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the depiction of women in gaming

Started by poppocabba, May 22, 2001, 01:20:00 AM

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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 ]

Ron Edwards

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.




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.



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.

Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management


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 ]


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


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 ]


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


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.



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.



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?


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.  


Ron Edwards


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.  



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.


Ron Edwards

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.