Leveraging a Stereotype

One more on the women in gaming front.

For reference: I dislike stereotypes. A lot. Insert comparisons to thousands of burning suns, the ire of a conclave of dragons, nuclear missiles, so on and so forth. (This comes, I think, mainly from all the people who’ve tried to make me fit them.) But I recognize that sometimes you just have to apply Miller’s Law and acknowledge that there might be patterns that set them off. Such is the case—and I admit, I fit it, though I like to think that it’s for reasons more nuanced than my gender—for that old saw that women players don’t like to just kill things and take their stuff.

Now let’s assume, for a moment, that the stereotypes are in fact true, and that women as a class really aren’t as interested in killing things and taking their stuff. That women, as a class, prefer stories about people, and all the squidgy history and emotional landscape and melodramatic social relations and so on that that entails, to stories about their actions. Many people would conclude that this is one of the major barriers to having a large population of Girls That Game™. Au contraire, my friends, it is our advantage.

Consider the following: in this modern day and age, the natural enemy of the tabletop RPG is the MMORPG. After all, it still has all the kill-things-and-take-their-stuff-itude that the average tabletop game does, along with a lot more inherent shinies and a distinctly lower degree both of prep time and of requiring other people to make the game functional. And note that despite the fact that the world of MMOs is often an unpleasant environment for female players, women still play.

Now, what can a tabletop game do that the standard MMORPG generally doesn’t? It gives people room not to spend all their time killing things and taking their stuff. Can serve as a terrarium for Things People Do, including but not limited to romance, character arcing, complicated politics in which the player can actively and wholeheartedly participate… that sort of thing. We can have situations where people can take the time to choose their own garb for major events—or in general—and it actually matters for reasons other than the inherent stats. We can spend a few pages detailing our relatives and expect that they will show up almost exactly as we designed them and be relevant as things other than plot-bait. The sort, wouldn’t you know, that our stereotypical woman-gamer-in-potentia is interested in. The things that can turn even someone else’s game module into our story.

And if we worry that this is going to have too negative an effect on the players we already have—okay, now I’m going to say enough stereotyping. Yes, I know, apparently male players don’t like, with the possible exception of the politics, much of anything on the list in the previous paragraph. This did not prevent groups I’ve been in in which I was the only girl from doing them, though; I can think of three separate instances of sessions half-spent on costume, two games in which it seemed like just about everyone was in a romantic plotline by the end of the main arc including one in which both the GM and most of the players thus involved were male, one IC conversation that was a hairsbreadth from being a game of Truth or Dare, one game in which several months over play by post were spent purely on hanging out/talking/reacting to things that posed no physical threat/exchanging cultures, and one count of bypassing a fight entirely by sending a team of familiars on an infiltration. And many of those, I didn’t see coming. So—don’t discount the idea that it might still work out. The stereotypes aren’t any better for the guys than they are for us.

The take-home lesson? We’re not in as dire straits as we think we are, even if the stereotypes hold true. We just have to figure out how to address them.


  1. Lugh says:

    Very nice post.

    One thing I’ve noted in following up on various “women in gaming” posts lately is that the stereotypes of “women” and “women in gaming” don’t really match up. Women who get into gaming are frequently those who break the standard mold. Trying to market RPGs based on Cosmo market research into “what women want” is likely to backfire badly.

    OTOH, I love your point about bringing “gamer girl” stereotypes into the game isn’t necessarily going to drive away existing customers. I am one of those guys you reference who loves playing through royal balls, exploring romantic connections, and developing contacts. It’s one of the reasons I really want to play with more women.

  2. edige23 says:

    That’s a really solid observation. Certainly among our group, we’ve seen several bad players gravitate to MMORPGs instead of tabletop gaming because it has provided them them with the chance to kill & loot they want. It is also a place where they don’t have to negotiate with others, they can have power and autonomy on their own. Any down time they have is self-imposed, or if it comes from another player (say, being late to a raid) they have the right to scream and curse at them.

    I’ll mention another experience, and this is purely anecdotal. We have had three females gamers join our games in the last few years. They cut their teeth on MMORPGs which gave them a familiarity with fantasy conventions- and the concept of seeing oneself as an active player in that environment. They’re getting used to other genres, but when we play fantasy, they play both sides well- interactions and the tactical aspect. I’m going to be obnoxious in saying this but for us, MMORPGs have served as a useful dumping ground for bad players and a useful training stage for novice players.

  3. Shinali says:

    I’m going to keep this brief …
    These are a lot of the problems I have with MMORPGs And a lot of the virtues I have found in tabletop

  4. Ravyn says:

    Lugh: Yeah, no lie. Though that does bring up the interesting question of what it would change if someone tried to execute an RPG based on a stereotypically girly interest with a straight face. Shopping: the RPG, or something. I’ve seen stranger premises, but I’m not sure I’d trust anyone to do it without some level of contempt leaking through to the game itself, and there’s a turnoff right there (I know I couldn’t write Shopping: the RPG).

    Edige: Yeah, that’s another thing I’ve noticed, that people play the kinds of things they think they’re good at, and if your ladies have already done the MMO thing, they’ve had to do the tactics thing. I was observing something similar in myself, actually–I used to resent war plots more than anything because I didn’t think I knew the slightest thing about mass tactics, but just last week (two years and introductions to Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and a whole lot of military history later) I caught myself reacting to some worldbuilding on the part of one of my friends with some thoughts on how the powers she was discussing might affect how wars are waged. May have to go into that more later.

    Shinali: Sweet, I have anecdotal evidence now!

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