Thursday, 19 August 2010

Why don't women play roleplaying games?

Let's take a look at Dungeons and Dragons. It's the first roleplaying game ever, and there has never been a roleplaying game more popular than D&D. Throughout the 30+ years of roleplaying history, it has defined roleplaying more than any other game.

D&D is...
-Group-based and class-based, rather than based upon individual relationships.
-Hierarchial, with a game master that holds authority over story.
-Focused on performance and problem-solving.
-Based on conflict and combat.
-Systemized, with pages upon pages with an intricate ruleset.
-A simulation (system) of a fantasy world so detailed that it requires a streak of obsessiveness for the reader to be interested in processing and understanding this whole body of information.

These qualities have been nigh-on omnipresent in roleplaying design throughout it's history.

All of these qualities are qualities associated with masculinity, and to a lesser extent, autism.

That does not mean these qualities are biological or pre-determined to be masculine, but right here and right now, in peoples perception of gender, they are.

So what does this tell us? Just as feminism pointed out that the world order that we take for granted is actually defined to favour those in power, men for instance, we as roleplayers needs to realize that our hobby is not an universal one, but an exclusive one.

You don't need to design roleplaying games for women.
You just need to stop designing roleplaying games for slightly autistic men.

Like all traditions, these tendencies has reproduced, it's hard for women to break into a male-dominated hobby. With the modernization of roleplaying design, and the Story Games movement, I predict this will change, though. Let's take a look at my new favorite game, Apocalypse World. (I will take a closer look at this game and why it is important in my upcoming posts)

Apocalypse World is...
-Based on a loose group of allies with their individual relationships and motivations.
-Improvised, so there is no story authority, and the master of ceremonies (GM equivalent) is instructed very specifically to be a fan of the players' characters, not a counterforce for them
-Focused on drama, relationships
-Very, very violent, yes.
-The system is very streamlined, and a way for the players to "come up with cool things to say". The system subjects itself to the players, rather than the other way around.
-A game improvised in the moment, creativity is rewarded rather than obsessiveness with pre-made facts.

So, my prediction is that Apocalypse World and Story Games can appeal to a broader audience. Broads, for instance. (To clarify: Among story gamers and story game writers there ARE a greater number of women players and writers than in the traditional gaming environment I've "grown up in". Also, there's been pointed out to me that "broad" is not such a neutral pun in english that I imagined it to be. Sorry!)

What I would really like to do now is to compare the ratio of female to male fans of different roleplaying games on Facebook, but there seems to be no way of doing such a thing for a mere user. Any advice?


Arvid Axbrink Cederholm said...

I started a thread about this on Story Games.
So far it's been exciting.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to add one word of warning. It relates to the whole "cool thing to say" bit. Studies of male and female conversation styles have revealed (I can give you references if necessary) that men converse in free-standing blocks, with the participants taking turns making their contribution, often an anecdote or the development of a point, with much weight attributed to the quality of the performance. Women, on the other hand, speak more in tandem, constantly contributing to each other's performances, butting in, finishing sentences etc. Make your own conclusions as to how this relates to the style of narration predominant in rpgs, indie-rpgs as well.

Arvid Axbrink Cederholm said...

That's pretty cool!

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