October 25, 2009

Geek Social Skills: are they keeping female gamers away?

As my friend Joel pointed out, gamer stereotypes can hurt female participation in the RPG world.  But is it partly due to social skills?

One of my faithful readers, F. Douglas Wall, sent me a link to an article titled "Five Geek Social Fallacies", talking about the preconceived notions geeks have when it comes to their social circles.  I'm going to do my own response to the piece. I suggest taking a glance over it first, then reading my opinion on how this could hinder or help women who may want to join the RPG community.

#1: Ostracizers are Evil

I think this one is a good point.  People should not be afraid to exclude people they do not like.  I feel in my experience, guys are more notorious for adopting this mode of thinking than not.  They're less likely to see the not so redeeming qualities in their friends, even if those qualities mean the friend is actual an enemy or is merely a constant liability.
This kind of thinking can keep women away if a certain player in an RPG group is just not fun to play with.  I find when it comes to an RPG group, a woman is less likely to stay if there's one disruptive person in the group than a man.  Men are willing to get the enjoyment of game when there's a player who is clearly a detriment to the playing experience.  Women have a lower threshold when it comes to those situations.  Not ostracizing the person that people don't like to play with anyway will keep new players away in general.

#2: Friends Accept Me As I Am

The idea that people who are true friends should accept you as you are can be reasonable.  Little flaws like being stubborn or wearing the occasional tattered sweatpants when going to the grocery store.  However, when it comes to bigger flaws or personality clashes in any group, acceptance gets tougher.  In my group of friends and from talking to either women friends, most of the time women don't have a problem coming together and saying "We actually aren't friends with this person, let's not hang out with them."  It sounds cruel, but it happens and people tend to move on.
It may just be my experience, but I find guys are willing to go with tradition just because it's tradition.  A lot of times when a guy finally cut ties of with someone (for better or worse) it's because a woman close to him suggests it's a good idea.  I hate typing that out because it sounds a little sexist and it makes guys sound easy to persuade, but that has been my observation.  It takes a real big fight of huge proportions for guys not to bury the hatchet anytime soon.   This isn't always for the better.  Sometimes it's better not the be friends with someone for everyone's sake.
Getting it back to gaming, accepting anybody as a friend causes a person to get a lot of friends who are actually social liabilities, and not a lot of good friends that are mutually beneficial.  Again, new players would not be attracted to playing with that group of people, regardless of gender.

#3: Friendship Before All

This is just social suicide regardless.  There will always be people or situations you regards as more important than others, but good management of time and priorities is key to avoiding this as a problem.  Although a lot of girlfriends of gamers may be suffering from boyfriends who hold true this mantra, this isn't the kind of social fallacy that will prevent many women from joining a gaming group.

#4: Friendship is Transitive

The idea that all your friends should be friends with one another is something I rarely find with women.  I have literally have had conversations with friends saying "I like friend X but you may not like that she does y/ is like z/ is friends with someone who you don't get along with."  A good number of women have that honesty with themselves and between their friends.  I find that in my group of friends getting the right group of friends together helps stave off conflict in groups and connect people who have similar interests together.
To be honest, I find that half the guys I know understand this dynamic and half of them don't.  Some guys understand completely why two of their friends wouldn't get along.  My brother is really good and figuring that stuff out.  But then I have guy friends who are completely clueless about those kinds of situations and would never understand why two of their friends would never get along.  It really depends from person to person.  I will say that I've found there are more guys that are clueless about this situation then there are girls.
I think this is very important to helping with increasing female participation in the RPG community.  Not every playing group is going to accept every kind of personality.  As I said, men have I higher tolerance when it comes to playing with people who they don't particularly like playing with.   Women are more cautious, and if they're introduced to the wrong group of players, a potential female gamer may be lost.

#5: Friends Do Everything Together

I find that women are more likely to find a friend or group of friends who they are comfortable doing everything together.  However, this is a very selective bunch of close friends that has been built over time.  This is not like the idea where all your friends would be willing to do whatever you're in the mood for at any time.  I find more guys are guilty of that, but this is not to say that most guys do this.  This group is really a minority.
This is where certain men can scare off female gamers.  Women like to build up friendships over time, they don't immediately do everything with someone together.  Friendships like that are quite rare.  So if there's a guy who invites a girl to a gaming group and then expects her to want to hang out all the time immediately after the first game, it could scare off the girl.  She will get mixed signals--is this friendship or is he pursuing me for a relationship?--and may just want to avoid the drama altogether.  Or she just may find it creepy that the guy barely knows her but is already acting like they;re close buds.  It's almost like a cultural miscommunication sometimes.

Looking at all these social fallacies, there are a couple that could legitimately scare away female gamers from gaming groups.  However, there is no way that these social fallacies are the reason why women are a minority in the RPG community.  This is really just a tool to help explain smaller instances on a case by case basis, not something to examine the whole community with.


  1. Sapphire I generally love your content, and I found the original link to be very insightful. However, I find your commentary a lot less so. The original poster of the article didn't suggest that the article was about men. He said it was about gamers.

    Your read of it suggests you think it was about men, and are commenting about how it might apply to women. Your post is littered with generalizations about men vs women, many of which paint men in a negative light.

    In the same way you are trying to raise awareness about how women can be driven away from a hobby by such generalizations and stereotypes I'd caution you to avoid lobbing them at men.

    It's hardly fair to lump all of us together, and to suggest that we suffer from these social fallacies while women don't. In three specific places you pointed out basically 'Yeah I see guys do this, but girls don't'.

    You even pointed out yourself that a couple of your comments felt sexist. Anyway, just making my opinion known. Keep up the good work on the site.

  2. Chris, I understand what you're coming from and I'm sorry that this article is not up to par with what I have done before. I have tried in this article to make it clear that this is about tendencies, using terms as "more likely" or "in my experience".

    Women and men do act different from each other if you look at the big picture of numbers and such. We do have to address that. If women and men acted exactly the same then would there be a reason for this blog at all?

    I'm sorry that this post is not getting the point across that I hope it would, because in the end this isn't even a post I think actually helps this cause in the long run. It's just a little side comment thing of tendencies I have noticed in my life that is in no way coming to any real conclusions.

  3. Chris Fox pretty much sums up some of how I feel with this article though I will say I didn't find much value in the original document that you based yours on.

    My personal experiences, both in gaming and outside of it, have shown me that almost none of these hold true for my male friends and the people I've gamed with, with the exception of ostracizing people.
    Guys DO seem a bit more willing to put up with more from people than women and tend not to boot people for petty reasons. That isn't to say the groups I've played with have unlimited patience and steps to stop disruptive behaviour usually begin as soon as the poor behaviour starts. Those People who are seriously disruptive, and who don't want to change are not invited back.