[Meta Gaming] How do we get more women to play RPGs? Why do we want to?

This post follows on from a discussion of unexpected quality on Your Dungeon Is Suck of all places, starting here, then skip some crap when the thread winds down and resuming here. Try to look past the Bad Words that are used and engage with the substance of the arguments and I hope you would get the sense that everyone is thinking about what they’re saying for once, even if they happen to be Wrong from a given point of view.

Talking this issue over with Hark, she brought up the oft-mentioned point that while not being A Woman I have seldom wanted for female players in my own games. I’ve had three all-male groups in my lifetime, one in a single-sex school and two derived from wargames clubs. I suppose the game I hosted at FanBoy3 in Manchester is an oddity in that everyone who responded to the ad was male and there was only a woman in that group because I brought Hark along. For me, an active roleplaying game WITHOUT female players is the anomaly: according to Her Harkship I can pull hot female roleplayers out of my ass wherever I go. Either I’m some sort of Intellectual Love God or I’m doing something appallingly basic that yr. average podgy bearded gamer dude isn’t.

I’m still of the opinion that a big part of it is recruiting new players from outside the nerd club pool. My games have female players because I invite women to play games, and have done since I was able to talk to girls without being creepy about it. Now that I think about it, inviting people to play games is generally how I avoid being creepy around people, full stop, female or otherwise. I just seem to have more female/queer friends than might be expected, which is probably something to do with spending longer than usual in humanities classrooms and something to do with actively preferring the company of women because homosocial dynamics give me a cluster headache. The how isn’t all that hard – if you want more women in your games then you need more female friends and less shame about your gaming and as close to a total lack of creeping as you can get, to the point of excluding people who are incapable of keeping  their skeeve to themselves.

“But I don’t know how to make female friends? I’m a gamer! Everyone I know is a sweaty dude in a Crusader T-shirt!”

Yeah, you do. There are more women in MMOs than you realise, for instance. All the guilds of which I’ve been a member have had female members, and officers, and leaders, and I didn’t go LOOKING for that, it just happened. One of them wasn’t even an RP guild, although RP servers do seem to attract the ladies. Whether that’s because ladies are innately drawn to roleplaying by some gender-essentialist or socially-encoded factor or because ladies are less likely to rule out part of their fun because it’s for faggots and n00bs or because of something else – that I do not know.

The point is that the most distressing WoW-crazed shut-in probably knows more women than they realise and if they know women and have some reason to interact with them then you, Gentle Reader, have no excuse whatsoever. I’ll spell it out for you in simple logic: IF you work with a lady AND she watches Game of Thrones like 85% of the Western World seems to be doing THEN you have a potential player right there. Also, Crusader rock. Good choice.

The question posed on YDIS, though, was not how, but why. Immediate and unsophisticated answer: “why not?” More developed answers: generally boil down to the same thing.

“Because it’s giving in to the PC police!”

And that matters? If your game will be more intellectually and socially diverse, your game will be improved. Don’t strive for diversity for the sake of it, to keep up appearances and show how right-on you are, strive for diversity because variety is the spice of life. Why don’t you want that?

“What do you mean, my game will be more intellectually and socially diverse?”

People who aren’t like you don’t think like you. They’ve not been taught to think like you, believe what you do, resist like you do; their experiences of the world are not like yours and that means they bring different shit to the table than you do. Why don’t you want that?

“I don’t think that’s been scientifically proven.”

Maybe not, but you have nothing to lose by doing it. Do it because it hasn’t been disproven. Be a proper bloody scientist and test things. The worst that can happen is that your game doesn’t work out too well – like that’s never happened to you before, right?

“But… what if my game ends up sucking?”

If your game sucks it sucks whether there are women/minorities involved or not. If your game sucks it’s more likely to be because you’re bound by the repeated memes of gamerkultur and introducing people who are on the fringes of that society or even from outside it altogether is going to introduce variety to your meme pool. Why don’t you want that?

“But games which go out of their way to flaunt their diversity or enforce it in mechanics suck!”

We took Blue Rose to task because it was chokingly liberal/progressive and clumsy to boot, because it was overburdened with High Fantasy Proper Nouns, because it treated players like dimwits who needed two pages of suggestions on how to use the shit on their character sheet to resolve an adventure. Blue Rose failed us as an RPG and as a piece of progressive propaganda.

We took Novarium to task because it presented an awkward and cretinous attempt at reverse sexism where women could do magic and men were property you could fuck and lesbians were the most magical things ever and basically it was creepy “I love and respect women SO MUCH” pedestal-fawning – which is a shame, because mechanically it was quite a good game.  Novarium failed us because it isn’t even progressive, it’s clueless drool-down-her-bra creeperdom trying and failing.

So yeah – tryhard roleplaying products do, quite often, suck. So does F.A.T.A.L. Going out of your way to include/offend people generally results in a shitty product that nobody wants. BUT… most RPGs don’t try to be anything other than RPGs. There’s no copies of D&D out there with NO GURLS ALLOUD on the front cover, for instance. If an ideology is present then it is generally subtle, tacit and unacknowledged. When the majority of illustrations of birds are of birds with their baps out, when there are female monsters that seduce male PCs but not the other way around, when the default pronoun is male and there’s a single paragraph at the beginning saying “of course we mean ‘they’ but we can’t be arsed to use it”… there’s a certain attitude apparent there and a certain amount of reinforcement.

“Von you’re just being offended on behalf of others you great mansplainer and – “

Shut up. Shockingly enough, being a dude who actually knows some women I’m aware that not every woman has a problem with this stuff and that some women are totally fourteen-year-old boys about it. That’s cool. That’s not even anything remotely resembling a problem. We’re not talking about “women being offended by [X] aspect of RPGs” or about “offensiveness” at all, except in passing to say that F.A.T.A.L. is a bag of shit. We’re talking about a culture which tacitly reinforces a particular set of ideas and behaviours about women and about inter-gender relationships and about how that set of ideas and behaviours is way more likely to put women off gaming than anything in an illustration.

Let me present a less charged example. No RPG says in absolute up front terms that you must quote Monty Python to the point where it stops being remotely funny and your DM wants to strangle you, but RPG culture – gamerkultur – is full of people who do this and are boring and the meme pool isn’t putting them off. Get it?

No RPG says in absolute up front terms that you must be a creepy weirdo who’s sweaty and nervous and has these giant blue balls but can’t actually talk to women or invite them to a social situation where you’re comfortable interacting with others – but gamerkultur is full of people who do this and are weird and the meme pool isn’t putting them off.

The content is not the problem.
The problem is stupid people who think the content is for real-real not for play-play and who are encouraged by a culture that doesn’t tell them they’re stupid for thinking that.
The content is part of a solution to that problem.

If people’s behaviours are tacitly reinforced by the media they consume – and I think they are, in a subtle and minor way that nonetheless adds up over time, and most people a) consume a lot of media and b) either don’t think about it, don’t believe it happens, or don’t think that they can do anything about it – then it follows that media which tacitly reinforce a progressive message will do more, over time, than any amount of overt propaganda – which is likely to suck anyway.

It doesn’t take much. If your game has a succubus but no incubus, put the incubus in. You’re not doing it to be progressive, you’re doing it because you get to include another cool demon type. If your game has half-orcs, don’t default to “he-orc rapes human woman” as their origin. You’re not doing it to be progressive, you’re doing it because that’s a boring excuse for a backstory.

Be progressive by accident, as a byproduct of making better games. You have nothing to lose.

28 thoughts on “[Meta Gaming] How do we get more women to play RPGs? Why do we want to?

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  1. You and I seem to be inverses of each other in many ways. I am most comfortable in the company of men. I understand the weird tribe of ball scratching, pit smelling, fart joking people far better than I do ladies, and so I find myself around dudes. A lot.

    There may be another, less sinister answer to the “why” question, but it’s a fairly sucky answer. The reason most games and clubs have a lot of dudes is that behaviorally people invite those with whom they are most comfortable and similar to events. Like breeds like, in a nutshell.

    Gaming began out of wealthy /affluent bored educated white dudes- and they are the ones responsible for gaining new blood. Their fallback for recruitment is other white dudes of affluence and very few of those guys look past their own group to find new club members.

    You said gaming is how you talk to people without being a creeper. Many of these same dudes mentioned above don’t have that filter or the ability to use it, and only talk about gaming within their comfort zones because they are relaxed and don’t have to worry about being weird or an outsider. They’re already “there” . They also don’t like talking to people. I’ve noticed that gaming is a breeding ground for misanthropic introverts. For those types, being in their comfort zone usually means being around people that are similar/familiar to them, etc. It’s a vicious circle. There’s a reason Xenos are so feared, man. (Not a good one, mind you; but a reason.)

    You counteract the sameness of the gaming club by inviting people you know/like/interact with on a regular basis. You also happen to be able to interact in a positive way with ladies who show nerdy tendencies and thus you invite such to your groups. This is natural and good to you, so your group is more diverse.

    How’d I get in? My dad took me because he couldn’t find a sitter. I stayed because it was dudes and they treated me nicely. It could have been polka music or stamp collecting and it would have been much the same. The people were those with whom I was comfortable and they treated me with kindness, so it became home to me.

    Finding more of that is the tough part.

    1. [Inverse] Perhaps. I will say that smells and scratches are by no means as gendered as is sometimes claimed (I was raised by two women who fart because they’ve forgotten how to laugh and I live with Hark – go figure). The thing that gives me hives about a company of dudes is the “well my fish was THIS big” competitiveness of the conversation, the hierarchy of it – for fuck’s sake chaps, let’s all just whack our todgers out on the table, establish once and for all who’s biggest, and then do something interesting. Perhaps that happens among women too and I just don’t care so much. Perhaps I’m secretly hung like a baby carrot and doubt my own masculinity. Who knows or dares to dream?

      [Like breeds like] Yeah, I think that’s the underlying gist of it all really. If you have a pool of boys who can’t talk to girls they will probably reinforce one another’s can’t-talk-to-girls-ness – in which case I think it’s probably even more important to present them with reasonable representations of women as actual people, since the madonna/whore depictions and attendant psychological complex will only entrench that feedback loop further. It’s possible that the media -can’t- help those poor sods but I feel it’s worth a try – and at least then we can definitely and truthfully say we’re not encouraging them.

      [Niceness] Yeah. Basically. Everyone’s welcome to try and make an impression, except smelly creepy gamer dudes, and even they are welcome if they have a shower and change their grundies before they come round. ;)

  2. Hey Von, just popping out of offline land to say I feel quite annoyed that anyone would even ask why we should want more women in RPGs. The very question seems like it could only be asked by someone who, to me, has a shockingly prejudicial mindset. Prejudicial in the sense that they very easily fail to look past some traditionally well-defined surface trait such as sex, and then just as easily proceed as though traditional stereotypes pertaining to that trait are true.

    Why should we want more women? Why should we want more anyone? That seems like a non-question. If we want to keep being the gatekeepers of a secret so-uncool-it’s-cool club then no, we wouldn’t want anyone else, woman or otherwise. Unless they conform utterly and tow the line.

    Other than that though, “why not?” is to me a perfectly good answer and doesn’t need to be fleshed out at all. Crediting such a poor question with actual discussion should ideally be beneath us I think.

    Like you I have nearly always had women players, except when I was in primary school and the problem then was not only that the boys felt that girls would girly up their game with rainbows and ponies, but also that the girls thought that playing D&D was yucky and unfeminine and they wanted no part of it. But from high school onwards I have almost always played with girls and women who were every bit as interesting and valuable players as the guys. My group now is 3:5 female to male, and if you asked me to mention something that differentiated the female from male players in terms of playstyle I honestly couldn’t. We’re all just fantasy fans who like playing make believe.

    Sometimes I despair of certain men in the gaming community. The big girls long ago stopped thinking that fantasy and imagination were not befitting a lady. But I get a shock every time I encounter evidence of big boys who still think that girls will girly up their manly-man game. Here’s a question for you: do these people’s opinions even matter? Why would I want more guys like that in RPGs?

    1. Sorry, back again. See, the reason this question annoys me so such is, well, replace “RPGs” with pretty much anything else, and see how it sounds:

      “Why would we want more women designing T-shirts?”
      “Why would we want more women playing golf?”
      “Why would we want more women travelling to Europe?”
      “Why would we want more women eating hamburgers?”
      “Why would we want more women etc.”

      Madness! Why are we even taking people seriously when they ask something like that?

      1. It’s a gormless question but when asked by someone who displays some signs of intelligence I think it warrants an answer. I also wanted to construct an answer that didn’t simply boil down to ‘because it’s right’.

        I’ve tried serious tubthumping and that hasn’t worked, I’ve tried ignoring the stupid and that doesn’t work. Engaging in good faith and without resorting to the Power Words and humourless boordom of which I’ve been legitimately accused in the past is simply the next thing to try.

    2. I choose to take the original question in good faith and as a question of the motives for diversity of all types in gaming, expressed by someone who doesn’t subscribe to the automatic belief that it’s worth doing because it’s worth doing. Of course we, the Illuminated, think it’s a stupid question not worthy of our time, but I think that’s a trap waiting to spring. Sometimes I find it wise and fitting to outline the reasons – the actual chain of reasoning rather than the ideology – behind my beliefs and perspectives lest it transpire that I believe ‘because it’s true’ rather than because I’ve actually thought about it. In other words, I answer stupid questions because it benefits me to answer them.

      I think everyone’s opinions matter, especially when the particular facet of ‘everyone’ being considered is (still) the public face of a culture with which I am – by default if not choice – aligned. Engaging with the disagreeable and proving it to be such, through cause-and-effect reasoning rather than ideological Power Words, reinforces us as not disagreeable. Doing so publicly represents us as such. It might even change a few people’s minds.

      1. Hey, Von. Fair enough, I can see your reasoning. I don’t agree in this case though.

        And sorry if I sounded a bit cranky, but I have a sore spot about this. It’s analogous to the situation in academic philosophy, (though probably not as bad). One of the many reasons I became disillusioned and dropped out of my doctorate was the culture of sexism and bullying I witnessed. Several of my fellow students were harassed at conferences by old professors. There were many problems and I’ll spare the details, but basically, a lot of male philosophers are deeply and unconsciously sexist; the internal culture of the discipline reinforces their attitudes; and like many bright people they tend to take their own attitudes at face value as being carefully examined, while subjecting the attitudes of others to rigorous criticism. They responded to this internal cultural problem with analysis and discussion – not surprising since that’s what they do for a living. They would have had more success had they simply obeyed the bloody law, which says you can’t discriminate against, bully or harass anyone!

        The thing is, I’ve seen people who’s job it is to analyse and solve complex problems grapple (in good faith) with this issue of gender discrimination in their own ranks, and fail utterly and completely. This experience taught me that some problems – cultures of sexism being one of them – are political issues rather than problems susceptible to analysis and reasoning. You just have to pick a side and fight for it, even if this means your arguments lose impartiality and you lose some intellectual high ground. Because no amount of reasoning will convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced due to some other, deeper reason of their own.

        So I disagree, some points of view I will not listen to or engage with. I’m happy to discuss ways to engage more women with rpgs – though personally I think that’s unnecessary and they do fine finding them on their own. But I refuse to discuss why “we” would want more women gaming. As though all women aren’t already automatically members of the community by right. Such questions are loaded with too many questionable assumptions for me.

        If all you have is a brain, every problem looks like a brain-teaser. But I think some problems are nails in need of a hammer :)

  3. Ey Von.

    At the risk of offending your enlightened audience or sounding like a broken record, which i have no wish to do(but still inadvertently might), i would like to continue the discussion here since it is a better format then YDIS if that is okay. If you feel like we have had enough to say about the subject matter, that’s cool too. I have enjoyed our discourse in the past and would be mildly distraught should it be severed(but i think we would survive, i have my blanky and there is always Kentbashing to do).

    Therefore, without further ado.

    “Because it’s giving in to the PC police!”

    Not a consideration to ever do anything. Anyone who wants to make an active attempt to recruit women/minorities(different from recruiting outside of your comfort zone, which i approve of and which might very well mean the same thing for many) and is halted by this objection is retarded.

    “What do you mean, my game will be more intellectually and socially diverse [and the follow up]”

    I personally don’t agree that different culture/different gender will automatically mean a different philosophy on gaming(differences abound sure, on average), i think people overestimate the effect of culture and gender on personality rather immensely. I feel selecting based on who is interesting, rather on outwardly noticeable characteristics, makes for a good game. Lest i be accused of sharing my gaming rooms with only white, unwashed cheeto-stained human-walrus hybrids, i should point out most of the groups i game with or are a part of are socially competent, employed and ethnically/culturally diverse(or at least one of the three). I am as comfortable with most of them in a bar as i am around a table. It just seems kind of insulting/bizarre to me to say, okay guys, we need diversity, shit is getting stale, why not invite a new player, no not Jerry he is white we need a coloured guy. If Jerry happens to be a woman/homosexual/minority/different philosophy/giant uplifted mudcrab, fine, or better yet, who cares! Interesting viewpoints and thoughts exist within people, not broad and often artificial categories that you slap on people to improve the efficiency of statistics-based research.

    Actively BANNING people from your games because of said artificial categories(as opposed to simply not getting along as humans) is something i find absolutely reprehensible however.

    “But… what if my game ends up sucking?”

    Not really a consideration for me personally(because of previous huge outline), but i think you hit the nail on the head with your explanation of why it would suck for some people. I think a lot of people are differently wired, and would consider what we find exciting or new to be distressing. I agree that broadening your horizons is a good thing, i certainly try, but for some people change is absolutely terrifying and it is debatable whether this is the result of culture/upbringing or just genetics. Either way, how much of that static, comfort-type gaming is really their fault, and should they be made to do something they don’t like?
    Also irrelevant because my games have not sucked since i was 16.

    “But games which go out of their way to flaunt their diversity or enforce it in mechanics suck!”

    Completely agree, RPGS should just be RPGS. They should focus on being as RPG-ey as humanly possible, for the benefit of all. Make something that is beautiful, reflects your artistic vision and will be kickass to play.

    But you lost me with the female succubus part. Most of those female seductive monsters are generally based on mythology of some kind and represent some part of humanity’s unconscious fears, hopes, dreams etc. You will not always have complete parity in those cases, particularly when it comes to the sexes and sexuality, since men and women are wired differently when it comes to how they view reproduction as a result of millions of years of evolution. As for the he she pronoun, you are right, that is a little annoying, but also kind of minor(sorry if i can’t bring myself to care about pronouns).

    As for birds with their baps out(always a good thing), most rpg-character art represents idealised versions of both sexes. If there’s an obvious assymetry going on, sure, but for god’s sake, what’s wrong with a bird with her bap out every now and then. And as long as most gamers/game designers are male, most companies will put out art with birds of their baps out, because that sells and you sell to a demographic. I hereby challenge you to find me a game published within the last five years with a birds with their baps out problem worthy enough to put forth as an example me bucko.

    I totally display signs of intelligence.


    1. ‘Offending’ people is not and has never been germane to this topic or a concern to the operations of GAME OVER. I prefer to keep ‘offensive’ out of conversation for the same reason I’d rather write 1600 words on a topic than say ‘sexist’ – Power Word: Stifle isn’t on any spell list that I endorse or recognise, y’know?

      I actually feel like leaving Kent alone for a bit since he’s back on form with his own blog. He’s earned a reprieve until he does something stupid again. I give him three days.

      [PC Police] Agreed, but I hear it often enough that I wanted to shoot it down.

      [Social Diversity and Signifiers Thereof] This is the stuck record moment and I have no wish to go around in circles again. For the last time, for readers of this blog who aren’t keeping score: I don’t think that someone is automatically or inherently interesting because they’re female/queer/Arabic. That’s stupid. I think they are different from me and thus _likely_ to be interesting compared to more people who are just like me. It’s an indicator of potentiality and if a female player turns out to be boring that’s an unfortunate but possible outcome.

      Also filed under ‘stupid’: inviting Jerry mid-campaign just because “we need a coloured guy”. We don’t need a token Other to make ourselves feel more inclusive and snuggly in our righteousness. I’m talking about putting together an interesting/diverse group to begin with rather than treating the token diverse player as a Magical Lesbian who’s going to fix everything just by being there. It’s about prevention rather than cure.

      [Suckdungeons and Fear of Change] I don’t know. At the end of the day telling people “you need to have fun MY WAY because it’s BETTER” is the act of a colossal arse. Fear of change is generally depressing and holds us back as a society but I concede that it’s barely important in terms of elfgames. If I’m going to try and challenge the neophobes I’d rather it be over something important – I just think it’s so pissing easy to do in ref. elfgames.

      [Birds with their baps out, incubi etc.] Complete parity is indeed unrealistic, that’s fair enough. The mythemes on which the elfgames draw are themselves cultural products and not immune to “but this is all about men AGAIN for fuck’s sake that’s boring” as a critique. The idealisation of menfolk in RPGs is argued as an idealisation of menfolk as they see themselves – ego porn for men rather than eye candy for ladies. If you really want me to I can dig around and try to find that article on what eye candy for ladies might actually look like.

      Trying to pick the issue apart and say “but this thing isn’t that important and that thing isn’t that important and neither’s that one” is missing the point. Individually these are all minor things, slightly annoying things – they are effective because each little tiny slightly annoying thing is one drop in a waterfall.

      I only own one RPG that was published in the last five years. I’ll have a look through – keep tuned for Boobwatch: Iron Kingdoms, coming when I can be bothered.

  4. I shall take that as a welcome.

    [PC Police/Signifiers/SuckDungeon/Changefear]

    Christ that didn’t take us long to agree did it? There you go again, with your reasonableness, being reasonable everywhere.

    I of course don’t agree with artificially creating the circumstances under which said diversity should occur if another, equally or more conductive opportunity for roleplaying shenanigans presents itself but if that is your circle anyway then by all means have at it.

    I similalry don’t agree with this degree of difference(culture/race-wise both liking gaming makes the similarities so great it comes down more to individuals, not culture, i however absolutely believe women think differently then i do), but both of these points are subjective at best especially when compared to elfgames so let’s agree to disagree, as an argument about effect sizes achieves very little with an absence of facts.

    [By far the most important topic]
    Eh…perhaps it’s my coming into the hobby late 2e but the shit i saw never struck me as all that biased(though in your defence that would be an indication of my bias if it was). I’m guessing whenever you write history for a fantasy world you subconsciously imitate real history and real historians tend to focus on wars and historical society was predominantly male dominated.

    While there might certainly be some clear cut cases where it’s “ALL ABOUT MEN AGAIN SHITE ON A FIDDLE,” i find it hard to dismiss or even wholeheartedly accept a work based on such a criterion because there are hundreds of others by which it can excel or underperform and those are more important to my game. I’d say 75% of recorded history(and that’s a very conservative estimate) is about men, as is a shitload of mythology. Does that make history/mythology boring? I’d argue no, because there is more to it then the fact they are one gender or the other. Unless the disparity is truly, abysmally stacked against one gender, i don’t notice personally.

    You could find the article, but that wouldn’t solve our conflicting viewpoints, unless it’s a pretty hefty scientific article with a sample size that could fill up holland or kent’s rectum. It can be argued that women don’t idealise themselves as being pretty or men idealize themselves as muscular and women idealize them as something else or something but it’s so ridiculously hard to come to any sort of scientific conclusion or even a consensus among men and women i’m afraid we’ll have to go with a sort of agree to disagree. Zak argued that Mandy was pro-cheesecake in rpgs for fuck sake(at least i fucking think he did, please just agree with me and don’t make me wade through that blog again for a link). (zak if u r readin dis and i quoted u wrong i am $4rry)

    Hey man, not trying to bust your balls on the pronoun part, just giving my personal viewpoint on that particular problem. As for the reinforcement, yes, i see how your environment shapes your beliefs and that by elimnating each instance of perceived wrong you contribute to the gradual elimination of the problem but we are talking such a huge massive fucking waterfall made from huge massive fucking forces like cultural norms, socio-economic status per demographic, ten thousand years of history and the dual-headed behemoth that is the modern media and the internet that to me these elf-game biases(or pseudo-biases) seem, when placed against such massive tidal forces, utterly insignificant. Does that mean you should not strive for progressive elf games? Not automatically, but if you care about being progressive there are better fronts then elfgames and if you care about elfgames you should just make good elfgames.

    You claim the problem is not the content but the Stupid, and thus the content must be weaponised to deal with the stupid. I say the stupid will find a way regardless. I say let the content prance through the fields, and let us deal with the stupid.

    I look forward to your greatest boobs of Iron Kingdoms post.


    1. [Things Wot We Agree On] Neither of us are aggressively stupid and we’ve already had a goodly-sized chunk of this conversation elsewhere. I still find it weird that you can accept ‘women think differently’ as a concept but not ‘women will apply that different thinking to the challenge of elfgames and thus the game experience will be different’, but we’ve gone round the houses three times on that one and I feel a fourth attempt would be futile.

      [Male domination in history and mythology] I simply can’t agree with you there, I’m afraid, except to say that of course you don’t notice the disparity personally – you’re a man! (Presumably. If it turns out that you’re a bird a certain degree of back-pedalling will be called for, and if it turns out you’re trans then I have some serious questions for the nation of Holland that start with “why do you always send them to ME?”)

      There are – or should be – a few female historians/mythologists hanging around this blog and I’m sure they’re far more qualified to present a counter-argument than I am. I’m aware of the feminist historical discourse but frankly it’s not my field and I’ve shot my gob off more than enough this week.

      Expecting a scientific conclusion in a humanities argument is like expecting Kent to stay sober for more than a weekend, and I think this _is_ essentially a humanities argument.

      I refer you back to the end of the OP here. Make an elfgame that is progressive AS A BY-PRODUCT OF BEING GOOD. It is possible to care about both and it is possible to do both well, if only because examples of doing both badly are so abundant and if a thing can be done badly it can be done to good effect. I do also think that if you’re halfway astute as a progressive activist you’ll realise that you alone cannot do fuck all about the big stuff but you can address the small stuff within your immediate reach, and enough people doing that can – in theory – make that metaphorical water flow uphill.

      I don’t tend to talk much about the other work I do or my political engagement because, frankly, this is a blog about elfgames and I don’t know how to talk about the other stuff without coming across as a self-righteous twunt. Small note though: I spent four years teaching disenfranchised majority-ESOL-using kids not just to read but how to navigate weird British societal norms, and I’m a campaigning officer in a progressive political party – one of the fastest growing local parties in the UK, as we discovered the other day. I don’t _just_ engage with this stuff through elfgames. Since elfgames lie within my reach, and since I have the capacity to do good work here (AS A BY-PRODUCT, remember) I don’t see why I shouldn’t. Sometimes ‘good work’ involves taking the stupid to task directly (Blue Rose is still a bad game), sometimes it involves making content that happens to be an example of good work while also being good in its own right.

      Anyway, I’m using more capslock than Zak now (it’s for emphasis – don’t get the impression that my balls are busted or that I’m losing sleep over this, because neither is true), and I’ve made the point to the best of my ability. Stick around and argue with the ladies if they decide to show up, though.


      (oh and I linked to the Zak “ladies love cheesecake or at least my ladies” do post in my own OP, dude, that’s why you probably remember it)

  5. [Things wot we agree on] We mostly agree yeah. I’m skeptical about the girly girls think differently therefore elf games will be different causal connection and would like to put forth a half-remebered girly girl player you mentioned who is into dungeon crawling, and whose spurious and ferocious playstyle left the unwashed male gamer hordes biting the dust(i may have completely misremembered that one). I played paranoia with a female player once and she was as back-stabby as the rest of the buggers. I will concede that there might be an average difference in playstyle given sufficient players, but i’m skeptical how much playstyle changes based on that as opposed to something like interests or intelligence to warrant gender being used as a selection criterion.

    As a quasi-counter example to the ‘outward diversity must neccesarily generate inward diversity’ argument i would like to put forth the following two statements/queries. One is the forge. While i think we can both agree that most of the things they made suck balls, their approach to gaming was radically different from main stream rpgdom and they consisted of pretty much only white males. This is not really a counter-argument, since B not A is not a refutation of A therefore B, this is merely support for my assertion that diversity is driven or at least can be driven by other forces then biology or culture.

    I’m grabbing a few random data points of games i found similarly diverse for their time(honour system).

    Planescape? David cook white male.
    VtM(i can never figure out whether i like it or not)? Mark Rein Hagen, white male, with a support staff that does include one female designer.
    Empire of the Petal Throne(kicks fucking ass). M.A.R Barker. Yup.
    Fate Core. Rob donoghue and Fred hicks.
    Amber roleplaying game. Erick A. Wujcik. A white male.

    The point i’m making is that we seem capable of astonishing diversity and race/gender does not neccesairily have anything to do with it. I pulled up http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/theory/gender/womenauthors.html for some significant female game designers for comparison.

    Storm Constantine, Wreathu. In your defence, this is a horrid example of diversity of a singular kind.
    Laura Hickman. Is pretty cool and contributed to Dragonlance and Ravenloft with Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis.
    Rebbeca Borgstrom. Made Nobilis. Still have not played it.
    Most of the others i could find had either written d20 modules i had never heard of or worked at white wolf, and a lot of them had contributed along with other authors.

    I should point out my sample size is completely fucked and the two groups are by no means equivalent.

    Bottom line, inclusivity is a noble endeavour but i’m skeptical how much outward diversity drives inward diversity. If you want to do it because you find reaching out to traditionally vulnerable groups a noble goal, that’s absolutely fine, i’m just curious how much it would change content and the way we play those games. I’m not saying reaching out to minorities is a bad thing, i just find it baffling that people assume it will improve the quality based on such a criterion.

    [Male domination in history and mythology] I should point out i’m by no means a historian, i just like history and mythology as a hobby. Also i am, predictably, a white dutch male.

    [Progressive elf-games] As a by-product of being good it would work for me. I guess that’s a concession. As for activism, i will not presume to lecture you on the neccesity or good thereof, i only know that one cannot automatically assume that ‘injustice’ is a granular process and therefore a thousand tiny wrongs will have the same effect as one massive ‘wrong’. I think its pretty cool that you try to improve your community though.

    I’ll read through your other post later on.



    1. [Progressive elf-games] Well, at the bottom line we agree. If things don’t suck and are progressive they are not bad, if things don’t suck and aren’t progressive they are still not bad. That’s all I’m asking for really.

      [Male domination in history and mythology] Fair enough, I just don’t fancy shooting my gob off when I have qualified historians in my D&D group who are better positioned to address the point than I am. Conversation with one will form the basis of a later post or two on this topic.

      As a result of that conversation I’m increasingly sure that ladies will generally approach the matter of RPG differently, but perversely less sure that ‘lady’ works as well as a signifier of diversity as I’d thought. The things that E. brings to the table are as much down to her being a Humanities scholar/Jew/massive queer/sassy genre-savvy bitch as they are to womanhood, which is – I suppose – a concession that ‘woman’ is only the very vaguest of partial clues to whether or not someone will be interesting. I still think it works on a very superficial level but I’m willing to admit that it IS superficial.

      I’d never argue that diversity can’t occur within a mostly convergent pool, merely that it’s likely to occur in a less convergent one. Wraeththtutu SUCKS too, is legitimately poor rather than half-assed like some of the other shit I’ve lambasted here. Ravenloft is frankly overrated now that I’ve started playing through it although it does work on the practical level as a dungeon. Does this mean women make shitty games? No, but it does indicate that the presence or majority of women in the design team is no magical guarantee of tolerable quality.

  6. [progressive elf games]
    Give me a hug you magnificent bastard.

    I shall await their discourse with eager anticipation. xxx ladies. Have at me.

    Convergence is a relative term we use and is dependent on our labels. If we use broad labels we can find covergence at the drop of a hat. If we use a more fine-grained tool we discover the unimaginable variety that is the human condition.

    I would never presume to argue the girly girls make shit while noble manhood churns out nothing but gold-plated awesomeness. I gave my sample to illustrate the point outlined above only.

    Ravenloft sounds like it could be kickass but i have never played it. I own a Kargat: Children of the Created cover and it is brimming with good ideas hampered by some neccesairy railroading. The proper method of operationalising ravenloft is best handled elsewhere.

    Also i read through your appendix N, holy shit you liked Ursula le guin’s earthsea. Most of my friends hate it.


    1. [progressive elf games]
      And be called a faggot for my trouble?

      Yes, your point is taken. I think we’re done with that.

      Oh god but seriously dat boxed text is so BAD. In the spirit of a) the ‘authentic D&D experience’ which E was after and b) doing as little work as possible on a fire-and-forget let’s-see-if-we-like-doing-this game I’ve been sticking pretty close to the text provided by the module itself and fuck me it’s terrible. I can’t NOT send it up and the girls can’t not laugh at it. It doesn’t help that they (their hands were on the dice, yeronner!) rolled up the ‘gothic romance’ motivation for Strahd and so he comes across as a whiny brat who got ‘friendzoned’ once upon a time and has never gotten over it. I’m half tempted to have him manifest in a trilby.

      Despite this I remain tempted by the setting as it stands although I’m not convinced that I couldn’t do better gothic D&D all by my lonesome.

      [Appendix N]
      Le Guin is the single best writer of Bildungsroman fantasy and poster girl for ‘doing good by stealth’ in her gender representation (until Tehanu, which has merit more for its anger than its subtlety). Your friends distinguish themselves through poor taste indeed. Get new friends, like myself and Kent. (Maybe not Kent.)

  7. [Progressive Elf Games]

    Rip open those closet doors ya fairy.


    But but but the horse is barely into negative hp.


    Boxed text is the tool of our opressors and the if we keep using it, the terrorists will have won. The only thing i hate more then boxed text is 10 pages of introductory flavor text in my rpg book(Eat shit WW).

    Ravenloft is cool but its bogged down by its connections to standard dnd and attempts to connect it to the dnd multiverse. Though this has made for a few very interesting gothic horror esque-creatures (doppleganger flesh golems, beholder golem made from kraken eye and animal carcasses, undead treants, pod people, deranged Vecna murder adventure etc.), in many cases it felt kind of shoe-horned in. I do like it’s attempts to make monsters unique again in keeping with the gothic horror element of 12 brave men going out in the dead of night to murder a wolf man, but its just a reflection of our inner monsters thats right steve we are the monsters. Masque of the Red Death was an alternate campaign setting for Loft’ that did a bit better, and bears a pretty strong and probably not coincidental resemblance to Lamentations Of the Flame Princess in mechanics, if not in setting(substitute 1600s for the 1800s and i think we have a winner).

    As for your own Gothic DnD, put it up son. Give us a taste of progressive sword and sorcery horror and take the Marvel route of making dracula a ladyperson or Van Helsing a guy in a wheelchair or something.

    [Appendix N]
    An often made(in my circles) criticism against Earthsea is that the characterisation is flat(quasi-agree), some of the books are boring(disagree except for Tehanu, which sucked) and the character’s actions service the plot and not their personality(don’t fucking know). I just remember liking it because it had nice locales, imaginative magical shit, proze that wasn’t utterly stifling and a plot that did not consist solely of obstacles to be solved by murdering them. I liked the progressive elements in it because it was all sort of toned down and did not murder all credibility in an effort to get a point across.

    As for buildung, R.Scott Baker over Le Guin any day, and Brad Easton Ellis’s American Psycho for the antithesis thereof(latter secretly not a fantasy novel). Have not read Ghormenghast yet, on my list next to Book of the New Sun, Ouroboros and Lord of the Rings(tried reading it in dutch when i was 14, could not get past Bilbo’s birthday party, which if i recall correctly took up all 3 books with the actual journey being described in the cliffnotes and the appendix).

    I don’t care how many gothic horror dnds you bring out, i am not hanging out with Kent.


    1. [Progressive Elf Games]
      You get a hug but only for pissing on White Wolf’s terrible flavour text vices. See also:

      More on this… if not Sunday then next Wednesday for sure. I haven’t tried Masque of the Red Death, thanks for the recommendation.

      [Von’s Gothic Horror D&D]
      Von’s head is not currently in a ‘creating gothic horror D&D’ kind of space – the bulk of my mental preoccupations are with some sort of urban-Eddisonian shit and the Arthur-vs.-Tudors English Civil War thing I came up with a few years ago. I suppose that both could lend themselves to a gothic mode fairly well but those who are expecting Hammer Horror cliche should be disappointed.

      [Appendix N]
      Earthsea is functional in a way that the majority of under- or over-written fantasy fails to be. I agree that not all of the characters are especially psychologically rich but then neither is Elric (and I think that’s a good comparison since metaphysics and moralities are preoccupations of both authors). I’d still rather have well-written and interesting and politically nuanced with flat characters than poorly done stock fantasy/grimdark with ‘fascinatingly troubled’ rich-inner-life types and that seems to be what’s popular these days.

      I haven’t read Baker but will give the works thereof a punt on your say-so. Gormenghast is excellent and you should read it. In ref. Lord of the Rings – the first, say, 20-25% of Fellowship is burdensome prose about hobbits walking very slowly across the countryside and meeting a yellow-booted rapist and a ghost (admittedly the sequence in the Barrow-downs verges on genuinely unsettling). Tolkien himself admitted to not knowing why some of this stuff was in the book, in yet another demonstration of his highly eccentric creative/editorial processes. Plot shit doesn’t really start happening until Bree.

      There’s a prominent illustrator, and I forget who it was, who read ‘The Two Towers’ first, then ‘The Return of the King’ and looped around to ‘Fellowship’ years later, purely because their local library was missing the first book. I’d be interested to see how that works out for someone who is aware of Tolkien but hasn’t read the thing before. The second book certainly rattles along at a fairer clip…


      How many steps away do you think you are?

  8. [Ravenloft]

    I shall await it with eager anticipation while the great Blooeystorm continues over at YDIS.

    [Gothic Horror D&D]

    You could always make them 19th century Inbred Prussian tudors, black powder weapons, baroque palaces and monument-filled cities rotting with age and neglect. Excalibur is in the hands of Jack the Ripper and Arthur is an antedeluvian monstrosity that needs to be put down every other century or so. Add diseases and duelling to colour.

    [Appendix N]

    I think i liked Elric for the same reason i liked Le Guin when i read it, but moreso. Moorcock is an imaginative powerhouse but his philosophising is best done covertly if at all, which is why i suspect i don’t care much for his later work, Blood nonwitstanding(which is so experimental it is hard to determine if it is the product of brilliance or gibbering lunacy).

    Characterisation is(or has become, since those halcyon wh40k book reading days) important to me because it is the primary tool by which we get to see the fantasy world and a lot of it is viewed in the context of how it interacts with the characters. If we don’t care about the characters it is hard to get invested in the story and consequently i find i can admire the work for its interesting ideas, splendid prose or interesting plot without ever actually liking it. The lovecraft effect if you will.

    Stock fantasy is to me a much greater crime then going overly grimdark because stock characters don’t act like believable human beings(though i guess if you are emulating ancient mythology and your prose supports it well you can get away with that very easily like moorcock). I like moral ambiguity but i loathe grimdarkness for the very same reason as i dislike stock characters.

    I’ll give Ghormenghast a try if i find a copy, and might make another brave attempt at LotR soonish.


    A question best not dwelled on by healthy minds.

    1. [Gothic Horror D&D] Apart from the Ripper thing you’re not a million miles off where I’d be going with Elizabethan-era D&D – just with a good deal more politics. I wasn’t quite sure how far to take my concept of Elizabeth herself, but if players were willing I’d go full Lich Queen…

      [Stock fantasy et al]
      Can I quote you on that?

  9. [GHD&D] Elizabeth would be the lich queen eternally overseeing its fratricidal progeny and transferring its soul to the survivor to give birth to the new generation and start the process all over again. Obviously. And you need Excalibur fuelled Jack the Ripper. Maybe wizard prince Sherlock holmes/john constantine with golem Watson and a cameo by the count of Monte Christo as a nobleman’s costume inhabited by the spirits of the ones that he seeks to avenge himself upon in a never ending cycle of amalgamated ghost violence as the victims avenge themselves upon those that have done them wrong in turn.


    Gimme setting feedback or gimme death buddy. Don’t keep a transphobic doxxy stalker waiting.


    1. [GHD&D] You have this hangup about Gothic-as-Victorian, don’t you? I’m thinking earlier. Proto-gothic, prior to Lewis and Radcliffe and Walpole. On the other hand that Monte Christo idea and your construction of Elizabeth are mint so I’m having them. (Even if Elizabeth-as-Gorice sounds a bit like you-know-who…)

      [Setting feedback] You’ll get yours. Probably not going anywhere to look at new houses tomorrow so I’ll do it then.

  10. Heh. Aside from the fact that I am rather misanthropic, and would be a shut-in if *only* I could win the lottery, I am married, work in a female-majority workplace, have good social skills, am well liked at work, am known as a gamer and yet have no trouble talking to the many people who I know and like there, know several who watch GoT and can’t think of anything creepier or potentially damaging to those friendly, healthy workplace relationships than asking “Hey, do you want to come over to my place sometime and play some dungeons and dragons?”

  11. I’m all for abstract and general discussions, but occasionally I look at one and think, “Is this ever the level on which these issues are addressed?” This feels to me like one of those moments.

    I simply don’t care about “women in gaming.” Oh, I’m sure I do on some largely theoretical level, but, and this is the critical matter, I don’t play my games on that level. It might be a grand thing for the universe if somebody else’s games had more women in them, but I’m not playing somebody else’s games. I’m just playing mine. And what’s more, none of my games involves “women” as a category, because my games involve small numbers of actual human beings in face to face contact, and generalizations about “women” break down very fast at that level. Don’t take this as some high-minded, “I don’t see sex” remark. It isn’t that. It’s just that if my game involves female persons, they’re bound to be very specific female persons who aren’t necessarily any more alike than the label “woman.”

    As a rule, I DM more often than I play a character, and I game with people I already know more often than I game with people I don’t. So if I’m looking to put together a group, my concern is this–will these people have fun gaming together? If not, try something else. If I’m joining an group, similar thought process–will I enjoy gaming with these people? If not, try something else. Once in a while it becomes apparent that somebody is a bad fit. If one person is a jerk (possibly to women, possibly to everyone), and that gets in the way of somebody’s fun, it’s worth addressing. If the whole group is jerkish, then maybe the problem is me.

    But in general I’m thinking this way: are you getting to play the sort of character you want to play, in a way that’s interesting to you and to the others in the group? I’ll put a damn incubus in if I think my players would enjoy a damn incubus. Heck, I might throw in an incubus that’s seducing straight dudes in a game filled entirely with straight dudes…if I think that’ll make for good gaming.

    But the iron rule for including someone is, and ever will be, do I want to game with you, and are you interested in gaming with me? If I don’t want to game with you because eww girls, this conversation won’t change that. If you don’t want to game with me because I can’t stop staring at your chest, again, I feel the problem is quite a bit beyond my approach to gaming. Once we’ve established we’d like to play a game, then of course it is natural to make sure the game suits the players.

    What makes the game work is attention to the specificity of our fellow players. Abstraction and self-analysis can be useful tools, but if they pull us away from that attention to our (inherently social) pursuit, they just make for shitty games. My intellectual castle might well be amazing–but if it’s not the one you want to climb around in, doesn’t really matter.

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