Friday, 2 March 2012

Gender in Gaming: Some Thoughts

So, it's not something that come up too often in the games I play, but there are obvious issues within the community about it.

(See the D&D Next poll where "Gender-based stat differences" was put forward as something players might want to see. Players, as we all know, are douchebags, and voted this one through the roof, most likely to show WotC that their "open source" approach had some problems).

It was first raised in the good old days of 1st Edition D&D, where rules were given regarding the maximum Strength stat of females of different races. I want to say I can see where they're coming from - D&D is simulationist at heart, and there is an average difference in relative strength and muscle mass between males and females due to the basics of biological sexual dimorphism.

But why the fuck would that level of realism matter in a game of heroic exploits and punching orcs?

It's kinda ridiculous - there are plenty of fictional women who are just as strong as their male counterparts (though, admittedly, most of these are from after this little nugget of wisdom), and in real life, there are plenty of women who could bench-press a car. Even with the relative "grit" of older editions of D&D, there is still a lot of room for such things. It's something that modern games go out of their way to avoid, like White Wolf's overuse of feminine pronouns in their books, or the fact that the statistically best starting character you can make in GURPS is a black woman (both free options - being black lets you reduce your chances of heatstroke, being a male means you get extra Stun/Shock damage when hit in the nuts, a weakness women don't share, apparently...).

I mean, we get it - games are for girls too. This isn't a shock by now.

But, really? It's mostly men who play them. Not that we should exclusively pander to men, but that, really, we don't need to go nutso overboard to cater to women. If they like a game, they like it - no amount of "her and she" will change that.

But, I'll admit it - there is a reason for this little rant. Some minor, ingrained sexism on my part.

My partner was talking about arranging an all-girl gaming group. Seems fine to me! But, I had a thought that I couldn't stop from blurting out - in a lot of settings, you're gonna have to stretch vermilisitude to bring together a whole band of women. Like your average D&D-like setting - female adventurers are the exception, rather than the rule. Historically, you had Joan of Arc et al, but for the most part, such games are inspired by the fiction that spawned them - and women either take a more servile role, or play supporting characters.

For modern games, it's no biggie at all - but go back even 50 years, it starts to look odd. Take Call of Cthulhu - one of the possible games she might run. In 20's America, a large group of women investigating the occult seems... out of place. Guys, sure, they dick about with that shit all the time - but it feels kinda out of place with women. Unless they're a cult/coven/whatever, there would seem to be less of a reason to be doing such things.

But, my partner put forward a good point - a group of men needs little or no reason to get together. Why does a group of women need any more than them?

...It's a good point, man.

And one that probably has its answer deep-seated in our culture's patriarchal roots, and really, that's too deep for a blog about pretending to be pretty Elf princesses to be digging.


  1. I am not so sure, in the 20s -for example- a group of women could easily belong to an organization like the Theosophical Society ( and would be interested in occult investigation. You just have to be willing to look outside the norm.

  2. Indeed! Good to know about. But like I said - this is instinctive. I know it's not *right*, but it's what comes to my mind. Of course, thinking about it, a knitting circle, book group, the wives of servicemen, or a group of debutantes could all operate similarly. It's nowhere near as hard as my brain thinks it is to justify. I was posting about the knee-jerk reaction I had.