October 28, 2009

Come to Wolfcon V

I am going to Wolfcon this year, and hoping to be able to talk to gamers about women in the industry.  I'm coordinating with them to see if I will do a panel discussion or something else.  Something tells me a panel discussion may not be the best way, but input is appreciated if any of you have any experience with awesome convention running.

October 26, 2009

Question of the Week #6

The Boyfriend told me that my post yesterday made women sound shallow.  That was definitely not my intention, but I can see how my entry could've been construed that way.  If I offended anyone with it, I'm sorry.  Unfortunately, women and men are very similar with the way they act in social situations, so to say women act one way and men act another is quite misleading.  Sure, there are trends in behavior, but you can never use those trends as a guide for the entire male or female population.

With that in mind, the Question of the Week is a little less focused on gender and more focused on the social interactions in the RPG community.

When is it no longer shallow to disallow a person from playing in your RPG group?  Does it take certain actions, behaviors or habits, something more or something less?

Let's get the discussion rolling.

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.

October 21, 2009

Chris Christensen: Gaming Industry Woman

I stopped by GamesPlus in Mount Prospect to see if any of the gaming sages there would be able to help the 20 Sided Women Project, and the wife of one of the employees, Chris, was happy to respond.  She had spent some time in the gaming industry in the 80's and shared a little bit of her experiences in an email to me.

When I joined Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE), I was one of only three or 4 women in the entire industy, so I stood out. Here are some quick thoughts off the top of my head (referring to how men treated me in the industry):

I never had to buy a drink at conventions :)
I had endless dating opportunities (in fact, I met Rett at a game convention) :)
I had many industry job prospects to choose from :)

Ok, all kidding aside:

1. I was treated with a lot of respect. I was the sales mgr at ICE and folks listened; the job demanded respect and I just assumed it.
2. Retail owners, when I visited their stores all over the country, would close the store for lunch & insist on taking me to lunch to talk business. In my current job, that would never happen.
3. I was the only woman and the youngest, initially, at ICE w/8 other employees (all men). One of them was very macho and chauvinistic, but I held my own and proved I could do the job. He even started to rethink his thoughts on women as a result (a big achievement I claim).
4. During my tenure, sales went from about $1-$5 million/yr (one of the best in the industry at that time)
5. Except for the one fellow, ICE had pretty progressive men working there. I never had to fight off a scantily-clad woman on the cover type thing. However, during this period, one of the covers that came out of FASA (of Battletech fame) was of a naked woman. The print run had to be recalled because retailers refused to shelve it. Had I worked at FASA, I would have fought that cover.
When I started at ICE, I had never played a rpg. I insisted that I was a sales person—I didn’t need to know how to play. The bossman conned me into “gametesting” Middle-earth Role Playing, which he insisted was an easier version (not as challenging as Rolemaster). Hah. Anyway, I recall rolling an E-Crit on the old game chart and my character died from a massive concussion. I could say I was so traumatized that I never played again—but that’s a lie. I played a few more times (and didn’t die), but I haven’t played an rpg in at least 12 years.

Thank you Chris for your insight!

It looks like from this, even in the 80s during the RPG boom, that being a woman in the RPG industry wasn't really a detriment, like it is perceived to be in many other industries.  Of course, I'm only saying this talking to two women who were important in the industry at two different times... as more investigation continues we'll see how consistent this observation is.

October 19, 2009

Question of the Week #5

I really loved reading last week's discussion, I hope to get another one just as good going.

Question of the Week
How much have you seen video games affect female participation in your table top RPG community?  Has the affect been positive, negative, or no affect at all?

And look out tomorrow for another exciting post.

October 17, 2009

Kagematsu: Encouraging Cross-Play

A friend of mine told me about this game a while ago called Kagematsu, which in the rules requires cross play. I think here is the latest website I found for Kagematsu, but on this wordpress blog are rules from 2007, before the game became published.

This game reminded me of the cross-play post I made earlier this week.  In the rules, there is one lone warrior wandering through the village that is played by a woman.  The rest of the characters, regardless of gender, play women who try to get the warrior to defend the village.  The question is why would the creator have the woman play the lone, wandering warrior?

I have a theory.  This game is very dependent on a romance story line, and seeing if that story line succeeds or fails.  Women are generally perceived to be more inclined to romantic notions.  Just think at who the entire romance novel market is geared to, and which gender is expected to like random flowers, chocolates and other similar affections.  Maybe this creator thought it would be easier to get to the love story element of the game if the person being desired really understood what makes a man desirable.

As I said, this is only theory.  I would love to see what you readers think.

October 14, 2009

A Letter to the Gaming Industry

Filamena Young, who I had interacted with before on the RPG.net blogs, forwarded me a new blog on wordpress called A Letter to the Gaming Industry.  If you click the link you'll find an open letter to the gaming industry on the opinions of women in the RPG community focusing on how they are treated.

It is important, as the minority in a community, to know how a community reacts to you, and how to react to the situation at hand.  It seems the open letter addresses those kinds of concerns.  I think it's crucial to at least have an open discussion about how women are treated in the RPG community and how we feel about it.

I encourage you all to check out the other articles that are featured on this blog if you are interested as I am about the subject.  They're all short but interesting reads.

Also, a quick thank you for all of you who have been sending me very interesting links.  I'm looking them over and trying to post on all that I've received so far.

October 12, 2009

Question of the Week #4

Going back to my last post a little bit, it's time for another Question of the Week:

Have you ever had an experience where a Game Master has treated a Player Character differently because of the gender of the player?  Why do you think that situation happened?

Not as philosophical as some of the other questions, but I still find it important.  Please discuss!

October 10, 2009

Cross-playing: Some observations

When looking for articles that could relate to the blog I found this article that takes its time to get to the subject matter. One thing that is mentioned in this article was cross-playing, or playing a character that was the opposite gender of your own. This writer focuses a little more on players doing it as a "study of females".

After I read it over a couple of times, I found myself somewhat offended. "Study of females?" How can one truly study women's behaviors by pretending to be a woman? It sounds like an opportunity for caricature more than any kind of meaningful study. If one was to study females, wouldn't one want to be around an actual female?

It seems in this article the authors wants people to know that individuals who cross-play are not perverted players looking for a more intimate kind of experience (like the ones my friend Joel informed me of earlier this week).  I can understand that concern.  But I don't think cross-playing is a way to understand how it is to be a woman.  I really think that it's because certain players just would like to try something different, and to them being a woman is very different.

I have rarely wanted to cross-play merely because I never had a male player character in mind.  And a lot of my female friends are the same way.  Speaking for my own experience, I have only cross-played once, and that was a character that was based on my younger brother for a Unknown Armies game (he was a Urbanomancer who used a shot put with legs built by a Mechanomancer as a weapon).  But a lot of the time, I don't find myself inspired to make a male character.  I find it's easier for myself to make interesting, complex characters that are of my own gender.

I have had one person cross-play in a campaign I ran before.  In my game he played a lesbian elf druid, and when he had to leave the game this character stayed as an important NPC.  My friend, in fact, always cross-played his characters.  In college my friends and I teased him a lot for it, but now that I look back, he may have had the same problem I had.  He was just inspired to play characters that were women, and wasn't as inspired by his own gender.

This isn't to say male characters are boring.  They usually aren't, especially if you get a creative player behind them.  In the same game I had a friend who made one of my favorite characters I ever ran a game with.  His character, a wizard who's family noble standing had been stripped away, ended up finding his lost brother, falling in love with the Queen that was his boss, planned almost all of the battles down to a T to help guarantee success for the party, and ended up destroying his nemesis quite swiftly.  This player, and his character, was many times too smart for me to catch up with him when I was planning game.  So again, male characters can definitely be intriguing and fun to play.

I think in the article above, the author was a little narrow-minded about the whole thing.  I have yet to have someone cross-play merely for the study of it.  When you're making a character that is merely for philanthropic purposes, there isn't a lot one can get from that intellectually.  It is best to make characters that intrigue you, that you want to play because you find qualities in their personality redeeming or entertaining.  You discover a lot more from that then one does from making a character that is simply female for the sake of being female, or some similar situation.

Also, if people want to learn more about women, they first need to talk to real women.  They do not need to pretend to be women, which will result in faulty observations no matter how many ways you try.

October 07, 2009

Interview with Joel: Not all girl gamers are a benefit

I had the pleasure to interview my friend Joel, a teacher who's been gaming since he was twelve. I first met him through The Boyfriend, and he runs a great game of SLA Industries. He blogs the games he runs along with his extras he makes up for the setting here, and I suggest you take a gander. Also, I've become friends with his wife Rachel, who's also a teacher and just as nerdy as the rest of us at the SLA table. Rachel and I are usually the ones at the gaming table keeping the team on task, and I appreciate that I'm not the only one trying.
Joel's experiences gaming with women weren't all positive. It makes me sad, but at the same time the way he talks bout it, although caustic, are very entertaining.


How did you first get into gaming?
A friend of mine asked me to play DnD with him and a couple of friends. This was when AD&D just did it's second revision. He started back on the blue box set. When Elf was a class. I never played the older stuff, I just collected the books on a goof. AD&D was where I started.
Where did you branch off from there?
It was mostly the TSR stuff. We dabbled in Star Frontiers, Gangbusters, Top Secret, Boot Hill. I didn't get into the "indie" stuff for a while. We also did a little bit of strategy stuff, too. Dawn Patrol was a favorite.

So how long was it until you played a game with a woman?
One of my buddies, Chris, had a girlfriend who played. Chris had been running a huge campaign for a few years and wanted to work his girlfriend in when we played while we were in high school. Dawn (that was her name) was using a character that came from a campaign that was at best "broken."
How broken? Please describe.
She was the daughter of Asmodeus or Beezelbub or something ridiculous like that. Pentagrams for irises. A fortress that she created inside a bag of holding with a wish. This was busted power-gaming personified.
Did Chris have to do this to get Dawn to play or was it that she knew what she was doing and didn't care?
She knew what she was doing. The campaign the character came from was just insane.

So I'm guessing that wasn't a very positive experience.
No, I distinctly remember in-game having my Bard physically restrained from choking her out.
Then what was your first positive experience with female gamers at the table?
Hmm...let me skip past the Strategic Games Society at SIU where my female DM thought she could run a campaign with 26 active players at the table. The rest of the female gamers there were more interested in long descriptions of campside orgies with their boyfriends. I would just have my Bard steal all of their stuff while they were naked in-game. What I couldn't carry, I would just take out into the woods and bury it.

Sadly, my first positive experience with a female gamer would be 1993-4 with what would become my ex-girlfriend. She shall henceforth be referred to as "The Ulcer."
I'm hoping that doesn't refer to her gaming practices
No, her as a person. Her gaming was actually pretty good. I was running a campaign in the RPG Underground and she wanted to try it out.
Did she bring anything different or new to the table?
Other than breasts, having a female character in game changed the dynamics of the party.
While she had trouble with the game mechanics for a while, she grasped the idea of role-playing well. She got deep into character, which encouraged the rest of the group to try to do the same.
So she helped bring out those skills in the other players?
Yeah. She was over the top normally, so at the table she was pretty nutty. Everybody kind of got into it.
Do you find that most female players are good at the role playing characters in general?
Not to that point. Before the Ulcer they were all uniformly horrifying. Either they were allowing for epically broken characters or they were just looking for a porn experience in Greyhawk.
A porn experience? I'm sorry, but you have to explain that dynamic.
"Role-playing" sexual encounters. We're talking constitution and dexterity rolls. Imagine the inherent creepiness of yiffing and apply it to DnD. And that's why I became extremely selective about the women I gamed with.
Do you find that it's less prominent these days when you game?
Only due to the fact that I am choosy about who I game with. It seems that when I can pick and choose, it's fine. Then I get stuck in a campaign with [...] [d20 sapphire's Boyfriend] was running a DnD campaign and asked me to join. I hadn't played DnD in years. He was running 3.5 and I stopped with 2nd Ed. AD&D. The group was me, nichols, gina, big john, and heather. I don't even know where to start with this train wreck. For one, the campaign was horrible. The first warning sign should have been that Heather was playing a "non-standard" character.
Define non-standard
She was a pixie or something along those lines, and Gina was playing a thief that didn't really do any thieving. She would just stand there and eventually demand a cut of the loot.
These sounds like bad players in general.
Heather seemed to be trying too hard and Gina didn't seem to grasp the role of her character.

I wasn't worried about gaming with Rachel[Joel's wife]. We played a ton of Magic:The Gathering when we were dating. She was into Blood Bowl too, once I showed her how to play. She read lots of fantasy, like Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffrey and like some sci-fi like Douglas Adams. She also liked the Middle Earth stuff, so I figured she'd be fine in DnD. Turns out she could break a character with the best of them. She turned a Halfling Druid into the team's mobile artillery unit. Unfortunately, the biggest challenge would be keeping her from falling asleep during the game.

It sounds like for you, player personality is a lot more important to gaming than anything else to have a good experience.
Yeah. If you have a table full of duds, the game isn't going to be fun.
Do you find that women are more or less likely to be a dud at the table than men? Or is it an equal playing field?
Dud is a wide-sweeping classification. I find that women at the table are prone to a few classic blunders. If they're only very casual gamers, they get hung up on game mechanics and you spend more time explaining the rules than playing. Sometimes they're not into the setting. Other times they just can't grasp their character. Granted, these issues can be for men, too. It's pretty even, I suppose. I just notice the women duds since I don't game with lots of women.

Did you ever game with people who felt that RPGs was a "boys-only" club or didn't want to game with girls?
No. On the contrary. We gamed BECAUSE women generally wouldn't have anything to do with us. We would have gladly welcomed women to the table.

Do you think that there's something about the RPG community that scares away some women in general?
Oh hell yes. What woman would be enchanted by a table full of sweaty, greasy, out of shape men grimly eating chips and swilling sodas as they argue over the particulars of how to best fillet an orc?
Do you think that's something that needs to be fixed on an individual basis or can the whole community do something about it?
I've found the gaming community can be pretty insular. You get a group that works well together and they're not going to want to change it. Maybe with the more casual games you'd have a chance.
Do you think those casual games could become a window to more "hardcore" gaming, i.e. instead of the occasional card or board game of the main stream hardcore like running campaigns or playing in long run tabletop games instead of the occasional one shot?
Hard to say. Maybe if time and finances permitted.

Is there anything, I guess other than not being a stereotypical negative geek stereotype, that the RPG community can do to attract more female players?
I think they have. As far as games go, a lot of the White Wolf stuff seems to appeal to females. I think some of it may come down to the games themselves. As far as the players? I don't know. Not much has changed in the 26 years I've been gaming.

Alright, well I guess that's all I got right now Joel. Thanks for the interview!
Glad to be of service.

October 05, 2009

Question of the Week #3

Here we are with another question of the week!  Also, I hope to see some more people around for some side commentary at the big geek meetup happening at the Mystic Celt in Chicago tonight.  Here is some info,  come if you can.  I would love to meet some readers.

And now the question of the week...

How easy has it been to find female gamers in your local RPG community?  Do you think it has anything to do with your location, or something else?

October 02, 2009

Gamers are friendly and helpful.

I have to say, almost every time I mention this project, people have been so very helpful into leading me in the right direction finding people.  I'm finding the RPG community is full of friendly people who love to help out.  I've always found this to be true, but its been particularly helpful to for this project.

Gamers: Just Great People.

More substantial posts to come, when life is a little less busy.