How To Get More Women Into RPGs, And Why We Want Them There

maxresdefaulteditor – this article was originally posted by Von on his blog

This post follows on from a discussion of unexpected quality on Your Dungeon Is Suck of all places: start here, then skip some crap when the thread winds down and resume here. Try to look past the Bad Words that are used and engage with the substance of the arguments and I hope you would get the sense that everyone is thinking about what they’re saying for once, even if they happen to be Wrong from a given point of view.

Talking this issue over with Hark, she brought up the oft-mentioned point that while not being A Woman, I have seldom wanted for female players in my own games. I’ve had three all-male groups in my lifetime, one in a single-sex school and two derived from wargames clubs. I suppose the game I hosted at FanBoy3 in Manchester is an oddity in that everyone who responded to the ad was male, and there was only a woman in that group because I brought Hark along. For me, an active roleplaying game WITHOUT female players is the anomaly: according to Her Harkship I can pull hot female roleplayers out of my ass wherever I go. Either I’m some sort of Intellectual Love God, or I’m doing something appallingly basic that your average podgy bearded gamer dude isn’t

I’m still of the opinion that a big part of it is recruiting new players from outside the nerd club pool. My games have female players because I invite women to play games, and have done since I was able to talk to girls without being creepy about it. Now that I think about it, inviting people to play games is generally how I avoid being creepy around people, full stop, female or otherwise. I just seem to have more female/queer friends than might be expected, which is probably something to do with spending longer than usual in postgraduate humanities departments, and something to do with actively preferring the company of women, because rooms full of dudes give me flashbacks to my schooldays and a cluster headache. The how isn’t all that hard – if you want more women in your games then you need more female friends, and less shame about your gaming, and as close to a total lack of creeping as you can get, to the point of excluding people who are incapable of keeping their skeeve to themselves.

“But I don’t know how to make female friends? I’m a gamer! Everyone I know is a sweaty dude in a Crusader T-shirt!”

Yeah, you do. There are more women in MMOs than you realise, for instance. All the guilds of which I’ve been a member have had female members, and officers, and leaders, and I didn’t go LOOKING for that, it just happened. One of them wasn’t even an RP guild, although RP servers do seem to attract the ladies. Whether that’s because ladies are innately drawn to role-playing by some gender-essentialist or socially-encoded factor or because ladies are less likely to rule out part of their fun because it’s for “faggots and n00bs” or because of something else – that I do not know.

The point is that the most distressing WoW-crazed shut-in probably knows more women than they realise, and if they know women and have some reason to interact with them then you, Gentle Reader, have no excuse whatsoever. I’ll spell it out for you in simple logic: IF you work with a lady AND she watches Game of Thrones like 85% of the Western World seems to be doing THEN you have a potential player right there.

Also, Crusader rock. Good choice.

The question posed on YDIS, though, was not how, but why? Immediate and unsophisticated answer: “Why not?” More developed answers: generally boil down to the same thing.

“Because it’s giving in to the PC police!”

And that matters? If your game will be more intellectually and socially diverse, your game will be improved. Don’t strive for diversity for the sake of it, to keep up appearances and show how right-on you are, strive for diversity because variety is the spice of life. Why don’t you want that?

“What do you mean, my game will be more intellectually and socially diverse?”

People who aren’t like you, don’t think like you. They’ve not been taught to think like you, believe what you do, resist like you do; their experiences of the world are not like yours and that means they bring different shit to the table than you do. Why don’t you want that?

“I don’t think that’s been scientifically proven.”

Maybe not, but you have nothing to lose by doing it. Do it because it hasn’t been disproven. Be a proper bloody scientist and test things. The worst that can happen is that your game doesn’t work out too well – like that’s never happened to you before, right?

“But… what if my game ends up sucking?”

If your game sucks, it sucks whether there are women/minorities involved or not. If your game sucks, it’s more likely to be because you’re bound by the repeated memes of gamerkultur and introducing people who are on the fringes of that society or even from outside it altogether is going to introduce variety to your meme pool. Why don’t you want that?

“But games which go out of their way to flaunt their diversity or enforce it in mechanics suck!”

We took Blue Rose to task because it was chokingly liberal/progressive and clumsy to boot, because it was overburdened with High Fantasy Proper Nouns, because it treated players like dimwits who needed two pages of suggestions on how to use the shit on their character sheet to resolve an adventure. Blue Rose failed us as an RPG and as a piece of progressive propaganda.

We took Novarium to task because it presented an awkward and cretinous attempt at reverse sexism where women could do magic and men were property you could fuck and lesbians were the most magical things ever and basically it was creepy “I love and respect women SO MUCH” pedestal-fawning – which is a shame, because mechanically it was quite a good game.  Novarium failed us because it isn’t even progressive, it’s clueless drool-down-her-bra creeperdom trying and failing.

So yeah – tryhard roleplaying products do, quite often, suck. Going out of your way to include/offend people generally results in a shitty product that nobody wants. BUT… most RPGs don’t try to be anything other than RPGs. There are no copies of D&D out there with NO GURLS ALLOUD on the front cover, for instance. If an ideology is present, then it is generally subtle, tacit and unacknowledged. When the majority of illustrations of birds are of birds with their baps out, when there are female monsters that seduce male PCs but not the other way around, when the default pronoun is male and there’s a single paragraph at the beginning saying “of course we mean ‘they’ but we can’t be arsed to use it”… there’s a certain attitude apparent there, and a certain amount of reinforcement.

“Von you’re just being offended on behalf of others you great mansplainer and – “

Shut up. Most of my close friends are women. I’m aware that not every woman has a problem with this stuff and that some women are totally fourteen-year-old boys about it. That’s cool. That’s not even anything remotely resembling a problem. We’re not talking about “women being offended by [X] aspect of RPGs” or about “offensiveness” at all, except in passing to say that F.A.T.A.L. is a bag of shit. We’re talking about a culture which tacitly reinforces a particular set of ideas and behaviour about women and about inter-gender relationships and about how that set of ideas and behaviour is way more likely to put women off gaming than anything in an illustration.

Let me present a less charged example. No RPG says in absolute up front terms that you must quote Monty Python to the point where it stops being remotely funny and your DM wants to strangle you, but RPG culture – gamerkultur – is full of people who do this and are boring and the meme pool isn’t putting them off. Get it?

No RPG says in absolute up front terms that you must be a creepy weirdo who’s sweaty and nervous and has these giant blue balls but can’t actually talk to women or invite them to a social situation where you’re comfortable interacting with others – but gamerkultur is full of people who do this and are weird and the meme pool isn’t putting them off.

The content is not the problem.

The problem is stupid people who think the content is for real-real not for play-play and who are encouraged in their stupidity by a culture that doesn’t tell them they’re stupid for thinking that.

The content is part of a solution to that problem.

If people’s behaviour is tacitly reinforced by the media they consume – and I think they are, in a subtle and minor way that nonetheless adds up over time since most people a) consume a lot of media and b) either don’t think about it, don’t believe it happens, or don’t think that they can do anything about it – then it follows that media which tacitly reinforce a progressive message will do more, over time, than any amount of overt propaganda – which is likely to suck anyway.

It doesn’t take much. If your game has a succubus but no incubus, put the incubus in. You’re not doing it to be progressive, you’re doing it because you get to include another cool demon type. If your game has half-orcs, don’t default to “he-orc rapes human woman” as their origin. You’re not doing it to be progressive, you’re doing it because that’s a boring excuse for a backstory.

Be progressive by accident, as a byproduct of making better games. You have nothing to lose.

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About Jon

Jon is sententious, mercurial, and about as punk rock as a nice cup of milky tea. He likes sad, sleazy music for people who want to cop off in a swamp and then drown themselves, and plays undead in any game that has them.

6 thoughts on “How To Get More Women Into RPGs, And Why We Want Them There

  1. Lolz.
    I knew you wrote this, just from the title.
    Gamerkultur. I like that one.
    And while I do kinda lean a bit into the ‘why would we want them in our games?’ crowd, because all of my life has Terran Females in it EXCEPT when I game, and I’m driven quite looney enough, thank you, I DO think we need more Terran Female gamers, overall.
    And I suppose I wouldn’t mind being paired up against a Terran Female in a random minigame tournament.
    As long as she has a nice rack. Otherwise meh.
    Might as well be playing against one of my guy friends.

    • The original was “why do we want them there?” but James gave me a ticking-off for asking a dumb question that shouldn’t be graced with an answer, so… you get the declarative statement instead. There’s just no pleasing you people.

      See, here’s what I don’t get about you, Sin. I can’t fathom why you see women as something that you need to get away from. I don’t know if you happen to know a lot of particularly annoying women or something, but I’m not advocating for a second that we invite people who annoy us to play games. It just seems odd that Terran Females and Pains In The Arse overlap so closely on your personal Venn diagram, and on those of my more vocal critics. What kind of shrews are you hanging out with?

      I’d bet that from your end it’s probably weird that I like spending time around women and that’s fair enough, but it’s not like I have a NO DUDES sign over my gaming table. I just have a NO GOBSHITES sign and, since most of the female gamers I know don’t annoy me and many of the male gamers do… put two and two together and there it is.

      Since my games are enriched by having ladies around I look askance on behaviour that puts ladies off gaming, and content plays a role in the feedback loop that justifies such behaviour. That’s all.

      As for lady wargamers… I’ve met a few and they’ve generally been a lot more laid back about things. I think there’s something about the company of men (the dominance conversation that basically amounts to “fine, let’s whap our cocks out on the table and sort out who’s biggest and then can we please do something interesting?”) that simply does my nut and so it’s of personal advantage to me to have more women in the scene. Nice racks or otherwise.

      • Von, I’ve got you by a bunch of years.
        I’m sure Hark is everything to you right now, but in reality, you could very well be 3 years out from a bitter divorce, or something else happening.

        I love women, that much is obvious. I just don’t need one next to me all the time to feel cool or anything like that. I know lotsa cool women, but they’re still women, and if I wanna discuss something I have to temper my comments simply cuz they’re around.

        Women are awesome, but they’re not everything, and a lotta times it’s just as awesome escaping them.

        Get back to me after you’ve been married for 5 to 10.
        Then lemme know how you feel.

        • So in other words, you have to wind your neck in around women and you don’t like it? Is that all there is to it?

          I’m not sure why you’re bringing Hark into this. We’re not talking about romantic relationships, we’re talking about gaming buddies, and I don’t see what you gain from shifting the terms of discussion other than a chance to play the Life Experience card again.

  2. I mean, I suppose I could convince some of the larger dudes to where something that accentuates their man-boobage, but…
    I’ve tried that, and the bearers of some really impressive moobs didn’t think it was funny.

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