On the (Comparatively) Lower Frequency of Women Gamers

Women in gaming is a fraught subject, to the point that when Lugh began a post on the subject, he led off with the expectation that it would be controversial. And yes, it is—particularly when men start writing for other men’s benefit about why there aren’t more women gamers, with the occasional bit of input from a generally-one-of-the-guys female gamer (a category I fall into, sort of), and then that gets into discussions of stereotypes and nature-versus-nurture arguments, and somewhere in there are the (distressingly common) people mentioned in the last segment of Lugh’s article who want to keep the hobby a male bastion and then in walks a woman who isn’t one of the guys and…. where were we? Ah, yes. Recruiting more women into our gaming.

So why do I think we don’t have too many?

I’m going to throw out for a moment the idea that it’s necessarily about an overall generally female non-interest in killing things and taking their stuff—going into that will give me a full blog post. There are other factors, ones that are somewhat less likely to result in people throwing things at each other.

Part of it is that there’s a greater social pressure against being a female geek than against being a male geek, in general. Sure, when we break it things are awesome, but a lot of us really don’t like feel like outing ourselves to the mundanes; I know in college, my rule of thumb was that it would take me at least five minutes to decide whether it was “safe” to tell someone I was a table-topper, and even now it takes me a little work to discuss my blog with my library patrons, despite the fact that they know I’m not the most mainstream of people. Along with that, even within the RPG community there’s a hefty portion of the population that, whether consciously, subconsciously or unwittingly are driving the potential female gamers away. You would not believe how many people I’ve had to go to town on for trying to claim that men were better gamers than women, and my first kerfluffle on this blog, which has since been eaten by my move to this site, involved one of my gamer audience inadvertently confirming the “male gamers are hostile to women” stereotype to a fellow blogger/writer whom I think could’ve gotten into the hobby quite happily otherwise. With those sorts of pressures both from within and from without, who would be surprised when only the diehards are willing to stick around?

Part of it is that many of us end up being rather condescended to when we try to take the first step. People assume we’re going to go mechanics-phobic and practically build our characters for us, explain the game in little tiny words; I was lucky, in that my first group (if you can call it that given that it lasted all of one day) just handed me the book and told me to have fun, and my next few tried to keep their explanations on my level. When all the “tutorials” just feed into the stereotypes… not interested. At all.

Another part is hardly anyone seems to know who to ask (see the geek stigma above), particularly if you’re in a hack and slash sort of style. One of my early GMs—not my first, but the first one who introduced me to character-driven table-topping, and certainly one of the first groups I played in in which the women in the group outnumbered the men—told me to look for “the writers, the musicians, the drama people and the sociology people”, but it wouldn’t surprise me if most of those would be as impatient with a beer-and-pretzels game as I am.

But enough negativity. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about the fine art of recruiting people anyway.


  1. Lugh says:

    Thanks for the link!

    I’m glad to get your feedback here. While I think of myself as “female gamer positive,” I have to admit that I am a man. I probably have subtle behaviors of my own that make women feel nervous or unwelcome. (More of the “pedestal” type than the misogynistic type, and possibly some assumptions about the type of game women want to play.) I can spout as much as I want about the problems facing female gamers, but it is, at best, second-hand information.

    Your point about “geek” being a harsher stigma for women is interesting. I’d never thought about it before. But, I suppose I can see it. Especially when I think about the kind of images that spring to mind when I think about it in general terms, instead of just my friends.

    I totally understand about the condescension. One of my friends is actually a game developer, and she still runs into guys offering to build her character for her. Drives her nuts.

  2. edige23 says:

    My wife and I were talking, tangentially about this last night. She mentioned that the play style of one of the players sometimes got to her. That he focused on defeating and destroying enemies or even just rivals, rather than approaches which could reduce effectiveness and find like ground so as to co-opt or transform those enemies. I had to point out to her that the “Destroy” approach wasn’t the aberration among players, but that her “Absorption” approach was. I don’t mean that the other players are killers or resort to violence immediately, but they focus on defeat as an absolute. Enemies and rivals have to be beaten in some way.

  3. Ravyn says:

    Lugh: Glad you enjoyed it! It’s tricky coming from a part of the demographic you’re not writing about, I know; I’ve been spending a lot of time pinging around activist blogs of various sorts in the last year or two, and trying to wrap my head around all these issues I never even thought of…. yeah. (I think it helps that I’ve recently been resensitized to the issue by one of my coworkers, who recently flared me up by telling one of our male kid patrons that she needed a review of a certain book from him because she didn’t expect a good review of a book on castles from girls.)

    What it mostly boils down to, I think, is recruiting gamers as gamers, rather than as men or women. People go counter to the stereotypes all the time; I recently ran into a childhood friend from first grade who told me that he’d been soured on table-topping by having fallen into a beer-and-pretzels group when he wanted the collaborative-fiction-with-dice aspect. So we ask what they want.

    And seriously, your friend has my sympathy.

    Edige: I never really thought about that as an aberration either, as many of my groups have been prone to the same thing. The first group I ran for, in which all of the players and my assistant were male, managed to completely derail my plot by arranging a somewhat uneasy alliance with one of my groups of NPC opponents, and by the time the first arc was over I think they’d killed a grand total of three named characters and recruited far more than that. One that I played in had one player who was as much of a combat avoider as I was, at least with that character. It became a running joke, after I tamed the grass-elemental Godzilla on his suggestion, that you do one thing that sidesteps the battle and you never get a chance to do that again, even when everyone in the group agrees that the opponent du jour might actually be worth sparing.

    Perhaps it depends on how useful the opposing characters seem, or whether all signs rather strongly imply that the rival/whatever should be on the same side and something has been missed there. Or their attitudes; one of my most absorption-prone characters began her game viewing everyone she met as either an enemy or a tool, and acted accordingly (as in “ooooh, my own completely secret superpowered agent!”) when her more innocent teammate started sparing enemy lives.

  4. Shinali says:

    I know I’m a bit of an odd case, as I sort of got into roleplaying twice and both times I was introduced to it and the group by another female who then showed me the ropes. As such, the groups were sort of pre-vetted as female-friendly, and that never struck me as an issue. Well, until I had 4 hour breaks and in boredom tried to befriend the game-du-jour geeks in the student center, and realized I was afraid to, because I was afraid they wouldn’t want to talk to me because I wasn’t geeky enough (and yes, the fact that I was comparatively dressed up and wearing makeup played a part)… and again my initial interactions were with the girls of the group.

    So it seems to be that groups with geek girls, no matter their geekiness of choice, attract more geek girls, and ones without them have a harder time of it. Once in a group, shifting from silly card games or writing or anime to tabletop is easy, but just saying, “oh, the guys and I are going to play D&D this weekend, you want to join” out of nowhere tends to be a bit more awkward if we don’t know the guys.

    Strangely enough, I don’t think I’ve gotten any of my female friends into gaming, and not for lack of trying, but I have gotten my guy friends into it (or back into it).

    I never had an issue with the notion of RPGs as going out and killing people and taking their stuff. Not that my groups have generally done so (exceptions have been made for the sake of plot, or times we didn’t technically kill them), but the notion never struck me as undesirable. There also has only been one time that a player wanted to have their character do something that really truly bothered me, and the entire group (male and female) told him that wasn’t going to fly.

    One thing that does bother me when playing with guys is when some of them play female characters they play them so… unrealistically. There was the character whose main skill was seducing people (boy was she shocked when the paragon of virtue semi-NPC didn’t even notice). I told that player to play a female as they would play a male. It worked. I’ve also seen the overly emotional, the overly girlygirl (or the overly tomboy, though that fits adventurers slightly better) and so forth. Of course, I have seen guys play female characters better than some female players have, and females play male characters better than some males have.
    I’m just saying that more than pretzels and beer or overly violent or whatever characters, the thing that most worries me when joining a group is seeing that someone I don’t know the characterization skills of is going to play the opposite gender. (For those not in the know, I am very character-driven in writing and RPing, and it is the cause of most of my writer’s blocks.)

    Just my two cents on the matter.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Triple Crit » Gamer Chicks and Chicks that Game: Why We Need Both
  2. Followup: Recruiting in Gaming | Exchange of Realities
  3. Leveraging a Stereotype | Exchange of Realities

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