The Forge Archives

Archive => Indie Game Design => Topic started by: poppocabba on May 21, 2001, 09:20:00 PM

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: poppocabba on May 21, 2001, 09:20:00 PM
this topic started in another venue, and I was interested I seeing what people here had to say...
 now here is my concern on a broader level.
 I honestly feel like I am swimming up stream in  gaming everyday because I am a fierce  independent, and everything in the local gaming community seems to be rpga this, rpga that, so given my perspective I t seems to me fundamentally absurd to be worried about the depiction of women in frpg. the art in the new  third edition books does not boast a single image of a woman exposed to earth's gravity . so if you want to get rid of this "problem" in gaming you should go do your own thing, and not try to tilt the trust that keeps the "problem" alive.
 to spite several websites, articles, and forums I have yet to see an rpg that has a feminist marketing angle. so for me the amount of water that the argument "Rpgs depict women negatively" holds bears a direct relationship to the amount of constructive effort put forth by concerned parties to correct their perceived problem.
I was thinking I would open up the floor for considering why there isn't more of a grass roots effort by concerned parties to creat indy rpgs that solve this issue, and also considering the concerned as a market ripe for exploitation by the game design community.

[ This Message was edited by: poppocabba on 2001-05-22 13:43 ]

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 22, 2001, 05:19:00 AM
Hey man,

Could you re-state the question/concern? I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about except the part about gravitational breasts.

To clarify, I don't want a blow-by-blow recap of debates about the matter. I want some idea of what "the matter" is, or if there is one.


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Dav on May 22, 2001, 06:13:00 AM

I think one of the main issues is that marketing for the rpg realm has always been "male-biased", mainly due to the fact that it is "a man's world" (I had to say it...).  

Women make up somewhere between 25 and 40% of gamers (no, I have no numbers, this is just off-the-cuff from my own experience here.  Therefore, marketing specifically toward them may seem... not good.

However, in recent years, people such as Guardians of Order have specifically targeted women in gaming.  According to Jeff MacKintosh (I believe I just killed his last name) at GenCon last year, 60-70% of GoO's fanbase was feminine.  Looking over the GoO line, I'm not sure whether or not they fit your bias, but I can see a "chick-flick" angle to a lot of their stuff.

If you are interested in this, I suggest heading over to their site and checking around.  They may be the only (I think there may be 1 or 2 others, but I'm not sure) women-focused company in the gaming world.


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Clay on May 22, 2001, 09:35:00 AM
The Big Eyes Small Mouse supplement really caught my eye. It certainly takes away the Macho aspect of game marketing and design.  Of course, I'm the sort of sick SOB that would want to play the cat.


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: poppocabba on May 22, 2001, 09:36:00 AM
sorry about that ron, it was really late. I think My goals were to start  discussions on...
a> comparing the depiction of women in mainstream vs. indy rpgs
b>looking for original reasons why there hasn't been a greater reaction by the gaming community to the issue, and how it is or isn't affecting the hobby as a whole in terms of growth, and demographics
c>considering these concerns ( for the moment ) as a way to both gain greater exposure for indy gaming, and as a market for indy game design.
d> expose the hypocracy of many mainstream gamers who recently spent a lot of time complaining in my little peice of the world
 I have started to put the entire original thread, that started it all, into a word document that I feel actually is a case study on the subject, and I would be happy to send a copy to anyone that is interested. people threw a good deal of venom into their posts.
I will go back and edit the original post to hopefully make it a little clearer

[ This Message was edited by: poppocabba on 2001-05-22 13:45 ]

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: james_west on May 22, 2001, 10:15:00 AM
This seems like a real can of worms you've opened here (perhaps nobody feels like eating worms, though).

After looking at the thread, I have to say that I'm in agreement with the poster who was offended, even without seeing the cover.

I try to make the argument to people that, no, I'm not doing exactly the same thing I was doing when I was 12, that the whole gaming thing isn't some sort of sick, loser, semi-pedophilic masturbation fantasy ... and this is consistently undermined when they look at one of the books, laugh, and say, "Yeah, right."

I don't have anything against horny 15 year old boys. I don't even object that some role-playing games are designed with them in mind. It would make me really happy, though, if that weren't the DOMINANT market in mind for the industry.

                                                    - James

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: james_west on May 22, 2001, 10:36:00 AM
To be more specific about the thread that poppocabba was referring to:

A female gamer had convinced a female non-gamer friend to let her teenage sons attend a local game convention that's coming up in a couple of weeks. However, after the non-gamer mother saw the cover art for the convention schedule, which apparently consists of nearly nude big-breasted women humping their polearms, she changed her mind and refused to let them attend.

While I think this was a little strong as a reaction (after all, this is the sort of thing that teenage males are going to be interested in, anyway), I think that the annoyance on the part of the original female gamer is reasonable. This sort of behavior is appropriate for teenage males; it may even be appropriate for adult males, but when adult males start peddling it to teenage males it makes people wonder.

We can't object to the way we're portrayed in the media, and simultaneously vocally defend our right to splash cheesecake and munchkin art all over everything we print.

                                      - James

[ This Message was edited by: james_west on 2001-05-22 18:32 ]

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: poppocabba on May 22, 2001, 03:36:00 PM
my main contention is that while taking actions to make sure their greivances are heard, the portion of the role-playing community that is offended by it's depiction of women have done very little but spout hot air, I have spend a goodly number of hours finding free rpgs online, and have yet to see a game designed by women for women.
 further more the fact that most women in the hobby play the horrible main stream stuff that perpetuates the sterotypes they complain about.
 my fundamental beef with complaints about "the media has too much sex and violence" type arguments is that they are the most stomach turning sort of whining victimization. the fact is that there are tons of resources available, and tons of skilled people available all across the entertainment industries looking for work, instead of organizing to complain, organize to do something constructive, and expand the possibilites of the market.
 basically every frpg has  3 core character classes, dwarf, old wizard, and supermodel (male or female) to begin with anyways

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: poppocabba on May 22, 2001, 05:23:00 PM
I agree that most women don't care, but to my experience there are 2.5 times as many women in gaming as there are religious zealots, and the religious zealots have roughly 3 rpgs out.
do we even have any estrogen in this forum?
btw- james-I am looking at the "offensive" cover art right now, and I find more aesthic objections then moral ones.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Dav on May 22, 2001, 06:31:00 PM

My responses are often tempered by my girlfriend, Elizabeth (who, by the way, could be said to suffer rom lack of estrogen herself...).  She, however, has this tendency to play some of the most depraved, bloodthirsty, mega-kill chicks I've ever seen.  (Though all of them have good fashion sense, which is odd)

I'm trying to get her to join in the forum, as her slant on many things tends to be... unique.  That, and she has a largely "spectator" view on things, which cold probably be an aid.

Ron and I can work on her.


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: poppocabba on May 22, 2001, 06:57:00 PM
dav- let me know if you need any comments or challenges to spur her on.
that being said another gender related question came to my mind.
 how could on create gme mechanics that accurately reflect physiological diffenerences between the genders?

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Dav on May 23, 2001, 05:53:00 AM
The first edition AD&D was a good example of using the stereotypical differences between the genders.  For some reason, however, there seemed to be no real benefit for being female.  Perhaps a commentary, perhaps not.  

That being said, I don't mind, I even appreciate, the use of a gender differentiation in games, so long as there is still reason (other than characterization) to play both genders.  I freely admit that this is not pointed toward Brian, as I have yet to read his game (though I'm off to download it after this).  

Orkworld makes differentiation, but mainly in regard to social status (orks are very matriarchal).  In some ways, I think using a more social aspect for dividing the genders often works a bit better, and for some reason, is more openly accepted all around.  


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 23, 2001, 06:40:00 AM

Two questions, and a comment.

1) Is this not a tempest in a teapot? I still fail to see the "should" anywhere - what "should" RPGs depict, what "should" they do, who "should" they include.

The only way I can render this coherent to myself is as follows - the female market is always more powerful than the male market. If you get the guys, you get the guys; if you get the women, you get the women and the guys too. So if we're talking about getting more actual women to buy and play RPGs, that would be very wise (or capitalist-pig cunning, if you want to look at it that way).

Comics provides the model. Do what creator-owned comics did over the last ten years. There's a huge literature on this to be mined for ideas.

2) Elfs is blatantly, crudely offensive, full of adolescent sexual innuendo in both its text and actual play, and including at least one picture of bare, pneumatic boobs. Is this bad? Wrong? At the least, injudicious?

The answer might be, "But Elfs is satire. It mocks the attitude it portrays." This answer has proven ineffective in the short-term and very powerful in the long-term, juding by how the issue has played out many times over recorded history.  

I think the issue relates ONLY to role-players who are under others' social and economic control - that is, children. In any other case, it's strictly a matter of, "If you don't like it, don't buy it." If someone wants to put Elfs in the same category as Hustler being sold as a gas station, and avoid it for the same reason, I have no problem with that. But when kids and moms (excuse me, "concerned parents") are involved, then I'm in good shape there too, due to my electronic commerce - if little Cody is allowed to use a credit card on the internet, then Elfs is probably a very MINOR version of what he can accomplish, nudie or sexist-wise. If he's not, then cool - no Elfs for him.

(This is the same reason, I think, that Sorcerer has NEVER suffered one, single comment from those who object to the term "demon" for any reason.)

3) Women role-players are common in my games and those I'm involved in. Two out of three players in one group, 1 out of three players in another, and every session of the campus group brings in one more woman gamer, like clockwork.

I say this to justify the following claim: women differ from men, in role-playing terms, because women and men interact in specific ways in real-life terms. The social scene of the table almost always includes quite a bit of sexual tension. In my younger days, this spilled over both into game events and also into real-life events; now, I'm finding that role-playing produces the same high-satisfaction, low-but-actual sexual tension that occurs between me and, say, married or otherwise unavailable women. Nothing is said, nothing happens, but there exists a certain POSITIVE acknowledgment of one another. It's not flirting, and there's no frustration or temptation involved. Other older guys may know what I'm talking about.

My point? Women and men are not neutral terms; gender is a social and physical reality. My goal in play is not to go "la la, gender is irrelevant, la la," but to plumb the issue for its positive (in my case Narrativist-facilitating) aspects, in role-playing terms. I've got lots of examples that might be best handled on a thread for that purpose.

I'm now musing over how that might apply to actual RPG design. Since my overall goals are strictly Narrativist, modelling physical or other differences in resolution mechanics is irrelevant (upper body strength probabilities, for instance). How then would the issue apply? Hmmmm. Double hmmmm.  


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Dav on May 23, 2001, 07:42:00 AM
Ron (if I may):

Asking someone to define what RPG's "should" do, in my opinion "should" (I love hypocrisy...) be something that most avoid.  To proclaim something the one, true way seems to be antithetical to the entire philosophy of the indie game.  Granted, you were not choking the life out of some poor bastard and screaming "why!?", but I can see the line on the horizon.

The issue of gender is one that has been catapulted to the forefront of society today.  As many (very many) have pointed-out, all sci-fi is really a parallel to current standards.  I would say that RPG's are the same in this respect (regardless of genre).  To shutter the issue of PC or gender issues, even if we don't necessarily agree (does anyone know anybody who thinks PC is good?), seems incorrect to the overall theme of the RPG (to me).

Taking, for a moment, your aim toward the narrativist element...

Gender/race/age/take-your-pick are always great focuses for narrativist elements.  The social versus real imapct of "being different" can provide ample material for games.  The fact that the modern RPG (and, to a large degree, the older RPG as well) shies away from religion, race, gender, and discrimination in general seems backward.  The fact that, in many instances, the only true discrimination is good against evil often gives people the wrong impression (that evil is the antihero).  

I think Poccocabba has a valid issue concerning gender issues.  The problem, while perhaps not stated in concrete terms, is present, and I'm interested to see what comes out of the discussion.

Okay, rambling over, back to your regularly scheduled thread.


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 23, 2001, 08:28:00 AM
Oh, I agree with you, Dav. That's what points #2 and #3 are. However, they're not really "shoulds," and #1 is my way of stepping out of that particular realm of discussion.


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Clay on May 23, 2001, 10:13:00 AM
I'm inclined to the Tempest in a Teapot theory myself.  If these were people inclined to real action, they'd get into a game and start changing those stereotypes.    

It also seems that actually dealing with these controversial issues is a matter for the setting, not the game mechanic itself.  I've played quite a bit with both religious and gender tensions in my games, all by working with the setting and the specific story at hand.

In the very first game I ever ran, gender played a very significant role.  The female player, using a female character, could use gender as bait to get people to give her access to information that otherwise could not be reached.  Likewise, only male characters were welcome in certain circles.  In this setting, both genders had advantages, and both disadvantages, that were directly related to the role that society that their gender restricted them to.

As for the artwork, well, it's not just women depicted in cheesecake poses.  As someone pointed out, at least one of the classes in nearly every game is "Supermodel."

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Dav on May 23, 2001, 12:26:00 PM

A tempest in a teapot can still stir up quite a storm (my Grandma used to tell me that one).

Anyway, I think you're right, these are issues for setting and not mechanics (unless you've got some rather unusual mechanics).  I have no problem with statistical or societal differentiation of gender in games, I just think if it is going to happen, a certain degree of attention should be paid to balance both sides.  

Your game is not on trial here, and by my standards, sounds extremely interesting from a purely sociological standpoint.  However, whereas men are inclined to "shrug it off" when confronted with "boy-bashing", women/everyone else tends to react more strongly... for whatever reason (this is not school, I refuse to talk about studies I don't even believe in).  Just because the issue of racism/gender issues doesn't affect you (or me), doesn't mean it isn't a topic that deserves attention.  I know people who refused to play D&D because the only "black" race was the Drow, which was markedly evil (interestingly, one of the few matriarchal societies as well).  Are they out of line?  Maybe.  Do they have a point?  Certainly.  

I've looked at this topic a number of times in the past few years, and without even looking, I could tell you that RP is 80% white male.  Is that coincidence, or perhaps is there something to the notion that gaming, for a long time, has been the province of the white boy with glasses, freckles, and few friends?

I'm trying to play the Devil's Advocate here, and wishing I got paid by the hour like most advocates.  


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: james_west on May 23, 2001, 12:38:00 PM
(For anybody who wants debate from someone willing to own up to being more or less PC, I'm willing to do so by e-mail. What it boils down to, though, is when you're dealing with the public regarding sensitive issues, you'll get a heck of a lot more done if you bend over backwards not to be offensive. Actually, I notice that Dav above is willing to be fairly PC as well.)

There are several issues here:

(1) How are women depicted in the artwork ?
(2) How are women treated by the rules ?
(3) How are women treated in actual games ?

The answer to (1) is: like cheesecake, generally speaking. This is bad because it offends many casual observers.

The answer to (2) is (usually): the issue is ignored in explicit terms, but most games are designed with male sensibilities in mind. Explicitly, I think women are usually less willing to put up with complex rules, and while they may enjoy being bloodthirsty, they don't much enjoy spending hours designing minmaxed killing machines (which a lot of male gamers I know enjoy doing.).

The answer to (3) is extremely group specific.

I think the "if they were that interested, they'd do something about it rather than just complain" issue is a little disengenuous. Like it or not, gamers are a homogenous mass to the general public, and it's gonna stay that way. It doesn't matter if you're not a misogynist munchkin, if all the visible examples of gamers are.

            - James

[ This Message was edited by: james_west on 2001-05-23 16:40 ]

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: poppocabba on May 23, 2001, 03:46:00 PM
the first part of this post is a rant at james (as I have been known to do)- the important part is at the end
james - thinking for yourself, and taking action according to your beliefs is about the single least disengenuous thing you can do. nothing ever gets done if no one stops, and says demographics be damned! expecting that of other people is the first step to stopping this degeneration into "it feels good" new age,  new star trek  decision making process  that half the planet is stuck in like invalids stewing in their own vomit.
(end rant)

that being said my disorganized thread across several forums has in one small level acheived it's goal, and I hope you can provide me with plenty of ammo to reply to this email i received...
Where do I find a RPG without Chicks In Chainmail pictures?  I'd love
to check out a RPG like that written by a talented writer....


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 23, 2001, 04:29:00 PM
Most RPG's DON'T have cheesecake art (which is a shame!)

Most RPG's don't acknowledge the fact that the characters have sexual organs -- if they do, it's in a historical context (like, "women can't be knights" or whatever) rather than like OrkWorld or Hero Wars treats the subject.

Pick up a copy of Vogue sometime...more T&A than an issue of Maxim.  Seriously.  

And a woman in skimpy clothing = bad, woman in skimpy clothing holding a sword = good?  Uhhh...ooookay.  

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: james_west on May 23, 2001, 05:20:00 PM

OK, as an alien from another planet (well, a person with extremely limited contact with popular media who hadn't bought a game book in years before last weekend) I am perhaps not the best person to address any of this.

However, I think the skimpy clothing gives offense, weapons or not (in the example that started the thread, the women had weapons, they just seemed to be engaged in intercourse with them, at least by repute).

poppocabba - I presume that the people who are complaining DO abstain from the behaviors they find objectionable.

                   - James

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Dav on May 24, 2001, 06:08:00 AM
"From the POV of the indy game designer, he can try to appeal to them or not as he wishes. His is niche game anyway, so he can target whatever niche he likes."

Odd that you use a male pronoun...  (Seriously, I'm not trying to start a fight, just pointing it out... don't hurt me :wink: )

Seriously though, I think that the people we are speaking to are likely the same people to find Vogue offensive.  Personally, there is a difference to me.  

With Vogue, it is one of many, hundreds even, of varied, all-over-the-map magazines.  With RPGs, there is a more limited supply, especially considering genre, and finding one that does not contain "cheesecake art" (which is a term I admit to not understanding... why cheesecake?  Isn't that fattening?).  Between getting your Hollywood gossip and getting into a more intellectual pursuit such as RP (sure, let's go with intellectual...), you expect the skimpy art in Hollywood, but to many, the question isn't as much "is nothing sacred?", as much as "can I escape it for awhile?"  It says something that even in a fantastical world, the sex idol must be featured ever-so prominently.


PS: This is weird, I'm the most anti-feminist person you can find... no offense to women, I am pretty much anti any interest group.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 24, 2001, 08:46:00 AM
What game has the best shopping rules? Ten-foot pole was cool, but not complete enough…

"See?  SEE???  Phallic symbolism!  It's ALL about the size of the penis!"

(whoops, sorry...turned into Hillary Doda for a second)

- Jared

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Zak Arntson on May 24, 2001, 10:15:00 AM
Here's a poignant personal story about the depiction of women:

Watching Pokemon with my 6yr old niece.  There is Brock who is girl-crazy.  Brock meets a beautiful doctor and her nerdy girl helpers.  The doctor comes out of the water in a swimsuit dripping wet, and the helpers are there in labcoats and glasses.  Brock gets all hot and bothered and my niece turns to me and says, "Why doesn't Brock like girls with glasses?"

[and people say that environment doesn't shape a child ... I was banned from watching Hulk at that age because I'd tip over furniture and smash things after watching it :]


More on topic:
As a consumer, you should follow your personal tastes.  If artwork is a big deal to you, let it be a big deal.  Don't be pressured into buying something you don't believe in.

As a creator, decide who your audience is and where your goal lies.  If there is a conflict between profit and ethics, you've got to figure out _for yourself_ what will make you happy.

As indie creators, our niche is so small that I don't think we should ever resort to cheesecake to sell games.  If it's integral to the setting (like S&M critters from Elves, or the Magdalen concubines from Tribe 8), include it.  Otherwise, don't stick a chainmail-bikini'd lady with a rifle between her legs in your gritty post-apocolyptic world of survival. By the same token, we shouldn't resort to "hipness" to sell games (we've got Goth!).

We should use the strengths of the GAME to sell the game.

I think our Indie position of style over profit allows us to be much truer to our own selves (whatever that self is) than a consumer-driven market.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: poppocabba on May 31, 2001, 08:15:00 AM
here is an rpg net article on the subject

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Clay on May 31, 2001, 09:39:00 AM
I'm inclined to think that Ms. Doda may have too much time on her hands.  Of course, I read the whole thing, so I may suffer from the same affliction.

My only question is: Why does anyone find it surprising that men like to look at boobs?


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 31, 2001, 09:59:00 AM

Clay, your comment might be a tad flip. There are some valuable insights coming out of that article, and I respect anyone who's willing to go the videotape, so to speak, and get some data to address their points.

My big reaction, though, is this: the author clearly has a set of values and standards to which she expects RPGs - or any medium, presumably - OUGHT to conform.

This is fine as a personal value system, or consumer standard, or anything of the sort. However, as I stated earlier on this thread, that's ALL it can be. There's no immediately-obvious, all-encompassing REASON that any publisher OUGHT to conform to that value system, independently of agreeing with it.

Again, to repeat, the only such reason I can come up with is to attract female customers ... and at this point, whether depicting women in certain ways will achieve that is a big unknown. My guess is a qualified yes, that getting out of Image-Comics-mode would be a good move for this purpose. However, I also suspect that "neutralizing" gender (which seems to be the preferred goal of the article) would not be the effective tactic for the commercial purpose either.

This thread has wandered a lot, partly because it never did get a Key Question established. Poppocabba, what would that Question be?


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: poppocabba on June 01, 2001, 03:43:00 AM
wow Ron-
I wish I had you on my game developement team. you are one of the few people brave enough to attempt the thankless and impossible task of keeping me organized!
 I think we may be rambling a little more the usual because I have a profound lack of an ideological axe to grind on this topic. I find Jessica Rabbit physiology appealing, and the bulging bodice / chainmail bikini are the only fantasy cliches that have any zip left for me.
but what I am interested in is examining how the concerns over the depiction of women in gaming will effect the future of the hobby, and how it could be used by indy rpg designers as an edge over the high gloss commercial products that are out there. I would also like to find related research. or info that would be able to predict or back up any assertions that could be made on the topic.
 let me follow that up with yet another presumption. that this whole horrible pokemon mess is a phenomenon that is going to gradually bring a good deal of people into gaming indirectly. I would also contend that it is more cross-gender then any historical precursor, including magic, so what happens when we are rolling 20 siders in adult diapers at the retirement home, and the next generation starts to game? it will most likely be more mixed then it was with us, and how will they deal with our beloved chainmail bikini? even if we agree that it is a small percentage of women that find this thing unacceptable , with vast numbers of them entering the hobby the numbers of upset people could become significant
I would also contend that focusing on evening the gender ratio would be the fastest way to grow the hobby, citing the pokemon example, and even if the very core of gaming is changed many of the problems of gaming might be solved.

o.k. Ron- so let me provide some direction for our discussion..
how have changing gender dynamics / considerations effected the hobby since you started, and what changes do you predict in the future?
 james- abstaining from an activity you would otherwise enjoy is considered by me to be an act of utter contrition in comparision to dealing with the problem, be it real or perceived.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 01, 2001, 08:15:00 AM
"how have changing gender dynamics / considerations effected the hobby since you started, and what changes do you predict in the future?"

These are dangerous waters for me to enter. For one thing, that's a pundit-question; it's very broad and lends itself to generalizations which are NOT valid. I can't claim any authority to answer without specifying way down.

For another thing, my take on gender issues and politics WILL be misunderstood. I won't go into its foundations here at all, and therefore any comments of mine regarding a question like this will appear fragmented and ungrounded.

My first task is therefore to specify. I'll speak only of what indie-RPG designers might consider in order to draw more women toward these games. I'll narrow it down further, into two categories - presentation vs. play.

I think way too much time has focused on presentation. Yes, it's important; it's the first hurdle for drawing interest. The cover of Lace & Steel has a riveting effect on women role-players in my presence; the cover of BESM does not.

But I would prefer to focus on the only hurdle that will SUSTAIN a person's commitment to and interest in a given RPG, which is one's actual experience during play.

My second task is to make some claims. I foresee some awful debate arising from "you can't say that!" type of objections. I'd prefer that such things be taken to private messages here on the Forge or through e-mail, but I doubt we'll be that lucky. Here goes - Ron's rather brutal claims.

1) If "mainstream" is divorced from its connotations of "superficial," then it strictly means "what people tend to buy." I suggest that women's buying preferences - speaking in terms of trends, not individual variation - play the most basic, driving role in defining those tendencies.

In other words, women constitute the fundamental market for nearly all products, either directly or indirectly, via either straightforward demand or tacit disapproval/avoidance.

2) Competitive gaming does not tend to appeal to women consumers. Narrative does - and I think this means that designs based on either Simulationism with a strong "fixed" story (e.g. metaplot) or Narrativism provide more powerful draw and sustained interest than those based on Gamism.

3) Women, in my opinion, understand and focus on the "real people" interactions of a social gathering better than men do. Therefore RPGs which acknowledge and promote specific interactions of this kind provide more powerful draw. One aspect of this would be "social focus," a game that acknowledges what it expects the PEOPLE to DO together.

This conclusion also lends strength to LARPing and similar activities as a good draw as well.

So these three points break into the following ideas:
- Including women in the consumer role for role-playing is economically and socially very wise.

- Focus on "story" angles of role-playing, from any of several perspectives, is recommended. The most fruitful angles seem to be Simulationism with strong metaplot, LARPing, and Narrativism.

- Honest and up-front statements about social behavior and opportunities during role-playing, system design that promotes such things, and graduating from the "cops & robbers" lie are all recommended.

We should take a look at some other activities which face the same conditions: (1) rapidly evolving medium, (2) multiple individuals contributing multiple products, (3) a range from full-indie to full-corporate ownership and policies, and (4) transition from fringe to more of an average-consumer status, but probably NEVER any hope of being fully "mainstream."

The obvious example is comics. Even aside from the remarkable tendency for RPGs' marketing and economics trends to follow those of comics at a 2-5 year lag, I think we have incredible lessons to learn there.

Another example is martial arts. Another is creator-owned film.

Extensive literatures exist about all three of these phenomena, among which I perceive astounding similarities, and if I were to embark on a "women and RPGs" endeavor of any kind, I'd spend a lot of time learning from all the work that's been done regarding them.



Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Clay on June 01, 2001, 08:51:00 AM
In an attempt to get back on the track here, let me see if I can draw some specifics out of what I've been reading.

First, I think we can safely ignore suggestions that scantily clad women should not be depicted in gaming books.  Women gleefully buy Cosmopolitan and other grocery store magazines that are just rife with women who are wearing outfits so small you have to have faith to really believe in them.  What probably is important is that the artwork be directly relevant to the game.  It's the lack of relevance of the scantily clad females that seems to tweak some women off.

Second, the opposition aspects of the game's design should be played down.  The GM isn't the person who controls the monsters (although she is), the GM is more like the host of a party, providing events and opportunity for social interaction via the game.  Likewise, an emphasis on physical combat is probably less relevant than a good system for encouraging and resolving dramatic conflict.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 01, 2001, 09:51:00 AM

One minor tweak of your final comment. In my experience, women role-players have no special tendency to dislike, avoid, or find alternatives to combat as a form of resolution. I tend to lean toward the "underground consensus" that women make for bloodthirsty role-players, although officially, I'll say WE DON'T KNOW whether women prefer or don't prefer combat in role-playing, or do or don't find it fun, or whether there is any meaningful difference between these preferences and those of men.

Again, all of the below being based on my own observations rather than any widely-based data, in order to make combat satisfying to women at the role-playing table, I think that these elements should be heightened:
- explicit relevance of the combat to the more general conflict
- unequivocal effectiveness - women players get immensely and immediately frustrated by the "whiff factor" inherent to many RPG designs


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: JSDiamond on June 01, 2001, 11:54:00 AM
Just for fun, I asked my wife about:
    1.) The combat factor of rpgs and what it means to her in the course of a campaign.
    2.) Women portrayed in rpgs.
Her answers:

1.) "I want a brawl every ten minutes. I hate games where people sit around in taverns or spend hours in town buying supplies.  Same goes for RPing the sleeping and eating parts, -say we did it and carry on."

2.) Just don't make every female adventurer look like Barbarella or Lady Death.  Especially if you are a guy running a female character and there are girl players in the group, it's just annoying."

There you have it.
Jeff Diamond
6-0 Games            

[ This Message was edited by: JSDiamond on 2001-06-01 15:55 ]

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Clay on June 03, 2001, 01:20:00 PM
It is true that some of the more stunning combat actions in our group have been done by the lone female player.  I should be particularly ashamed of myself for suggesting that females weren't interested in combat, since one of the things that my girlfriend and I enjoy doing most together is shooting.

I'll have to agree on the importance of making the combat relevant.  It's personally irksome to me as well to have a meaningless fight.  That's probably more a feature of GM style than game design though.  

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Zak Arntson on June 04, 2001, 09:20:00 AM
I think women gamers run the gamut of gamer-types just as much as male gamers do.  I've seen my wife play super competitive Paranoia, and other women play generic D&D, power gaming Vampire, run games, etc. etc.

So I think the main issue would be to keep it from appearing to be a boy's club.  If you've got women gamers, you don't have to worry about this.  But many book covers and many guy gamers (at least whenever I go into my local shop) fit the guys-who-draw/buy-what-they'll-never-get-(or-what's-physicall-possible) a la Simpsons Comic Shop owner.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Cameron on June 23, 2001, 12:46:00 PM
My wife is a gamer. Although I have played rpgs with a large number of female gamers over the years (to the point of having women outnumber men 3 to 1 in one game I ran), I'd never really had to address what makes for a hospitable gaming enviornment for women until recently.
My wife has no problem with cheesecake art, or representation of women in the gaming settings we've used, or even the personal hygiene of the male gamers we play with. What she does have a problem with is how, when men outnumber women in any event, they subconciously act like a good old boys network.
I don't think my gaming group realizes it, because I didn't notice it until she brought it to my attention. But objectively, it's hard to deny that the male gamers are chewing up the scenery with their scene-stealing gaming antics while largely relegating my wife to "sidekick" status.
There are a few other factors at play. First, my wife has ADD and so isn't as focused on the game as the other players. Second, she's been forced to bail out of the game sessions a little early every night because she has to wake up early the next morning. While these may contribute to the other players glossing over her character as uninformed or unimportant, they also get caught up in one-upping each other in "guy"ish behavior and talk over her when she is trying to do something in character.
I don't think there is any way for game designers to create a woman-friendly roleplaying game because players are the ones that are ultimately responsible for putting the design into action and they have bad habits. There is nothing in Vampire: The Masquerade that says "watch reruns of The Highlander and play this game like superheros with fangs," yet there are a lot of gamers out there who run it like D&D with sunglasses despite every dark, brooding, atmospheric suggestion that White Wolf publishes.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: greyorm on June 24, 2001, 09:01:00 AM

the other players glossing over her character as uninformed or unimportant, they also get caught up in one-upping each other in "guy"ish behavior and talk over her when she is trying to do something in character.

Hrm, I wonder if this is really even an issue of the sexes.  I had the exact same experience in the last tabletop group I was in, and I'm not female.

Mainly, despite the fact that I was sitting right next to the GM and was thus hard to miss, everyone seemed to forget my character was there (let alone me), almost without fail interrupted any actions I was taking and never once listened to anything I had to say (talking right over me whenever I opened my mouth to speak...hell, one of the plans they made up was something I'd suggested ten minutes previous to their thinking it up).

Basically, they made me feel stupid and unimportant by treating me as such.  I left the group after three sessions because of it, though the GM and I are still close friends (notably, he quit playing with the same group shortly thereafter).

Now I don't know what the problem actually was, as I seemed to get along with the group pre and post game. However, I'd never gamed with this group before and never met any of them (other than the GM) prior to the first game, while all but one of them were apparently long-time friends.  A couple of them were tech-heads and Senior programmers and apparently didn't like the company I'd gotten my own training through.
Somewhere in the midst of all that, I'm sure, is a glimpse into the real face of the problem.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Jamie Thomas Durbin on July 06, 2001, 07:17:00 PM
Okay, since everyone seems to be giving the anecdotes as a good means of discussing this, here goes:-

Being in a Role Playing Society (with the awful acronym of BURPS), We actually do have a couple of female players, although not as many as we'd like to have in the name of variety... However, these few ladies are wildly different in their approaches...

Firstly, we have Sarah... Sarah seems to come under the roleplayer stereotype (yes, we do have them... quite a few, actually!) of 'conniving b****'... she will quite gladly try and sleep with an NPC if she feels it would get her character what she wants, has nearly always, no matter what the adventure, played a thief who ended up stealing all the party's most important items, and, despite being a thief, has often been the most bloodthirsty out of the entire party (she invariably plays D&D, by the way)

Then, we have Imogen... Imogen is the direct opposite. If we were to label her with a stereotype, it would be 'shy unassuming person who often gets ignored in games because it takes too long for her to decide what to do'. And she is, to a T.

How are people, pray tell, going to make an RPG 'for women', when women are just as varied as men, coming under the same category of 'person', or 'human being'?

Thusly, I agree with the "storm in a teapot" stance...

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: greyorm on July 11, 2001, 02:46:00 PM
Over in the Orkworld forum, scantily-clad women at gaming conventions and gamer reactions to their dress were being discussed, and Peter stated the following:


However; I'm one of those. I don't like looking at them, because.. I dunno. I'm a little embarrassed for a lot of them. Provided these girls/women get older and have the opportunity to look back on their lives, I think they might even be embarrassed for themselves.

My question is "Why?"
Why would they be embarassed because they aren't dressed in Mormon-style, shapeless black dresses looking dour and homely all the time?  Or rather, why should they be embarassed?

In my considerable experience, being both married and having far more female friends than male, women WANT to look good, they want to look sexy, even the married ones *gasp* (just ask my wife), and even especially the ones who culture tells us "are unattractive."

I have a number of overweight female friends who "flaunt it" specifically because they've chosen to take a stance that they ARE sexy, and screw anyone who says otherwise, screw anyone that says they are unattractive or ugly or worth less, because they aren't.  In the face of constant negative perceptions, they are trying to maintain positive self attitudes.

This seems like a no win situation.  Some are saying, "Women shouldn't dress like that!" or "We shouldn't depict women like that!" and the women are out there saying, "But I WANT to be seen as attractive and sexy."

Certainly, women don't want to be judged against an unreachable standard any more than a man, but they, individually, want to look GOOD and be found attractive.

So it is a bit of a double-standard: they want to appear attractive and/or sexy, but yet depicting women as attractive/sexy or dressing attractively/sexily is somehow wrong.

Hands up, boys, who here wants to look plain and unattractive?  Don't lie.  Don't we all want to be described as "handsome" or "attractive" and have women oogling our butts?

I don't know anyone who honestly wants to be perceived of as unattractive.  Looking good is a driving urge in human psychology, even if we don't always manage it.

Of course, there's a big difference between accepting or not minding that you are unattractive, and wanting to be unattractive or not minding becoming attractive.

I know that in male company, even, I want to look good or "well-dressed" or however it might be described.

Why should anyone be embarassed for desiring to look attractive, especially as they get older and look back at having done so?
Is it supposed to be something we all desire and deny to ourselves?  Why?

Desiring to look attractive, or being confident enough to dress sexy says to me "healthy self-image", which is nothing to be embarassed of, though I know our culture dearly loves to make such a thing into one of the seven deadly sins.

So flaunt it, ladies.

Honestly, there's a lot of psychology under this whole issue of scantily-clad women that has nothing to do with gaming specifically, it is really a broad social issue of which this is just a subset.

Are scantily-clad women a problem?
Only if you make it one...ahh, the American love-hate relationship with sexuality.

I do honestly wonder, are we embarassed for them or are we embarassed for ourselves?  Because we don't have the balls to do it, because we're content to just sit back and hope to gain attention, or because they don't meet our criteria for "proper" behavior...sinking to our level for our comfort?

Seems that way to me, considering some of my female friends reactions and reasons for dressing the way they do.  They certainly aren't embarassed, and why should they be?
They don't find the depictions of chain-mail bikinis horrid or objectifying...why should they?  

They're comfortable enough with themselves that it isn't "competition", that these depictions don't bother them because they're comfortable with attractiveness.

Whew...hope that doesn't stir up hornet's nest.

Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
"Homer, your growing insanity is starting to bother me."

[ This Message was edited by: greyorm on 2001-07-11 19:24 ]

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Cameron on July 14, 2001, 11:04:00 AM
You have to love America: a hedonistic society founded on puritanical ideals.


"That which does not kill us, maims us horribly"

[ This Message was edited by: Cameron on 2001-07-14 15:05 ]

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: kwill on July 18, 2001, 03:14:00 PM
nobody has mentioned: Macho Women With Guns

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: contracycle on July 19, 2001, 03:39:00 PM
Righty.  First, the terms of debate: I am more or less a  card carrying feminist, or would be were there such a thing.  

The feminist critique of society is that prescribes (or let us say, strongly tends to prescribe) certain modes of behavior for women which are based on the sexual status as women, not according to their ability.  This is usually expressed as a moral obligation or religious requirement, an obligation which falls upon the women to fulfill despite the fact that their sex is natural, necessary and not a matter of choice - the "impurity" of menstrual blood is a good example.  Secondly, that male-dominated society enjoys a hypocritical  relationship to the role that it casts women in.  It first demands compliance with male sexual demands (and I do mean demands) and then condemns this behaviour as morally corrupt.  Because this double standard, in mens interest, is implemented at a social level (frex, in the way that codes of censorship may state that nude women are not obsecene where a nude man is, or in the way a woman promises to obey in the marriage ceremony) both men and women can be and are socialised into a form of beahviour which is discriminatory, and often physically dangerous, to women.  Lastly, because a womens work is valued artificially lower due to their artificially less-worthy social status, they don't recieve due recompense for their labour or economic activity, a feature which certainly persists in modern western economies.

Thats the pocket version.  To the point at hand:
In the context of this critique, RPG cheesecake falls squarely into the category of sexist behaviour.  Feminists argue that the that the constant repetition of art depicting woman AS SEXUAL OBJECT, rather than woman as person, propagates and perpetuates the meme, if you like, of the "appropriate" role of women.  Note that this is not an objection to a DIFFERENT role for women than that of men - it merely questions why this role should centre so frequently on their sexual attractivness or availability, express or implied.  This is what gets up many peoples noses - its hard enough competing against the white noise of the ubiquitous model in the ubiquitous advertising, but to have to compete against an artists fetish-prone imagination or the dream-babe of some cross-gender playing male geek is hardly an appealing prospect for many.

Sermon over.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: greyorm on July 19, 2001, 09:49:00 PM

but to have to compete against an artists fetish-prone imagination or the dream-babe of some cross-gender playing male geek is hardly an appealing prospect for many.

Certainly I agree that some people are offended by depictions of such, but I have to wonder at the reasoning behind such offense.

Consider, my wife and her fellow women of the nearly all-female gaming group I've been a part of for the last four years have consistently played what would be best described as "cheesecake women": sexy, scantily armored women with lots of leg.

Two of my wife's characters: high Charisma, petite, big-eyed elven red-head; and her twin sister, who prefers dyeing her hair black and wearing only enough tight black leather to cover the "important bits."

Another individual's character was based on Xena, armor, whip and all (and I don't think I need to explain the sex-appeal there).

Yet another player had a blond, green-eyed beauty, a wizardess is thigh-split robes.  She later played an amazon warrioress clad in typical native garb (ie: beads and two strips of animal skin).

Another player ran a big-eyed, pretty country girl who had to learn to fight just to keep the boys away.

And there was a woman who played the beautiful elven princess in white leather, the one which flirted with any man of any race she could find  (Unfortunately, her other character was just a repeat on this theme).

And so on (the above were the examples that immediately sprung to mind).

This doesn't exactly scream "We women find these depictions demeaning" to me.

As a counter-point to the female perspective of sex and society: what about the sexual status of males among women?  I don't really want to venture too deeply into that ugly territory, other than to say it isn't much better on the other side of the fence.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 20, 2001, 06:21:00 AM
This discussion has gone grossly off-topic.

The role of sexism, gender roles, and related matters in role-playing is an excellent topic, but its different aspects need to be represented in new threads, in the appropriate forums, with explicit questions of their own. This one has become a kind of free-association thread, and it must end.

In those future threads, people should be aware that their viewpoints CANNOT be expected to over-ride those of others except on the basis of rigorous comparison. I do hereby state that politicized viewpoints are important and relevant, and need to be considered on their merits - the feminist perspective (more specifically, second-wave feminism, a la K.D. Lang and Naomi Wolfe), for instance. Again, arguments from those perspectives cannot be bullied from speaking, nor may they bully others into submission on moral grounds. The two priorities at the Forge are (1) respect for the speaker and (2) utter dissection of the idea.

But all of those threads should still address specific role-playing issues. Please take discussions of the VALIDITY of politicized viewpoints (feminist, hard-line conservative, or anything else) into private e-mail.


Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: contracycle on July 20, 2001, 07:03:00 AM
:smile: Indeed

As other posters on this thread have offered, I would be happy to discuss the idea in more detail by personal email.  However, to return to the question posed by the thread: how should RPG's respond to this criticism, and is any response necessary?

My answer is "yes".  I too am actively embarrassed by the kitsch cover and internal art which frankly appears frozen at the aesthetic level of "Conquest of Gor" or whatever those terrible novels were called.  It certainly is a detriment to attempts to make the hobby a mature, adult pastime with a mixed sex membership.  I perfectly understand how and why women may be and are repelled by the highschool locker-room atmosphere that is exemplified by the chain-mail bikini.  I'm unhappy about this because it is a long, long time since my gaming circle was male enough, or adolescent enough, not to raise an eyebrow, and this is certainly a factor in my purchasing decisions.

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: greyorm on July 20, 2001, 09:02:00 PM

This discussion has gone grossly off-topic.

Color me confused.  How is discussing how the female players in the games I have been a part depict their own characters grossly off-topic? (note the topic title)

Particularly as a response to the claim that women or mature adults find it offensive, or that it is in some manner detrimental to the hobby as a whole?

I'm putting experience out on the table, because my experience doesn't appear to reflect the "common sense" politics of the situation.  What new thread title do you suggest, Ron?

Title: the depiction of women in gaming
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 21, 2001, 05:31:00 AM
Hi Raven,

Please - ask me policy questions privately, or on the Site thread, OK?

It so happens that I agree with you, that the explanation of gender issues as provided/paraphrased by contracycle is definitely debatable.

We can talk about the general philosophical issue thereof off the Forge, or we can talk about its application to role-playing on another thread.