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Author Topic: Do RPGS allow for diverse participation/discourse?  (Read 20197 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #30 on: May 09, 2005, 06:14:12 AM »

The question, Julie, cannot be whether or not females are allowed to participate, but whether or not they feel that they have a voice to say "female" things when playing. You play with Ron, and so undoubtedly this is the case for you. So, again, the question can't also be whether or not there are some small number who have a voice in RPGs (this is also obviously true) but whether RPGs overall have a 50% female voice. And, for minorities, whether they have a proportional voice.

John, as it happens (and I don't know if you're a member or not), the subject of male/female ratios is being discussed on the CAR-RPGa list recently, and some folks, Paul Cardwell included, pointed out how all of the methods used to identify female gamers that you mention have been badly skewed. And how more accurate sources show larger percentages of female players. This also depends on your definition of RPGs to some extent - does it include LARP? Freeform? Online play? If it includes the latter, the numbers go up pretty substantially. On the recent thread about Freeforms somebody estimated that female players are more than 50% of the population (annecdotal, of course, but to even have a limited experience in that range seems telling).

I'm certainly not saying that I think that a broad look at RPGs as a whole comes up 50% female - I think it's still far less than that. But any assessment of whether or not this is a good rate of advancement or not is neccessarily relative. I'm sure we can both point to fields (forms to use the poster's term) where females and minorities have come to be proportionally incorporated, and others where they have very little voice. Sans hard data on the subject, I think we'll be relegated to such generalities.

As a note: one of the things that I observed about the male/female split is that females, in my admittedly very limited and anecdotal observation, tend to prefer what might be termed low "points of contact" RPGs. That is, highly "geeky" RPGs, those with tons of rules for the sake of simulation and such, tend to be the purview of males who use the "superiority" of their rules systems as a source of ego. Women just don't have the group conformity genes that require as much system for this purpose.

The point being that, yes, such systems do have a lower proportion of women who have a voice in them. But less because they are not informed that they cannot have a voice in them, but because they self-select for other sorts of games. Hence my explanation for the higher percentages in, say, LARP games (also corresponds with the presupposed female advantages in verbal communications).

So it may simply be that older, more traditional male-created RPGs simply don't appeal to women as much as some other versions of RPGs. I think that the increases in women participating are, to some extent, the result of games shifting to included them. V:TM, of course, being a watershed point in gaming with regards to this.

Mike
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« Reply #31 on: May 09, 2005, 08:46:47 AM »

Quote from: jrs
One of these days I'd like to see someone address the issue of why gamers perpetuate the existance of single sex play groups.  That to me seems to be a more interesting issue.

Julie


I agree completely Julie.  This is the issue we need to truly study.  I run a teen center devoted to non-electronic gaming, especially rpg's.  When I arrived there four years ago there were very few girls in the program.  In fact, the ones that were there were being abused verbally and socially in my opinion.  I decided that one of my goals was to change this.  

I began to ask the adults with the program why this was the way it was.  They gave me answers like "Its a boys hobby (one of them was a women)"  and "having a female in the group really complicates things."  This last answer was geared both as an in game and out of game comment.  I disagree with this.  I use the games I run as tools to help shape these youth as well as explore the stories they want to experience.  This can't be done by not having full interaction of the genders.   I worked hard to integrate and invite female gamers.  We went from 10% female membership to about 40% in three years.  

The hardest part about this was integrating the gaming groups. The boys did not want girls.  Or would not think of them as good gamers.  The groups we have now, I call them 2nd and 3rd generation, have been gaming intergender for most of their time at the Loft and I do not see that issue, as much.

I still get it with adult volunteers though.   They tell me they will not run a game with girls in it.  Their not comfortable, or have never dealt with that situation before and don't know if they could handle it.  The best was a man who informed me that:
 "Girls are different. "  
I said yes they are but that has nothing to do with gaming.  
And he responded , "Yes it does.  How would I do a rape scene?"  
I said you wouldn't even if their were no girls in your group here at the Loft.  You also won't be volunteering here.  He proceeded to argue with me that conflicts like that are important story drivers and he would not want to GM here if he was going to be controlled in his style.  I should also point out his play group was going to be 12-15 year olds.

I personally have used an abduction and rape scene as a, what would be called here bang, character catalyst. (an NPC dear to a player had been abducted) I am not opposed to this when used appropriatly.  We touch on many dark themes wth our teens, its what their fascinated by, but we do it in a way to show all of the sides.  the other important thing is we leave the specifics up to their imaginations, which are much scarier then anything we come up with.  It was clear to me he was not going to do this.  He wanted to be able to use every lurid detail in this context for his own enjoyment.  He didn't want to elevate his story telling to a new level and I thus didn't want him in my program.

I think this fear to expand the hobby and its role in how we use it to tell about the world around us and within us is the core root problem taking place.  Fear of new horizons constricts the growth of the medium.  I personally think that is the greatest strength of this site.  I don't always agree with everything said but that fact that this discourse occurs is vital towards pushing this powerful medium ahead.

Quote
Quote:
I've never known anyone who has played cross gender & I have never tried it myself, in a RPG, I mean.
Fer real? This is such a common phenomenon, that prominent folks here have been prompted to write that they think that it's a bad idea, and that they can't get into it when people play this way.


From my own experiences on this.  It doesn't work well.  I have seen women play passable men but rarely if ever do I see a man play a passable women.  In fact, in my program I have a rule that you may not play a member of the opposite sex unless you and I feel you are ready to explore that.   It was a problem when I first got there, every guy( the ones who verbally and socially abused the girls) tried to play a female and I had to keep saying no.  Now ones who have realy experienced the program under me, the 2nd generation, don't ask.  They know they are not ready to do it justice.  Recently, I had someone ask if he could.  I said do you feel your ready and he said I do but I would feel better if another good gamer who I am confortable with tried it as well.   So he asked a female friend to play a male.  They have been playing their characters for about four months and constantly give each other critiques and thoughts.  Healthy conversation and gender exploration in a group setting.

Wow, I had one more story to tell about cross gender play but I'll post it somewhere else since this is a lot longer then I thought it would be.

Ian[/quote]
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #32 on: May 09, 2005, 09:04:49 AM »

I think that we're going off on a tangent here. But generally, one could ask "why do men have all male poker games?" The answer is remarkably simple, people find associating with people who are similar easier than associating with people who are different than they are. So the tendency is to select for those who are similar.

Is there really any mystery in that? Is it a good reason to exclude anyone? Of course not. But it's very standard human behavior. How easy is it for somebody to say, "Oh, this game is just for my friends," when it just so happens that the person only has same-sex friends. Consider how typical this is for adolescents who are societally pushed into same-sex social frameworks - sports teams, locker rooms, bathrooms, even single-sex schools. Given that this has traditionally been when people started playing RPGs most typically, and that RPG groups tend to be eternally perpetuating, it's no surprise to me.

To whit, I have one group of gamer friends who go back to grade school some 25 years ago. Heck, when I started playing D&D, I literally didn't know how to speak to girls, much less get them to play a game that was considered extremely geeky. Not proud of that fact, but it wasn't RPGs that caused the problem, it was purely a general societal thing.

Mike
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« Reply #33 on: May 09, 2005, 09:08:05 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
The question, Julie, cannot be whether or not females are allowed to participate, but whether or not they feel that they have a voice to say "female" things when playing.


True Mike but if they are not permitted in to a group, or are but do not feel they can speak freely OOC, why would they feel like they could IC.  I know we would all agree that the dynamics of our medium mean that both IC and OOC go hand in hand.

So if we can deal with the root social issue in the gaming group itself then we will see, by group dynamics, a change in the game.  That is where I am coming from when I agree with what Julie.  

I think another way to address it is by creating game setting and mechanics that promote equality of females and all players in the group.  This can only really make a difference though if at least the GM has bought into the idea.  If the Gm does not believe in the idea then the setting or mechanic becomes a mockery of social commentary.
Look at the Drow, as someone else posted, they are a matriarchy.  They are evil, backstabbing and really at their root, vile.  Yet they are very popular.  Why?  One reason is they are the bad guys... errr gals. (Although I believe that the successful book character is male)  I know that at least one of the young women I work with loves them because they are a matriarchy.  That's who she needs to pick as a role model for a young female gamer.  The industry has provided her nothing better.  That's just sad.  I know there are better things out there in gaming (Danuvians in Tal, 7th Sea females, Arthurian Ladies, Trollbabe) but I can't get her to try them.  So, its another example of OOG effecting IG.  

My point here is that these are both the issues and Julie's is more vital because it effects both the real world dynamics of the group and the fake world dynamics of the group.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #34 on: May 09, 2005, 09:16:36 AM »

We cross-posted, obviously. But to clarify, my point to Julie was simply that her personal satisfaction as one player who does have a voice in RPGs doesn't answer the original poster's question. Which can't be whether some few women have a voice, obviously they do. It has to speak to the larger question.

As to the same-sex problem, well, I agree that it's a problem as my subsequent post points out. I wasn't speaking to that at all in my first response to Julie.

Mike
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John Kim
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« Reply #35 on: May 09, 2005, 09:50:42 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
John, as it happens (and I don't know if you're a member or not), the subject of male/female ratios is being discussed on the CAR-RPGa list recently, and some folks, Paul Cardwell included, pointed out how all of the methods used to identify female gamers that you mention have been badly skewed. And how more accurate sources show larger percentages of female players. This also depends on your definition of RPGs to some extent - does it include LARP? Freeform? Online play? If it includes the latter, the numbers go up pretty substantially. On the recent thread about Freeforms somebody estimated that female players are more than 50% of the population (annecdotal, of course, but to even have a limited experience in that range seems telling).

No, I'm not a member, but I agree with you in general.  I hinted at this but was not explicit in my prior answer.  I note that James Kittock's online survey in 2001 found only 9% women -- while the much more controlled Wizards of the Coast survey in 1999 found 19% women in tabletop role-playing.  That's a substantial difference, and given the substantial controls I think WotC's 19% is fairly accurate.  I suspect that Fine's sources (convention participation and magazine response surveys) may have similar bias to Kittock's survey.  They are looking only at more dedicated gamers who follow specific forums.  

On the other hand, other forms like LARP and freeform and/or online play are relevant, but I don't think they should just be averaged in.  If freeform roleplaying has much higher percentage of women than tabletop, I think we should ask why that is.  

I don't have data on American LARPs, but there was a great article in the Knutepunkt 2005 book, Dissecting larp, entitled "Larp organizing and gender in Norway" by Ragnhild Hutchison.  In brief, she documents the rise of female participation in Norwegian larps from roughly 20% in 1989 to nearly 40% in 2004.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I'm certainly not saying that I think that a broad look at RPGs as a whole comes up 50% female - I think it's still far less than that. But any assessment of whether or not this is a good rate of advancement or not is neccessarily relative. I'm sure we can both point to fields (forms to use the poster's term) where females and minorities have come to be proportionally incorporated, and others where they have very little voice. Sans hard data on the subject, I think we'll be relegated to such generalities.

Well, Hutchison's article is a great test case of rise.  I also know some data from graduate school where I looked at women in physics in comparison to other fields.  Physics is also a field where female participation has not risen much (it remains at close to 10% in grad school), while biology and chemistry have shown substantial rise.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
As a note: one of the things that I observed about the male/female split is that females, in my admittedly very limited and anecdotal observation, tend to prefer what might be termed low "points of contact" RPGs. That is, highly "geeky" RPGs, those with tons of rules for the sake of simulation and such, tend to be the purview of males who use the "superiority" of their rules systems as a source of ego.  Women just don't have the group conformity genes that require as much system for this purpose.

I've heard that before, but I am rather doubtful about it.  For example, the Wizards of the Coast survey found that female participation in miniature wargames to be equal to (actually slightly higher) than female participation in tabletop roleplaying games.  And miniature wargames are highly geeky and simulationy.  Outside of tabletop RPGs, we see substantial female participation in games like "The Sims" which are highly complex.  In my opinion, complex rules are a barrier to entry for any new player, male or female.  If the game doesn't appeal to a group, they will tend not to learn the rules.  But this isn't a problem with the rules.  Rather it is a lack of draw to learn the rules.  

I think Vampire: the Masquerade is a good case.  Its rules are just as complex as most other mainstream games, but anecdotally it has had substantially greater female participation.
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« Reply #36 on: May 09, 2005, 09:59:36 AM »

I'd be interested in the commonalities found among gamers of all genders/ethnic groups/economic backgrounds. While folks seem to be agreed that the majority of ttrpg players are white, male and middle class, I don't think that the reverse ( that the majority of white, middle class, males are ttrpgers) has been shown to be true, even anecdotally.

So what then are the traits that draw folks to gaming?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #37 on: May 09, 2005, 10:42:11 AM »

Quote
For example, the Wizards of the Coast survey found that female participation in miniature wargames to be equal to (actually slightly higher) than female participation in tabletop roleplaying games. And miniature wargames are highly geeky and simulationy. Outside of tabletop RPGs, we see substantial female participation in games like "The Sims" which are highly complex. In my opinion, complex rules are a barrier to entry for any new player, male or female. If the game doesn't appeal to a group, they will tend not to learn the rules. But this isn't a problem with the rules. Rather it is a lack of draw to learn the rules.
If participation levels in two geeky forms of play is about the same that would tend to prove my point rather than refute it, wouldn't it? In any case, as Ron points out, the geekyness of RPGs is always higher, because it's harder to understand what the out put is in many cases. In a wargame, at least you have a winner and a loser, which is easily grasped.

Quote
I think Vampire: the Masquerade is a good case. Its rules are just as complex as most other mainstream games, but anecdotally it has had substantially greater female participation.
I disagree. That is, at the time of it's inclusion, V:TM was considered a "lite" game (derided by some as such, in fact). So, relatively speaking, it's got less points of contact. And the output is, in theory, very clear. It's a "storytelling" game. The clarity of the statement (whether or not the rules follow the statement) is appealing. It seems to do away with incoherency of previous games.

With a game like, oh, say, Aftermath! the goals of play are far from clear. Meaning that only the a male with a very male attitude like, "Well I get what it's about, so I'm better than you" will enjoy such a game. For a female who doesn't put their ego into the activity, who just looks for some fun with the least amount of inscrutable work required to get it, a game like Aftermath! is just odd.

Vampire improved on that tremendously. And yes, obviously they were catering to material that was already marketed at women (Anne Rice) to some extent. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Vampire got women to play only because of it's relative ease. I'm saying it was part of a gradual movement in a direction that was effected by a lot of techniques.

As for "The Sims" I think that it's also has more approachable subject matter but that, in fact, it does not have high points of contact. You have a Sim. They can do a lot of the things that a human can do. So you have them do those things. Easy. As opposed to an RPG where you might have to understand a plentitude of "feats" in order to resolve a simple fight satisfactorily. Simple to learn, hard to master. Nobody is saying that women aren't into strategy - they just understand that you can have it without lots of extra rules that exist solely to make the activity "superior" in the male ego sense of the term. "We to it more/better!"

Check this out. I know men who will have their Sims do all sorts of really odd things just to see where they can push the game engine. Can I get it to break? and that sort of thing. I never see women abusing a system that way in the name of being the only person to discover this flaw in the system or to get some extreme to occur.

It's precisely this difference that I think repels most women (and many males, too) from most RPGs.

Mike
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« Reply #38 on: May 09, 2005, 09:43:17 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Check this out. I know men who will have their Sims do all sorts of really odd things just to see where they can push the game engine. Can I get it to break? and that sort of thing. I never see women abusing a system that way in the name of being the only person to discover this flaw in the system or to get some extreme to occur.

It's precisely this difference that I think repels most women (and many males, too) from most RPGs.

I'm ponder that one.  First, I don't think that's contradictory to my statement.  This isn't about high vs. low points of contact in the design, but rather about style of play.  As I system-abuser myself, though, I'm interested in this.  I think it's true that system-breaking (or rebellion in general) is considered un-feminine.  So a woman who breaks the system will tend to be judged much more harshly than a man who does the same.  Since politeness and keeping-to-system is considered more of a feminine value, women will tend to less system abuse.  

Both high and low points-of-contact are open to abuse, just abuse of different forms.  But this is pretty off-topic to am's point, and should probably go to a thread of its own if we're going to keep discussing it.
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« Reply #39 on: May 10, 2005, 05:16:19 AM »

John's right. As I feared, this thread has swiftly hit a "men are women are" exchange which serves no useful purpose.

Back on track, folks. Post in order to help Anna, not devolve into a "gee an interesting chance to insert my views" fest.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #40 on: May 10, 2005, 05:52:44 AM »

(Note that I'm using women here without addressing minorities just to make the overall arguments simpler. I'm not ignoring the part of the question that deals with minorities. I'm just focusing on certain angles by addressing one part of the question.)

The part that remains pertinent to the thread's question (I think, I could be wrong) is whether or not the women in question self-select out of RPGs, or are pushed out of RPGs. There are subtle differences. Do women not play American Football because of the social context surrounding it, or because they generally lack the upper-body strength to do so without injury? And by extension, is the fact that our society generally prevents women from gaining upper body strength a limiter here.

Sure, one could argue that RPGs are an activity that has been designed in such a way that it's not attractive to women. Which could be spun as it being an anti-women form. But generally you might have to so radically alter the activity to make it women-friendly that the original form disappears. For example, you can play tag football - but it's really not the same sport. To discuss whether or not RPGs have a voice, I think we have to look at them as they are in a positive sense. As a form in which somebody wants to have a voice.

So are RPGs an activity in which men seek actively to eliminate female participation? Or is the lack of female participation due to women just not being interested? I'm sure it's some of both, actually. I mean, there are obviously groups that seek to eliminate female participation either by not inviting women, or less actively by making game sessions intolerable to women players. But I'm just as sure that "otherwise equivalent" females select out of playing certain RPGs because RPGs do have some elements that are designed to appeal to people who are canalized by society as males.

So I think you have a bit of each - social level pressure against female participation, and game design militating against female participation. Where neither of these is true, however, I think that females do have an equal voice in participation. This is Julie's case, for instance.

Mike
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contracycle
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« Reply #41 on: May 10, 2005, 06:25:23 AM »

Ok, well I'm going to come out and say "no".

And then, kinda, yes maybe.

We have previously touched on wether RPG is a viable vehicle for any sort of activism, and I argued against that proposition becuase of the expectation-fulfilling aspect of RPG.

That is, perceptions of a thing being realistic or otherwise are dependant on the persons understanding of reality.  It is precisely that understanding of reality that really empowered alternate voices can challenge.

But, without an actual empowerement of these voices, their claims will be subject to the same process by which all claims are vetted, comparison against the hearers internal model of the world.  Where the claims and the perceptions contradict, the claims will be discarded, as there is no authority by which this dissident voice can be empowered, precisely due to the voluntary, and often implicit, nature of the social contract.

Now, the "yes maybe" part arises from the fact that the game author does carry a sort of non-local credibility to make authoritative statements.  Thus, a game designed to explore a particular point, and directs such exploration, could purposefully include a dissident speaker.  But, this still requires the buy-in of the group as a whole to that particualr form of exploration.  Conceivably, RPG could theoretically be used as a sort of "walk a mile in my shoes" thought experiment, but I think we are a very long way from there.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #42 on: May 10, 2005, 07:10:47 AM »

Good points. Yes, I think that many games do "throw" (to use a programming term) their own statements about how things are and the players can't do much to alter that other than to change the rules and be playing a different game. One of my favorite examples is that the National Security Decision Making game run by the War College folks at cons and such use an economic model that basically runs on the trickle down theory. That is, if you tax more to have more points to spread around, then your economy goes down, and you get less points and more unrest.

Sid Meier's Civilization games for the computer have a very definite world view built into them that you have to play to in order to do well. In this way such games teach their agendas, I agree.

For RPGs you find games that point out the relative lack of upper body strength for females to males and make that important. Lots of people report that this single rule in early editions of AD&D was what put them off roleplaying (to say nothing of lesser known and much more restrictive games). Just as a starter, and to say nothing of the other ideas that the games promote.

I think that it's interesting that the medieval model for fantasy RPGs usually includes, for "realism's" sake, an assumption that women are second-class citizens (as though any less technological civilization would be incapable of making the same leap that we have to assuming that women are equals). That's not to say that it can't be interesting to explore such themes even if to only say that such ideas are wrong. It's just that often this limits women to making feminist statements when, in fact, that's just the beginning of what they have to say.

But I think that there are some few games out there that do challenge these notions and, at the very least, do not include the biases in question. Female characters purchased with the same metagame points, for instance, in generic worlds. I mean, let's look at Hero System. Won't a system like that reflect mostly the biases of it's players more than anything else? Or is it's combat focus somehow inimical to it's use by women making statements when using it?

Mike
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paulkdad
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« Reply #43 on: May 10, 2005, 07:14:14 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
But, without an actual empowerement of these voices, their claims will be subject to the same process by which all claims are vetted, comparison against the hearers internal model of the world. Where the claims and the perceptions contradict, the claims will be discarded, as there is no authority by which this dissident voice can be empowered, precisely due to the voluntary, and often implicit, nature of the social contract.

Bingo, in my opinion. And it would only take one person "discarding your reality" to sour the entire experience.

Let me draw an analogy from my own experience. For the past three years I have been a stay-at-home dad for my daughter. Last year, for several months, my daughter and I were part of a play group (of which I was the only adult male member). Play groups serve two purposes: child play and adult conversation. For me, this group only served one (child play), because there were a couple of women in the group who were unwilling to entertain the notion that a man could be anything other than a "Dagwood" in the domestic sphere.

I could have confronted it, but their notions of gender were tied into their religious beliefs, so I deemed that a lost cause. I could have tried to "out-mom the moms", but that would have driven me crazy. Or I could have done what I did: went there and played with the kids.

I don't think this analogy is off-base at all, when it comes to what female players can encounter in RPGs. The only difference is, as a face-to-face activity there would be nowhere to hide. It would only take one regular male player who always thought of her as a "Blondie" (from the same comic strip) to taint the entire experience. Even if the male players regularly asked questions like, "What am I rolling for?" the female player wouldn't dare ask the same question for fear of it making her look clueless.

And it has nothing to do with the men trying to be unwelcoming. They might be fully open to female participation (as the moms in the play group were with me as a SAHD), but they start from a basic "assumption of difference" that is impossible to overcome. Sometimes it's subtle, and sometimes it's not so subtle, but it's always alienating.

BTW, I am not trying to suggest that all groups are like this. I'm simply pointing out one possibility, based upon an experience I had where gender differences came into play. Note that this has nothing to do with the "form" of RPGs at all, or even with the type of game or habits of play. It just has to do with a certian lack of awareness regarding gender role questions, which I imagine is a fairly common thing.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #44 on: May 10, 2005, 07:30:46 AM »

Ah, from Paul's response, I see the angle here. Yes, RPGs are group activities, and as such nobody really can make an individual statment, expept, perhaps, in some cases where the GM has tons of power.

But if the GM is a woman, or if all the players are women, then can't they make a female statment? Or is the point that nobody playing RPGs can ever make an individual statement? I think that might be true, but then, again, you'd have to look at another form to ask the question of individual statements.

Mike
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