This is probably going to be pretty long, but I ask that you bear with me.
It's quite possible that it's too far outside the scope of the Forge to be here, in which case I ask forgiveness for posting it in the first place and ask Ron/Clinton/The Gods of Moderation to remove it.(This is really related to games, but I freely admit it's to a degree off to one side, dealing as it does with an issue of the larger society.)
There have been a number of somewhat contentious threads about gender-based mechanics, their appropriateness, and their legitimacy. Those that I've read through or been involved with seem to have ended up spiralling down into a sort of snippy and antagonistic flame-war.
I'd like to avoid that here, but at the same time I realized that I had some definite opinions and viewpoints that were either not being understood, or were perhaps mistaken. I had more to say than those threads were giving me the opportunity to say, and I want feedback on some things.
I don't pretend to be All Knowing in terms of gender theory or anything. I have an unusual perspective because of my background, but at the same time it leaves me a bit left out -- I'm neither typically male nor typically female. So what follows is my personal opinion, based upon my own experiences, my own reading, and various attempts at hashing out gender stuff with other people. It's opinion, and I would love any constructive feedback, critical or otherwise.
So, then. What's my beef?
Men and women are different. Most (but not all) people will agree that this is true. Those that do agree that men and women are different, disagree as to what they are different about and why they have those differences.
Some people are of the opinion that gender differences are neuro-biological in nature -- brains are different, they produce people who think differently. Other's are of the opinion that many of the differences are the byproduct of culture and upbringing. Still other people point to things like nutrition as being the source of some of the observed or accepted differences.
In my experience, I certainly fall into the camp that men and women are
different. But I do not know why. There are studies which show all sorts of correlations between specific abilties and talents and what gender the person is who has them. But just because there is a correlation doesn't mean there is a cause and effect link.
There are fewer bald CEOs than non-bald CEOs. These two facts are statistically correlated. Do non-bald CEOs perform their job better? Why are these two facts coordinated? I haven't the slightest idea. But I don't think being bald makes someone a bad CEO.
Now, I could put together a modern gaming system where bald characters had a penalty at becoming CEOs. I could also put together a modern gaming system where bald characters were worse at whatever skills were important to becomin a CEO. Most people would look at me funny and say that being bald has no bearing on how well someone would do the job of being a CEO.
Most people understand, in their gut, that baldness doesn't make you a better manager of a company because it's extraneous -- baldness doesn't make you more or less smart. It doesn't make you more or less funny. It doesn't make you better or worse at making money. The correlation between baldness and CEO-ness is real, but because the nature of being bald is seen as a cosmetic difference (ie, if you took a person with hair and made him bald he wouldn't magically become worse at mental or organizational skills).
Even if it somehow affected how other people perceived this suddenly-bald person, and that shift in perception affected how he related to people and had a subtle impact on his performance, there is a gut feeling that people shouldn't react that way because baldness is "just cosmetic".
For lots of reasons, gender isn't like baldness. While people can go from having hair to being bald without the intervention of medicine, this is (mostly) not true for humans. Well, actually it isn't entirely, but lets ignore that whole morass for now.
Generally speaking, from a physical point of view, it's far more similar to ethnicity. It's (generally) obvious what gender someone is in the same way that it's generally obvious what ethnicity someone is. It's possible to
mask both of these things in various ways, depending, but most people wouldn't really want to do this. They are fairly happy where they are.
The attitudes and treatment people have had towards those of different ethnic backgrounds has varied a lot over history. Currently, here in the US, it is recognized as a touchy subject because of past events. That's not to say that there aren't statistics gathered based on ethnicity and how it correlates to ability. There certainly are. But it's more or less taken as true that these correlations are not happening because of some inate trait a given ethnicity has, but is more about cultural heritage, access to opportunity, and wealth distribution patterns.
There are differences of opinion on all this. Some people continue to insist that some ethnic backgrounds are or are not equal, equally capable or equally entitled to the opportunities and services of society. Whatever your opinion about ethnic background, however, we can all agree that it's a contentious issue, and raises strong feelings on all sides. If you decide to include mechanics exploring this issue in, say, a game, you run the risk of offending people who disagree with your opinions and starting a violent argument where emotions run high.
That sort of an argument, except for political extremists, is generally seen as an undesirable thing, and most people avoid getting into the morass. Should we get into these issues? Yes, we probably should. Should we be careful, polite, and respectful in doing so? Yes, undoubtedly. And if we don't think we can be, or someone tells us that we aren't, we need to be mindful of that. Be aware that you are juggling nitro glycerin, and choose your actions accordingly.
In most respects, the sociological attitudes surrounding gender differences are similar. The biggest difference is that it's not seen as impolite or undesirable to assert an opinion about the correlation between abilities and gender as it is to assert an opinion about a similar correlation between abilities and ethnicity. It is not as recognized as a contentious issue as ethnic-based differences are known to be.
Again, should we get into these issues? Yes, we probably should. Should we be careful, polite, and respectful in doing so? Yes, we should. Equally as careful, polite, and respectful in doing so, because the emotions are just as highly charged.
Explicitly including mechanics in a game which model or reinforce real-world social or biological ethnic variations is a politically charged action, and the person who does it needs to be (and generally is) aware that the topic is not something people take lightly.
Explicitly including mechanics in a game which model or reinforce real-world social or biological gender variations is similarly politically charged. But I see more ignorance about how contentious such opinions are, and I see a lot of indignance when opinions about how these differences work are challenged.
Consider this. Girls out-perform boys at all levels of schooling in terms of things like grades. Up until high school, many girls out-perform boys in math -- something changes around then. Also, men have a much higher statistical correlation for things like ADHD, dyslexia, and autism than women do. Should we model these cognitive differences? I don't think it's really that fun, personally, but these things do all statistically correlate.
Any game is by necessity a distillation, a subset, of all possible things that it could be. It focusses attention in on those things that it finds more important, and generally drops extraneous stuff without comment. The choice of what to include and what not to include, and the choice of how that which is included is handled, is a fundamentally political and intentional act. Some of those decisions will be politically charged, some won't be. Some that are probably shouldn't be. Some that aren't probably should be.
For better or worse, gender is one of the charged issues. Just because it isn't charged for you doesn't mean it isn't charged for other people, and it doesn't mean those other people are wrong for putting such an emphasis on it.
I see a lot of subtle misogyny in the world around me. Is it killing society? Mostly, no. Is it unfair and annoying? Hell, yes. When I try and explain it to guys, I generally get a blank quizzical look. "No, that doesn't really happen, you're just overreacting," "That shouldn't happen," and "Why would you put up with that?" are all very common reactions. Women just smile in agreement.
I don't know how to explain these things any better -- probably they're invisible unless you go stick a dress on and experience them for yourself. Doesn't mean they aren't really there, and it doesn't mean they aren't unfair. It really is a real social issue, and there is real social injustice behind it.
I'll just close with a pointer to this rather interesting article (http://faculty.kendall.edu/hweiman/GenderDiffs.html). I look forward to whatever feedback or critiquep eople have, either in private or public.
Hope I haven't overstepped any bounds. If so, mea culpa!
Excellent post, Dana. I agree with every word of it. <Ron>This is me, doing the happy dance.</Ron>
Gender/ethinicty issues aside, I think the important lesson here about game design is this: Designers! Own your game! Everything in your game is there because you want it to be, and for no other reason. What you include in your game says something about you -- your perceptions, your assumptions, and your preferences. And, despite recent very flamey threads, it's not necessary to defend or explain those preferences and perceptions. It's sufficient to say, "That's how I think it should be," and move on to making a game system that supports your goals.
All the flames are spewing from debates about whether or not certain perceptions of the world are right or wrong. These issues are vitally important to all of us as human beings, but their rightness or wrongness is almost never an issue in good or bad game design.
Let's continue our good work of helping each other make good games of all kinds.
I agree with you.
I tend to think of it as "women are like *this* until they are not." "*This*" being whatever trait we happen to be talking about and you can naturally substitute any ethinicity for women and the sentence still holds.
I do like your main points as this applies to gaming:
- Gender is a hot topic. Even if you don't think so, it is.
- The differences between the genders is worth exploring.
- But realize that if you do so, do so carefully (see first bullet)[/list:u]
I know that the Forge discourages "yeah, me too" posts, but I had to chime in here. Dana makes some fine points here. For me the most important of her points is this:
QuoteThe choice of what to include and what not to include, and the choice of how that which is included is handled, is a fundamentally political and intentional act. Some of those decisions will be politically charged, some won't be. Some that are probably shouldn't be. Some that aren't probably should be.
In other words, the designer always selects the "facts" (and I put this in quotation marks because there are significant theoretical questions that surround the facticity of "facts") that she or he deems to be significant while disregarding those she or he does not. Any naive appeals therefore to "it is included in my game because that is how it is in the real world" ignores the fact that the "real world" being modeled in the game is necessarily a selection and a distillation of the overwhelming complexity and variety of "facts" that inhabit the actual world. Appeals of this sort evade the fact that the designer has selected (i.e. made judgments about) what to include and what to exclude based on criteria quite other than "well, it is this way in the real world so it ought to be this way in the game world."
The vast complexity of the real world never makes its way into any game, nor does the "real world" exert anything like agency over the designer. Everything in a game is there because some human agent decided it ought to be there, not because fidelity to the real world is a requirement of designing a game. If it were, there would be no games.*
All this to say, "ditto!"
*As I wrote this, I thought that there must be a Borges story about this theme--i.e some mad encyclopedist attempt to enclose the whole of the world within the pages of a set of books. The closest one that comes to mind is "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" but perhaps there are others. Anyway, that's what the attempt to design a game that is "faithful to the 'real world'" would be like in my opinion: endless.