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Use of Gender Pronouns

Started by M. J. Young, December 10, 2002, 07:19:02 AM

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Mike Holmes

Cross posted with Tom. Funny post.

To clarify, the problem only occurs when there is a non-specific anteceedent. Thus a senence about Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla has no need of "fixing". Just use he.

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Ron Edwards


Is there any reason to apply this topic to the subject of role-playing in particular? If so, I'd like to hear it. If not, then I'm happy to file it in the category of Larger Issues that Happen to Include Role-playing, and Beyond the Scope of the Forge.



Heres a few quick reason:

1)It could possibly relate to the gender imbalance in the hobbie, or at least be a contributing factor.

2)I think it is somewhat more important in RPG's than other activities for two reasons.
a)RPG's are a social activitie, i.e. they depend on the interactions of a group.
b)RPG's are primaraly learned by reading, as opposed to most other organized social activities, such as sports, or card games, which are primaraly taught. Yes, you can teach RPG's, but it's less common. Most serious gamers have read a game book at some point, thus the presentation in the book can affect peoples perceptions and hence the social interactions in the group.

Jason Lee

I also have a reason for the relevance, and a reason for why to use Mike's approach (other than the gender-neutral reason).

Mike's approach typically constructs sentences of fewer characters...which will help in printing costs and conciseness (both very important to rpgs, IMHO).

I personally find it difficult to create any flow with the method (it always seems to come out sterile feeling and choppy)...but I suck at writing.

The nouns-a-plenty approach is just poo in my opinion; sentences get long, redundant, and confusing.
- Cruciel

M. J. Young

Ron--Having started the thread, my thinking was that this aspect of pronoun use had become problematic in writing role playing games particularly. Although I have encountered it elsewhere, V:tM's use of "she" for their "storyteller" is still jarring to me. I pretty much have my answer; but I at least wanted to raise attention of those planning to write games in the future to the fact that this is a problem. Some of the solutions put forward are good.

Clinton--I think it's fine to use "she" for the referee if it is periodically reinforced with some identifier that brings back the notion that the referee in all examples and instructions is female. With role playing game books this may be more important, as many of them tend to be used as reference, often without reading them through first, and the antecedent problem can crop up because of jumping in to the middle of the section.

Fang--Yes, inappropriate plurals are equally jarring.

I will say that I'm trying to deal with this. One of the aspects of writing a novel is that I have to remember to drop the rules I use when speaking and especially writing normally in order to sound more conversational. I rarely end sentences with prepositions, and the narrative of the novel doesn't do that either; but the characters do so with some frequency, because otherwise their speech would sound as stilted (I prefer erudite) as mine. People often complain about RPG books "riddled with grammatical and spelling errors" (to the point that it was one of the positive things said by critics of Multiverser that it was not); often, though, they mean those grammatical errors which particularly annoy them, and not the ones they would ordinarily overlook. Often in my reading when I trip over a preposition at the end of a sentence, or the misuse of a pronoun, or some other common error, my mind staggers a moment trying to put the sentence into a grammatically correct form before I'll continue reading. Maybe if you're a poet trying to put emphasis on the idea in a line that's a valid technique; but if you're trying to communicate information, you don't want readers tripping over your text. I'm also bugged by "it" when refering to a person, although I can see some use in refering to characters (even there, it's a bit weak--isn't the sorcerer a person?).

Mike is right; and I certainly use that pronoun-reductive approach often (as well as a number of other approaches, such as "one", or altering the antecedent to be plural so that the plural pronoun is correct). But what works for single sentences sometimes becomes awkward in longer paragraphs. At some point, you're going to have mentioned the referee enough times in the sentence that "he" (or some substitution) becomes nearly mandatory. Giving exemplery identity to these impersonal identifiers ("Mary is the referee; she rolls the dice") gives you a new antecedent; otherwise, assuming the referee is "her" is at least jarring.
I have little hope that White Wolf will amend its policy; but then, I'm not one of their big customers anyway. I do hope that those of you diligently working on the games of the future will bear in mind that those of us with the educations of the past would like to read them.

--M. J. Young