up comedy shows in the same category as the second most popular form, which I think is pretty accurate, that just reinforces what I'm saying).

    Personally I'm more interested in improving the quality of games and gaming experiences, rather than purely increasing the quantity. I'm not selling games, so having more people who play them with each other doesn't benefit me.

    Having a more diverse crowd of people interested in playing - more women, more gays, more non-whites, more old people, more kids - those things benefit me. When I play an RPG at a convention and the other people at the table are not all white dudes in the same age range as me, that changes my play experience.

    The fact that more people are at the convention as a whole only affects my experience a little. Maybe it means there will be a few more games on the menu that aren't D&D or GURPS, so that helps a little.

    The fact that overall in the hobby there are more people makes it a little more likely that an event like Nerdly Beach Party exists. But it doesn't do it by itself. It takes the development of effective sub-communities to make that happen. And just growing the overall hobby play base does little to develop those sub-communities unless that is where the growth is happening.

    In other words, improving quality and sharing those improvements will do plenty to make quantity happen. Improving quantity by itself just means you end up with more crap.
  • I wonder what an RPG event would look like for eight or ten girls that age.
    I've done a bit of that. In 2007 I ran D&D for an 11-year-old girl's birthday party; and then in 2009 I ran a outdoor fantasy larp for her 13th birthday. They all got into it, though I don't know if most of them continued to be interested in RPGs (the birthday girl did).

    As for the alternate history, I think the example of Harry Potter is a good one. There would have to be a hook for RPGs more specific than general gender. (By parallel, boys are often into sports, but popular boys sports never appear in mainstream RPGs.) In the 1970s, Star Trek fans (although not sci-fi fans in general) were often female - perhaps predominantly so. That might be a possible basis - though I'm not sure what it would look like other than featuring Kirk/Spock romantic tension.
    The indie RPG movement was started primarily by a group of guys (yes, guys) who wanted to look at how RPGs could be redesigned in ways that would focus more on how to construct stories and less on how to simulate tactical combat.
    ....
    That lead to more people being able to find games that are a good fit for their interests. Including a closer to even percentage of women than was previously represented in the hobby.
    Interesting. In my experience, the percentage of women in American indie RPG gatherings is roughly the same as for other tabletop RPGs - roughly 10-15%. (This from gatherings like Nerdly Beach Party, Go Play NorthWest, or games-on-demand at GenCon Indy.) Someone mentioned Nordic larp earlier - Knutepunkt does have a higher percentage of women but still a minority, around 30-35% by my estimation. AmberCon NorthWest has had around 40-45% women, though it might not be representative of Amber play in general.

  • Interesting. In my experience, the percentage of women in American indie RPG gatherings is roughly the same as for other tabletop RPGs - roughly 10-15%. (This from gatherings like Nerdly Beach Party, Go Play NorthWest, or games-on-demand at GenCon Indy.) Someone mentioned Nordic larp earlier - Knutepunkt does have a higher percentage of women but still a minority, around 30-35% by my estimation. AmberCon NorthWest has had around 40-45% women, though it might not be representative of Amber play in general.
    Ah. I havn't been to knutepunkt yet (planning to go next year) but in the latter example I was talking about larping in the Nordic countries in general. Not just the style called nordic larp. The Finnish larp scene has a female majority (I heared that it 70-60% females), Sweden has about 50% (60% female up north where I come from), Noway has 50/50 I think, and Denmark has a bit of a male majority.

    So of we look at Nordic mainstream Larps we would also see a gaming culture form around a androgynous player base.

  • I enter this with great trepidation. but maybe i can contribute?

    Everyone has their own sensibilities and sensitivities about stuff, in general it's important to respect how others feel. If you can be specific about what it is you do not like then there is probably a course of action that can be taken.

    So for example, if a store has a bunch of posters promoting a game that use imagery you find offensive, talk to them about it. Maybe you can come to an agreement, maybe you will need to find a new place to play. you may also contact the publisher or have the store contact the publisher.

    If players are being creepy then maybe post some rules for using the play space. respect and good sportsmanship are key and while moderating real people in a real physical space can be uncomfortable, that's life.

    I realize this may involve some confrontation and takes tact to get results and that maybe unfair but it is necessary.

    if your goal is to solve the problem a bit of tact will go a long long way, if your goal is to fight enemies the world contains an endless supply.
  • edited September 2012
    Do you think this is not happening at all? Or just not enough?
    I think it's not happening enough, particularly in the mainstream D&D-dominated parts of the gaming world. But of course, we can and should highlight the many positive developments - not as evidence that the problem has been solved, but as exemplary cases to inspire further change.
    This is true only insomuch as you accept the notion that widespread cultural adoption and acceptance is inherently good.
    You lost me from this point on - I'm not suggesting that gaming should be some kind of mass entertainment on the scale of popular film and TV, and I don't really see how it could be? That's neither here nor there. The point isn't to increase the number of people in the community, or to hit some sort of head-counting goal (50% women achieved! Success!) - the point is to make gaming a social space that isn't alienating and hurtful to women (and other marginalized people).

    I was trying to point out that there is a common mistake made in popular discourse about women and gaming that conflates women with novices and genders novicehood as feminine. When we say "oh, this is a girl-friendly RPG/board game/video game" what we're actually saying is that it's a novice-friendly game. When we say women (or other marginalized people) are bad at games, what we're actually saying is that novices are bad at games (which is of course a tautology).

    Part of the way to make gaming culture more open and less hostile towards women (and other marginalized people) is to break down this conflation, instead of making condescending efforts to appeal to the specific stereotyped interests or tastes of those people. If we refuse to perpetuate the internal hierarchies of legitimate and illegitimate games, we can lower the barriers to entry into gaming for novices of all kinds, without alienating or marginalizing women who are already in the community, or who don't match up to the woman-as-novice stereotype.

    And again, this happens largely outside of game design and the internal form and content of games. I'm not saying that stuff doesn't also matter, but it's meaningless without social change.

    Does that make more sense? Sorry if I'm being abstruse.

    EDIT: @TylerT is absolutely right to point out that small-scale changes and interventions in our own communities and groups can make a big difference.
  • I think game stores are a really great place to start. They are community centers for nerds and have some power to change things. To be frank people and communities really are different, morality is not a one size fits all deal. stuff that is creepy pornographic to one community is seen as hilarious and fun to another community, for example the rpg Maid.
  • edited September 2012
    Here are some things I want to say.

    Firstly, I think it's okay to ask the question. The OP is using straightforward language - "The gamer girl population increases every year" - but we shouldn't jump on him for that. (I bet that, if the original post had been carefully phrased in terms of "gender balance", it wouldn't have attracted half the criticisms it did. We shouldn't jump on someone for not speaking the language.)

    Secondly, there are real dangers in saying: this isn't really about women, it's about including people generally. You know this, right? It takes a problem about gender and removes the gender from it.

    Thirdly, and to answer the original post, I think we should encourage and promote games by female designers. This probably means embracing games that fall outside our usual genre tropes. It means we might need to play Steal Away Jordan, Breaking The Ice and Kagematsu at conventions, rather than Fiasco, Dungeon World and Marvel.

    There's a danger in trying to design "games that women like". So we mustn't go down that route. But we could try challenging some ideas that have been identified as patriarchal. We could explore changing identities. We could base characters around work that has historically been done by women. We could question the heroic narrative. And so on.

    (This is what Joanna and I are trying to do in The Tavern. We're exploring ways of storytelling that incorporate fluid identities, work done by women, no heroes and so on.)
  • I was trying to point out that there is a common mistake made in popular discourse about women and gaming that conflates women with novices and genders novicehood as feminine.
    Ah. Thank you for restating what you meant. I understand more clearly now. Sorry for the long misguided tangent response.

    I think what you are saying is only partially true, though.

    A lot of structural stuff that is viewed as female-friendly is often novice-friendly, yes. Like simple unified mechanics, clean evocative character sheets, minimizing the amount of knowledge a player needs about the game in order to create an effective character, etc. And yeah, seeing making-it-easy-to-learn and calling it making-it-for-girls is pretty uncool. Though I think that when there are other barriers to entry for females, making a game easier to learn helps counteract some of those other barriers, maybe.

    Some other stuff is viewed as female-friendly that has less to do with novices and more to do with perceived differences in interest. Having games that are less about making strategic battlemat moves in order to chop someone's head off thereby demonstrating a combination of character build optimization and sound tactical decision-making, compared to games about reading the relationship situation successfully in order to manipulate a character into doing what you want.

    And I'm not saying that there aren't any guys interested in that manipulation stuff. And I'm not saying that there aren't any girls interested in the tactical combat stuff. But I think it's not purely coincidental that many players tell of anecdotal evidence of females being a little more interested in participating when there is a little less focus on strategy and competition and killing and a little more on story and relationships and such.

    I know in the (mostly boffer) larps I participate in that there's been a marked increase in female participation at all levels (PCs, NPCs, coordinators, designers), though I don't have hard statistics. There were some women participating and organizing when I started larping 20 years ago, and there are a lot more now. Out of about 8 active and 2 recently concluded larp campaigns in the LA area, 5 of those 10 games are run by between 50% to 100% females. Interestingly, 2 of the 5 I currently count as being run by at least 50% females were games that were originally developed by a more male-heavy group but are now being maintained by a more female-heavy group as time has gone on.

    Along with the increased participation by females has come an increased inclusion of more relationship/building/manipulating/crafting content. And also a decrease in complicated game mechanics and power build discussions (though they don't ever go away). Which caused which is chickens and eggs. But I think there is some level of correlation for both shifts. I think the games are better for all three reasons - more females present, more focus on story over combat, and more clean streamlined mechanics.
  • http://wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4dreye/20120502
    Is a decent article about Sexism within D&D Art that I thought was kind of relevant, explores a lot of similar concepts to those in this thread.

    I think the proportion of female gamers varies wildly depending on where they are drawing from. Whilst the current collection of gaming groups I socialise with, drawn largely from university science courses, is predominantly male, my previous one, drawn from theatre groups, was largely female. Likewise, when I run games at gaming cons, I find that the player group is predominantly male, but at anime conventions, its not uncommon to run for all female groups. I think that is where the real key lies. Rather than looking at the question as 'How do we stop players of feeling excluded?', ask 'Where are we getting these players of currently?' and focusing avenues of publicity to widen those entry gates.
  • For myself and my interests, I would love if there were more women involved with the minis using side of things.

    Yeah, yeah, I know that's a drum I beat a whole lot.

    The thing is, the kinds of minis use and playstyle that I keep poking at design-wise is a whole lot closer to the kinds of toy play I associate with girls, than the kind that comes from the toy soldier wargame type play that young boys seem to love once they discover that it exists.

    Really, I need to be able to pick the brains of people who played for hours with Barbie or their pony collection as children, not the folks whose idea of miniatures play is entirely wrapped up in what sort of bonus they get for sneaking up and outflanking the panzer hidden by the barn over there.

    And that all kinda relates to some qualities that I do associate with female gamers (novice or experienced) more than male gamers.

    For one thing, female gamers seem to be more talented with open play where it comes to secrets and What-ifs and Let's Say ... approaches to play.

    All I mean by that is that women seem more capable of stepping out of character and putting forward some kind of revealing aside about their character or situation, and often that aside is more geared towards here's something interesting that could happen and potentially go good or bad for the character than attempt to gain some immediate advantage in the fiction. Guys seem to consider secrets something to hold close to their chests, a way to gain some advantage towards a win condition, rather than good grist for a story.
  • There are many female miniatures painters I think perhaps more than female miniatures gamers? the paint and take ran by reaper minis at pax this year was almost always full and if I can recall had a good number of women at it.

    I really want to make games that use sort of world maps for scene framing and i think character minis fit well into that role.
  • There are many female miniatures painters I think perhaps more than female miniatures gamers? the paint and take ran by reaper minis at pax this year was almost always full and if I can recall had a good number of women at it.

    I really want to make games that use sort of world maps for scene framing and i think character minis fit well into that role.
    There are many extremely talented female sculptors and painters out there. There tend not to be a lot of female miniatures wargamers.

    Which, for my purposes, I'm kinda okay with. The people I need are folks that find the miniatures interesting and a spark for imaginative play who don't necessarily love ( or only love) mainstream tactical miniatures wargames.

  • edited September 2012
    Let me please repeat again that I am not asking how to get more girls gaming, or even how to design games for girls. I'm asking what male-centric decisions we're making in game design and how that would and should look differently if the number of female gamer designers were closer to 50% than 1%.

    Let me try to give a bit more perspective. In the 80's Carol Gilligan wrote a book called "In a Different Voice" which was a case study of teenage girls. The study found that female psychology as it pertains to moral questions was so inherently different from their male counterparts that it was almost impossible to get meaningful answers to moral questions because the questions themselves were so male-centric. Time after time, girls tended to answer with "it depends" instead of speaking in moral absolutes. Gilligan derived a philosophy from that that society needs to change its thinking from its roots. More women becoming CEOs wouldn't solve the problem.

    Likewise, more women at the gaming table doesn't solve the problem, because they're still playing games made - consciously or unconsciously - by men for men. How do we change our thinking?
  • @TaoJeannes - You want your games to speak to women, but in the process alienate the women who are already gaming (as your posts seem to assume that only men are in your audience: "we" seems to be "we men"), cast them as not feminine enough for the purposes of your research (because they like male-centric games) and completely "other" them by talking about their inborn inherent psychological differences.

    So if I'm a woman who has many traits traditionally assumed to be masculine, and like masculine things, then... I'm not your intended audience. Ok.

    People were trying to tell you that maybe you should reach more women through women who already exist in the hobby, but you seem to be completely uninterested by interacting with these women-players. What I read from your posts is that you want to discuss the behaviour of dudes, with dudes, period.

    Why on Earth would MORE women want to come to RPGs just to be ignored in this way? They can experience this in other areas just as well, so why make the effort.
  • Vincent designed AW to meet his wife's tastes in games. Is there anything there to talk about?
  • Hm, Kagematsu was designed by a woman? Also, wtf is laser ponies? Sorry, please continue. I like where this conversation is going *looks up those games*.
  • edited September 2012
    Designers should design the games they want to play, which should include with the people they want to play them with.

    The answer: Male-centric games have been designed by gamers (most likely men) who game almost exclusively with men. The male-centric decisions those designers are making are to not include women. If you're looking for more specifics... get more women into your gaming groups, design games, play games with your group, find out what the people -- including women -- in your group like and don't like about the games you design play, and then change the things they don't like.

    The answer is to include more women. Include more women. Include more women. We change our male-centric thinking by including more women.
  • edited September 2012
    @3Jane - You make incorrect assumptions about my assumptions. "We" means "we" and not "we men." It's not that I'm uninterested in interacting with women currently playing. I simply don't find player gender topical to what I'm really asking, since what I'm really asking is how game design could or should move from thinking that is inherently masculine minded to more games that are inherently feminine minded. It's based on the unprovable premise that there would be any difference at all. If you don't accept that premise, well that's understandable but it makes it hard for you to contribute to the conversation.

    I believe Nobilis is inherently feminine minded, and I want more games like Nobilis.

    What I'm really asking is this: What else are we missing out on?

    I get how what I'm saying is really wonky, because I'm saying that most RPGs are inherently based on masculine thinking, thus making a gender distinction among designers while simultaneously saying that a gender distinction among the player base is irrelevant.

    I think the examples offered of woman-designed games and inviting a comparison is really helpful.
  • edited September 2012
    I believe Nobilis is inherently feminine minded, and I want more games like Nobilis.
    Perhaps breaking this down into more detail would help draw out more of the specifics you are looking for.

    The easy question:
    What do you like about Nobilis?

    The harder question:
    What is it about Nobilis that you find inherently feminine minded?

    Best of luck answering the second without inviting backlash. That sounds snarky, but I actually mean it. I hope you can pull it off.

    After defining those things, focusing on your actual request (I want more games like Nobilis) might make it easier for you to get something practical out of the thread.
  • I think the examples offered of woman-designed games and inviting a comparison is really helpful.
    I have a sizable but not complete list of women RPG authors here:

    http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/theory/gender/womenauthors.html

    The vast majority of authors on that list are creating products quite different from Nobilis, so it seems wrong to have Nobilis as one's only example of what is feminine in games.
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