Thursday, 25 March 2010

what it feels like for a girl

Women gamers are a growing part of our community.  Just like you they have a variety of attitudes and appearances.  There is a conversation to be had - whether it's approached with acceptance or fumbled with fear is down to us.   Just like you, they have a mutual interest yet it's still evident that they are being treated in a manner that doesn't serve them well.  The following presentation by Andrea Phillips at SXSW on how women are typecast in games struck a chord and two minutes later, I read this post by Dungeonmum

Using pink armour and pegasi, techno-tomboy trappings or kickassitude in leather and lace is playing with tropes and fire.  Strong, sustainable literary examples (Eowyn, Hermione Granger, Jessica Atreides, Paksenarrion) exist without using objectification and there are numerous examples of TV and game figures where fan service and going there isn't a key part of what makes the character enjoyable save only to a minority. The mismatch is all the more puzzling when you consider the following points.

How, when and what we talk about affects how we are perceived.
Attitude, presentation and timing all conspire to form how others perceive you.  Living in a small community has it's strengths yet be sure what you put out there will come back to you.  Our world is connected, not just islands but larger masses connected by fluid channels of communication.  Both islands of good practice where ideas are preserved and borders where ideas are exchanged are required.  And everyone keeps churning out new stuff - we are all inherently creative.

In all communication, there are only two routes - what serves your intent and what does not. 
This is 2010 and women count for a third of our community and half of our society.  Awareness of audience is key to success.  Using tropes is fine (Ari Marmell explains how The Conqueror's Shadow did this) if it gives a character authenticity and helps communication.  Yet our audience grows increasingly sophisticated with time.  Stereotyping is lazy thinking and offending a third of your audience to provide just about half with cheap thrills is poor design.

Authenticity + Audience Awareness  >  Lazy Thinking + Poor Design 

Which side of that equation are you and your products on?  And which do you think has greater appeal to all of your audience, not just your core demographic?  It's a challenge increasingly taken up by those finding a receptive and creative audience.

Where I've had successes is to treat women like a gamer who I respect.  I've provided spotlight moments as well as crafting situations to sensibilities.  Character focus and established relationships enable investment in a game and is something women gamers thrive on.  Some of my fondest gaming memories feature games where ladies managed intricate campaigns and sparked intense gaming experiences by challenging the accepted view of a campaign with their perspective.

Now it's your turn.  What would you change to make a game or story more entertaining for women?


  1. Great post and a subject I'm very interested in. Not least because Women are the great untapped market of the RPG world.

    It is also an area I'm consciously careful where I tread because I am male.

    It is inherently difficult for me to create 'women friendly' products without a certain amount of gender bias. I think many mainstream (D&D) books fall into this trap. Putting references and pictures of female adventures in a book does not make it women friendly, just (maybe) less women hostile.

    I would love to find some creative female gamers to work with developing suitable products. If you know of any experience female writers, GMs and gamers interesting in exploring this area with no fixed idea of the outcome, drop me a line.

  2. nice one duck! great post and thanks for the link BTW.

    I'm really not sure how to make RPGs more attractive to women. I guess I only got into it because it's what my boyfriend and his friends did and I was curious to try it out. Admittedly I didn't really get right into it until recent years where we've been playing a lot more frequently. During my teens it was all about drinking and going out and D&D was an occasional hobby. Now We've got kids staying in means making the social life come to us, so that's what RPGs are mainly for us, a social activity. Perhaps that's the key.

  3. I find it hilarious that you assume all your readers are male. (And if you don't, your grammar still does.) Keep up this kind of thing, and they will be.

    We are GAMERS. We like hack and slash and killing things and taking their stuff. We also like intrigue. And dirty jokes. We like brainless campaigns and boundary-pushing campaigns. In the same ratio you do. Stop treating us like women gamers, and start treating us like gamers.

    Female gamer and game designer who employs a female artist to draw hot chicks on her products

  4. @Chris - This list may be useful as a starting point. Con-Quest may be a good place to ask as well.

    @Dungeonmum - Thanks! Your use of the word duck suggests familiarity with local dialect?

    @Swordgleam - Thanks for your feedback. I will challenge the points raised in your comment as your interpretation demands a response.

    First - The first paragraph of the post can be applied to any designer regardless of gender or orientation showing women in ways deemed offensive by women.

    Second - All gamers enjoy and think different things in different ratios. Enough evidence to fill our share of the Internet and blogosphere supports this premise even with consensus in key common areas.

    Women using 'hot chicks' to sell things is not news. Using women as adornment may be as old as Ur but when it offends a large segment of your audience, change approach.

    Unless you're OK with alienating them of course...

  5. "Women gamers are a growing part of our community. Just like you they have a variety of attitudes and appearances. "

    You can't say someone is 'just like you' to someone who IS that person. It's as if I said to you, "gamers are just like you." Your grammar assumes a male reader.

    "All gamers enjoy and think different things in different ratios."

    I'm not saying that Archetypal Female Gamer likes the same amount of hack'n'slash as Archetypal Male Gamer, I'm saying that if 50% of guys like hack'n'slash games, who are you to assume 50% of girls don't?

    I'm not alienating "them" because I am one of "them" and I'm not using hot chicks to sell my products; my products just happen to have hot chicks in them, as well as men, bipedal lizards, and explosions. I just don't purposely avoid a certain kind of art because some hypothetical person who never seems to get involved in any of these discussions might be offended.

    Women gamers are GAMERS. We don't you white knighting for us or assuming that games need more touchy-feely bits and less boobs. We don't need you musing on how to draw us into the hobby by changing the hobby. Make good games. Invite girls to play them. Run games well. Same as you'd do for anyone else.

    Seriously. What "large segment of my audience" are you talking about? I have seen far more men postulating offense about "exploitive" art than I have women actually getting offended.

    Women gamers are GAMERS. Enough. I don't personally know any black gamers. Do we need more black people in art? Do we need to alter games to reach out to the black community? Maybe we should write articles about it without asking any of them. I also don't personally know any deeply religious gamers. And look at all the gods in games! I'm sure deeply religious people don't understand what fiction is and are easily offended one and all; let's write articles about how offensive polytheism is. I also don't personally know any Republicans who game. Maybe introducing elephants as mounts would help? Or perhaps I could wildly theorize about what the community as a whole must be doing to drive Republicans away. We need to have a CONVERSATION with these people. But not in a way that involves talking to any of them. God no. Just in a way that involves trying to be sensitive and hoping we get it right. If any of them find out and tell us they weren't offended to begin with, we should assume that they don't speak for their community. How could they? WE speak for their community.

  6. Thanks again. You've asked some more questions and again, they deserve answers.

    Who am I to say these things?
    I'm a player/DM of about 22 years experience who played and run games over that time with players of all genders & orientations. I'm married to a woman gamer. I'm friends with women gamers. I game with them as well - less often than I'd like due to RL.

    I'm aware some think this a weasel defense but knowing people of a different gender and calling on their opinion to support an argument to promote the presence of others like them is only really duplicitous if done without honesty.

    And I want to see more women in gaming as in my experience it makes for better games. Who wouldn't want that?

    Do you realise women gamers are GAMERS and that all you have to do is build a better game for them to join in?
    Yes. Good design includes presentation and if that includes obvious fuel for masturbatory fantasy some women and men may not want or be attracted to the idea of a fellow player using the product for that purpose as it tarnishes by association.

    Why are you bringing this up when I personally don't care for the issue?
    I think this needs revisiting in light of things like the SXSW presentation and GameCrush. The impression I get is that it's unacceptable for me to talk about these things on my blog because I'm male. When I express the view certain content may discourage women I'm told...

    * It's a non-issue despite recent evidence provided by women to the contrary
    * I'm 'white knighting' when I agree with a view expressed by other gamers of both genders a female gamer whose products 'just happen to have hot chicks in them...' and who takes issue with presenting women who game as women.

    As for ethnic groups, religion (BTW polytheists like Hindus and pagans can be deeply religious) and political affiliations, those are topics for some other time I feel? :)

  7. I'm not saying "why are you bringing this up when I'm not interested." It's your blog. My question is more, "Why do people keep bringing this up, especially when nearly all of those people are men?" If I saw a lot of female gaming bloggers complaining about how the men in their hobby treat them, I'd give credence to the issue.

    But I don't. I see only people outside the group talking about the group. This is why I brought up the other minorities - no one is talking about the lack of black/religious/Republican gamers, possibly because no one is a black/religious/republican gamer and thus doesn't feel qualified to comment on it.

    I simply think you haven't presented any evidence that it's an issue. That's why it takes very little evidence to argue that it's a non-issue.

  8. I am a woman gamer and I wouldn't say that I get offended by all the boobs and ridiculous outfits, but I find them to be tiresome. It elicits an eye roll from me. So just because one woman is not bothered by it doesn't mean that all are, any more than I represent the entirety of the female gaming community either. I'm incredibly tired of seeing the majority of female characters in fantasy games portrayed as busty amazons in metal panties. Aside from the arguments about sexism and gender issues in that respect it's just plain stupid and impractical! I am part of a medieval recreation group. I put on armor and fight. I wouldn't be caught dead in a metal bikini unless I wanted to be laughed off the field when I went home covered head to toe in bruises.

    As a woman gamer I put up with a certain amount of guy crap in every game I play. Lots of sexual innuendo at everything even when it's not appropriate, or getting hit on by NPC's constantly. Maybe you're just lucky and haven't ever had to put up with anything like that, but how many times does rape get used in the games you play where it's directed at a male character or player? I can't think of a single time myself but my characters have had to deal with it in games before and I certainly didn't appreciate it.

  9. Amanda - Thank you. Absolutely with you on the 'Armour by Victoria's Secret' thing. Eeesh. PennyArcade mock it better than me. It's one of those things that continue to puzzle me given the increasing current popularity of competent fantasy films. Sadly, the situations you describe are not isolated incidents in my experience as player and GM. This behaviour is exactly why we need to have the conversation.

    Swordgleam - A lack of evidence? I beg to differ.

    Evidence Table. Check daily. Re-roll if result repeated previously.
    1. The only girl at the table
    2. Different girl, different table
    3. Love for the WH40K universe
    4. Why single & multi-gender gaming groups?
    5. An open letter to game designers
    6. If you only read one post, read this one.

    And no black/religious/Republican gamers? Really?

    Gamers of colour: Travis Williams, Louis Porter Jr. and an LJ Community
    Religious: Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Wiccan
    Republican: Michelle Malkin, Ace of Spades HQ

    Ain't Google grand?

  10. Here's another good one to add to the list. This blog is written by a black woman gamer. She does a lot of thoughtful commentary on some of these issues when she's not writing about cool gaming stuff.

    Up until I started a career in a male dominated field (3% of firefighters in the US are women) I didn't really encounter or maybe recognize the subtler sexism that has replaced the sexism of previous generations of women. Heck even in my hobby, women fought for the right to take part in martial pursuits which I now enjoy. So I didn't really think much of it until I started to encounter it in my job from my coworkers. These gender issues still exist. Much like racism, they have taken on a subtler form because it's not acceptable in much of polite society to treat people unfairly on the basis of things like race and gender. But I look around at popular entertainment and I'm not encouraged by it because the role models for boys and girls are pretty horrible, even among what you would think would be a really diverse sort of universe like in fantasy rpgs, with only a few exceptions right now. (Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 1 & 2 stand out in that respect.)


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