Feminism and tabletop games

  1. Jazzratt
    Jazzratt
    I was reading this piece just now and it got me thinking about, well, gender in RPGs (shockingly enough*), and while I thought the article was a fair starting point [although I have my own slew of criticisms which I won't go into] I wondered about looking at the ideas raised through a more "radical" lense. I came up with a couple of ideas.

    The first issue that really caught me was raised in the article, when talking about Deadland's the author notes a sidebar talking about female characters. The author goes on to say "But there comes a basic question: why are women a sidebar?...This might seem to be quibbling, but it demonstrates a pattern which holds true in play." Deadland's is not the only offender in this either. I know that both Dark Heresy & Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (wonderful games, download or buy them now) do this as do others. I like to call this habit "oh yeah and you could be a chick too", as in "This is how you make a character, how you decide their stats and so on. Oh yeah and you can be a chick too." The problem is it presents the idea of female characters as somehow abnormal, an Other.

    Sidebars like that often have the justification that, in the game world, men and women are treated differently. "It's not us that's sexist, but our fictional society!" Which is fair enough, in it's way but would it hurt these companies to perhaps mention this when talking about the setting? It might help make the setting seem more detailed as well because, often, they don't really mention women's place in society outside of the little "oh yeah and you could be a chick too" box.

    Something which was dismissed far more quickly in that article than I thought it should be was this little nugget from a list of rules changes in The Greenland Saga [something I'm not rushing out to buy]:

    "Females have -3 Strength, +1 Dexterity, and +1 Constitution. (This is in a sidebar which ends with the text: "Life is not fair. Deal with it."). "

    I have two problems with this (aside the fact that I strongly suspect that sidebar is an "oh and you could be a chick too" box):

    • Firstly, and most spuriously, it is shit as a rules decision anyway. In the D20 system -3 in a stat decreases the bonus of that stat by 1.5 (the .5 isn't counted, but it's there conceptually). That makes the difference between 12 (a bonus of 1) and 9 (a penalty of -1 (-0.5 thought of mathematically; penalties round up and bonuses round down)). A +1 on the other hand increases a stat's bonus by just .5 - this makes very little difference, comparitively. If they were going to have this ridiculous rule they could at least have made it balance so that it wasn't a mechanical disadvantage to be a woman.
    • Secondly this is just plain insulting. Even if average recorded strength, hand-eye and pain/disease tolerance statistics were to support something this drastic I still wouldn't think of it as realistic within the scope of the D20 system. What saying this implies is that compared to a man a woman is exceptionally weak but only slightly better with her hands or at dealing with pain. And once again even if this were proven to be the case (and whoever was doing this proving better have some fucking rock solid science because I don't buy it at all) the rule still makes no sense because D20 player characters represent exceptions to the average anyway - it's a heroic system and all the rules are figured that way.

    Thoughts anyone?

    *If you couldn't be arsed to click on the link it's a short piece entitled "Gender Roles in RPG Texts". It's okay, not great.
  2. NecroCommie
    NecroCommie
    Well, first of all: I could not read the article. My computer blocked it for some unknown reason. (inappropiate adds?)

    As to the women as a sidekick: The RPG companies presume male domination in the scene. This is a fact, however bad it may be, and goes way beyond this gender choosing thingy. Most games are action/war games, most powerful NPC's are almost exclusively male, and the overall atmosphere in many games is riddled with testosterone. Hell! I even recall seeing a game where all the female characters had "beautiful" in their description followed by secondary traits. Which is perhaps partly due to the idiot GM, and also quite an obvious way to indicate ones intellectual inferiority.

    I am not aware of the scene in the UK or the US, but at least here in the north the scene is riddled with women, and I think some conventions are mostly women. And most of them are apathetic to the problem. So the root lays in the companies and they most certainly are male dominated!

    Damn! I'll write more soon, my computer insists on restarting...
  3. Jazzratt
    Jazzratt
    Quote Originally Posted by NecroCommie
    Well, first of all: I could not read the article. My computer blocked it for some unknown reason. (inappropiate adds?)
    Can't help you there (although there are no ads on the site) if you have a real desperate urge to read it, a demonoid account and a bittorent client then you can find it in amongst the articles and files in this torrent [AFAIK all of the content is free to use and distribute, if anyone bothers sending lawyers after you]. Incidentally they are well worth a read.

    As to the women as a sidekick: The RPG companies presume male domination in the scene.
    Early on the "scene" was male dominated, it grew out of wargaming which I can unhappily inform you was and is male dominated. Even as it became more mainstream, though, a lot of the same writers and mentalities persisted. While newer companies and writers are less and less likely to do this the "evolution of the rpg" has a long way to go in this respect.

    This is a fact, however bad it may be, and goes way beyond this gender choosing thingy.
    Well, yes, but that is one of the most stark examples. There are reams and reams to write about the "men-as-presumed-audience" problem in RPGs.As for the artwork...well.

    Most games are action/war games, most powerful NPC's are almost exclusively male, and the overall atmosphere in many games is riddled with testosterone.
    At the same time though a large slice of RPG market is occupied by universal game systems (GURPS, HERO, Fivestat, Fuzion, FUDGE* and so on). The idea though that it's just the violence and "action" in RPGs that turns women off is a bit disengenuos in my opinion. While girls may be socialised to grow up to prefer a game of "Bunnies & Burrows" (which, if you haven't played, you should try at least once) to "Blood & Guts" (The actual name of a set of, apparently realistic, D20 modern military games) I think that as they grow up they are certainly more able to break that conditioning. Certainly in my experience gender makes no difference on the prefered genre; whilst it's all anecdotal the women I've gamed with have played everything from raging barbarians and trigger happy assasins to diplomatic elven mages and near-pacifist maonks.

    As for "most powerful NPCs" that is generally a matter of art imitating life, especially in games with a contemporary setting and it does depend on what is being emulated. In Dark Heresy there are next to no powerful female NPCs because the Imperium in Warhammer 40,000 is not the best place to be a woman (or anyone really) - unless you happen to be an insane combat nun. By contrast in one of my favourite games, Blue Rose (download it or buy it. NOW. In fact stop reading this post and go out and aquire it.) the powerful NPCs are much more gender balanced because the primary society is (some of the others are much more misogynist but that's part of what makes them compelling antagonists).

    Hell! I even recall seeing a game where all the female characters had "beautiful" in their description followed by secondary traits. Which is perhaps partly due to the idiot GM, and also quite an obvious way to indicate ones intellectual inferiority.
    That's a perfect example of the male gaze in RPG writing. Oddly it isn't often in the writing, though, it's in the art; although recently that's moved away from women wearing close to fuck all managing to look like they're simpering even if they have a fuck off great axe to women in actual armour, with actual signs of battle looking like they could actually eviscerate you with the weapon in their hands [see Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and D&D 3.5]. Sci-fi doesn't escape this either (read the Cyberpunk2020 rulebook and look at the pictures of women. Hell, cyberpunk2020 could be its own case study.)

    I am not aware of the scene in the UK or the US, but at least here in the north the scene is riddled with women, and I think some conventions are mostly women. And most of them are apathetic to the problem. So the root lays in the companies and they most certainly are male dominated!
    "Riddled" is usually a negative descriptor, by the way . As for being "apathetic to the problem", well it's up to them - to an extent - if there is even a problem. I think, though, that if pressed most people would prefer it if they were included in the text and images of an RPG (or any other book really) just so they might relate better.

    Damn! I'll write more soon, my computer insists on restarting...
    I think I've written far too much for the both of us already

    *FUDGE is an interesting one. The RPG equivelent of Linux - it's quite light and it takes a lot of fiddling to get right but it can be rewarding if it happens.
  4. Killfacer
    Killfacer
    haha yeah women do hate geeks
  5. NecroCommie
    NecroCommie
    Hey!
  6. Killfacer
    Killfacer
    Quote Originally Posted by NecroCommie
    Hey!
    what? It's true. That's why i pretend not to be a geek
  7. Jazzratt
    Jazzratt
    Surely in this case it seems more that geeks hate women?

    Can't say I've had too much problem being quite obviously geeky and getting on with women. Then again I probably just know geeky women.
  8. Killfacer
    Killfacer
    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzratt
    Surely in this case it seems more that geeks hate women?

    Can't say I've had too much problem being quite obviously geeky and getting on with women. Then again I probably just know geeky women.
    You have to hide it like your a pedo or a sexual predator.
  9. RainbowLeftist
    This is why I like Palladium Games. They don't descriminate between Male or Female characters. In our group we had a Girl built like a damn Amazon. She had to protect meh.

    Sorry if this is too late to post.
  10. Salabra
    Salabra
    /me inserts a placeholder indicating that she really needs to address this post when time permits
  11. RainbowLeftist
    Because I mentioned the fact she was built like an Amazon? I don't see how the toughest PC in our group being a Woman is Sexist in any way.
  12. Salabra
    Salabra
    Quote Originally Posted by RainbowLeftist
    Because I mentioned the fact she was built like an Amazon? I don't see how the toughest PC in our group being a Woman is Sexist in any way.
    Oh no!

    I meant that I need to address the original post - being female 'n' all.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding! ("Foot-in-mouth" seems to be one of my failings at the moment )
  13. Jazzratt
    Jazzratt
    Please do. It would be intersting to heaqr your take. As a dude I only have a very theoretical grasp of sexism and privelege (as much as I wish it weren't so). I'd like to hope I was somewhere near the mark with my comments.
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