Why Women Don't Game, part II

by Wyrdwoman

I start off with a bit of a disclaimer. I can't, don't, and won't speak for all women. I may not even speak for a majority. However, I will say that it is generally considered true that a number of RPGs aren't designed to be "female-friendly."

I don't think this is deliberate; as noted in my last column, I am sure that men WANT women to play (except, perhaps, for the bozos.) I think there needs to be a few things kept in mind, however, to help attract the female audience.

Once you've conquered the geek, bozo, and wanker habits described in my last column, and you have men who can treat women as human beings (or demi-goddesses) what you need to look at are the games themselves.

You can start by judging a book from its cover. I understand that there are exceptions to the rules, and sex sells, but the nipple-happy art is a bit silly. The women I have known, including myself, like to think of themselves as sexy, sometimes even kinky. They don't want to be ubiquitous or cheap. Fantasy art is a place where the lines between pornographic and reverent (making the women goddesses, rather than cheap harlots) art can blur, but you can't see our nipples through kevlar. (Or leather armor, for that matter.) And while I have reached particularly incredible heights of crinkly excitement, I know of no woman who can thusly punch their own nipple-dents in steel.

I have nothing against beautiful women. I like to see beautiful women being competent in RPG art (something I will say may help explain some of the strong percentage of female participation in many of White Wolf's games.) I have to project, however, that it could be a major turnoff for the woman-off-the-street to have an RPG company project a ridiculously busty berserker babe as a standard character type. ("Female characters have to look like...that? Let the boys play with their toys...")

Luckily, most RPG art editors have wised up. The next problem, though, is gore.

I have no problems with splatterpunk. I don't get myself involved in gross-out games, but I think your average chainsaw massacre can be funny in the right circumstances, like a couple of games from the id group. In saying this, however, I am again an exception; blood and guts are generally a machismo ploy. Women can deal with blood; some of us are reminded like clockwork of our innards. A great majority of us even possess the special secrets of how to get it out of our whites.

On the other hand, there are reasons why there really aren't all that many female serial killers. Women, on the whole, tend to not have the urge many men seem to have to make our conquests with our fists, and leave our opponents bleeding on the ground. We understand the value of dishware, windows, and bones, and don't like to see them broken if it can be avoided.

If the cover of the potential RPG avoids these, and you think you might be interested in the genre, look inside. This is where things get more difficult to spot.

Some RPGs simply don't care. Take Chaosium's Call of C'thulhu. The female of the species taste just as yummy as the male, according to all Old Ones polled. With the new (excellent) Delta Green supplement, it makes it even more likely for women to come into contact with the in-betweeners, aliens, whatnot. (And, if all else fails, you can detail the experience from EWAAB (Earth Women Against Alien Brutality) documents.)

On the other hand, I don't think apathy is a strong enough statement. Not mentioning it is acceptable, but I prefer a more "equal but different" philosophy.

Some statements are a little too strong; changing pronouns to be used as generic references between paragraphs went a little too far (but I believe the company responsible for that has cleared that up.) On the other hand, a statement like, "When using the characters in our sample adventure, feel free to change the gender; the stats won't change," is a comfortable one.

What you really need to look out for are the subtle discriminations, where it doesn't make any sense, or rules put in by bozos to punish people who want to play female characters.

It does not make any sense to penalize a non-human female in strength compared to the male, unless the physiology is clearly so stated. This is a bozo rule in AD&D where strength is the premier attribute for killing things (a major part of the basic game.) You may note that it is not repeated in Shadowrun.

It does not make any sense to penalize a female character for being in the military in a futuristic game. Events of the present show that the future is likely to be a little more liberal on the subject. This is often, again, a bozo rule.

Now, there are exceptions. BTRC's Macho Women with Guns is a wankers game, yes, but it can still be a lot of fun. It breaks the nipple rule, if not the gore rule. It also severely penalizes the lot of men, which while unfair, is still a little bit liberating.

NEXT ISSUE: I discuss more about "equal but different" in the gaming sense.

1 -- I say demi-goddesses because treating women as goddesses is really pretty geek. Women like to be treated as special; everyone does, unless it requires singing and spectacle.
2 -- If the woman turns into steel, ala the certain copyright of some Marvel characters, steel nipples are understood. Buns of steel, too. Lips of steel. Tongue of steel. Brainpan... you get it.
3 -- I also note that the White Wolf followers attract more than their fair share of female wankers.
4 -- you know the exact exception I'm thinking about.
5 -- Not the Vice-President of the United States, nor his wife. They're entirely different problems.
6 -- Or machine guns or crossbow bolts or...yeah.
7 -- Everyone has their favorite name for them.
8 -- As detailed in the May 27, 1997 edition of the Weekly World News, in an article entitled "Feminist Says Sex Attacks By Space Aliens Must Stop." The article, however, did not contain contact information.
9 -- It might go radically the other way, of course, but I like to think I'm an optimist.

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j n m ( m n j )
"Ale mary's full of grace,
let's all put them in our face!"
-- Bambi the Bat-Winged Bimbo from HoL.