Monday, April 12, 2010

Let's Forget Xena For A Moment

Got distracted by a perfectly beautiful Seattle weekend and ended up spending a lot of time outside this weekend (despite being a fairly “indoor” type of guy); however, I have been thinking about my Xena post (and the multitude of reader responses) A LOT the last couple days. Ruminating may be the operative word, but I would prefer fermenting or brewing for what's been going on in my head.

Let’s back up for a moment. I never meant to imply that there are NOT lady gamers that don’t approach RPGs with the same gonzo gung-ho gamist style of males of the ass-kicker-cherishing variety. I never meant to imply that women-folk don’t have various changes in mood that might allow for both an ass-kicking character one day of the week and something completely different on another (just as male gamers will go through different phases/moods of what kind of character they want to play).

Here’s an anecdote I did not relate the other day:

- In my third year of college I was approached by my buddy Joel to run a Werewolf game, specifically to introduce our mutual friend Sarah to RPGs; she was interested in trying ‘em out. I told him that I didn’t think Werewolf was a particularly good game to use as an introduction to RPGs (this at a time when I was a HUGE White Wolf fan and bought everything they published), specifically because there wasn’t much role-playing to it…I felt it was too combat-oriented, and more akin to playing “a video game” than an RPG. His reply? “Well, I think that’s all she’s looking for.” Just something escapist to take her mind off finals and what-not and to check out this role-playing-thang her drinking buddies were so interested in.

For some reason I can’t recall now, I did NOT end up running the WW game (the reason I didn’t bring up the anecdote in my earlier “girl gamer experience list” is that I never had any direct role-playing experience with Sara)…and frankly I was put off by the idea that anyone would want to play a role-playing game for nothing BUT combat/action.

Certainly there are people of both genders who are attracted to hard core ass-kicking to a greater degree than me. There ARE people that purchase and play Pathfinder and 4th Edition D&D, games that seem to offer little more than the inherent “badass-ery” of one’s character…at least, that appears to be the main possible attraction I can find in these games.

OKAY, SO…admitting that there are some (or PLENTY) of female folks out there that love and take great inspiration from characters like Lux the Barbarian (D&D: Wrath of the Dragon God) or Perfidia (Knights of Blood Steel) or Mila Jovavich in Ultraviolet or that vampire chick (Kate Beckinsale?) in Underworld…my POINT was that there may be other girls/women that might be interested in what fantasy role-playing games have to offer IF the games were offering something other than ass-kicking badass-ery.

And yes, there are probably certain males who fit the same mold (my friend Rob comes to mind) but it would seem that most boys can at least identify a little bit with the “bad-ass” approach…at least enough to try a game out and then (if necessary) tinker it to their particular taste.

[to be fair, I am not trying to stereotype or pigen-hole ANYONE…male or female…with these assertions. For example, I am almost nothing like my old buddy Mac, who LOVED every B film produced with VanDamme or Seagal and thought Tango & Cash was the height of good cinema, even at the age of 20. He was a NON-gamer, though I was able to entice him to play Rifts at least once or twice (his character was a Headhunter). I don’t know whatever happened to Mac, but I know he cherished an aspiration to become a Navy SEAL]

Let me go back for a moment to my old buddy Jocelyn. Man, I wish I was still in contact with her so I could get her input on this, but she lives way the hell out in B.F.Eastern Washington these days and isn’t on facebook as far as I can ascertain. Jocelyn WAS a badass: she was about 5’9” or 5’10”, lifted weights, earned ribbons riding equestrian (her horse was named "Bill"), was plenty handy with a compound bow, drove a pickup truck, and listened to Heavy Metal music. She got into more fist fights than I ever did (once breaking her wrist on some poor girl), and as far as I remember she was always on the winning end.

She was also a talented artist and writer, and possibly even more than RPGs she and I shared a great love of books…we’d read ‘em and swap ‘em in a variety of different genres, though generally of the fantasy, sci-fi, or horror variety. She enjoyed using her imagination to tell stories, and they were definitely of the “softer” fantasy variety, not blood & guts...she liked faeries & elves a helluva’ lot more than swords & axes.

Her cinematic role-model was the Sigourney Weaver character of the Aliens franchise (at least in the first two films). This is a female character that is strong and capable without being a “badass” from the get go. Oh, she can be a badass…when she has to be, as a matter of necessity. But she’s not some super-strong, Stallone-like action hero. She’s human. She has her own weaknesses. She has fear…both for herself and those she loves. However, she is also resourceful and self-sufficient.

[now thinking about it, Carrie Fisher was plenty resourceful and self-sufficient in the original Star Wars trilogy as well...although often stuck in the "durance vile" scenario, she often came out swinging, could shoot more accurately than Luke, could pilot the Falcon, provided military briefings, walk into Jabba's palace with a flimsy disguise and no back-up, not to mention killing the slug with little more than her bare hands...and could shrug off a wound easier than her brother who gets reduced to a fetal position more than once...and yet, was not decked out as some bad-ass warrior; however, I don't recall Jocelyn being a big Star Wars fan]

Now maybe folks will think I’m comparing apples to oranges here: one-dimensional cardboard characters compared to ones that are simply better written. That’s missing the point…I am NOT just trying to “shoot fish in a barrel,” here. It’s just difficult for me to actually come to my point without the excessive preamble (sorry).

Let me try to enumerate:

1. I think RPGs (table top) are valuable and worth playing (not to mention fun) for most anyone.

2. I think there’s value to having the RPG market grow.

3. I think games as designed and as presented have an impact on HOW and IF people come to the hobby.

(3a. I think cinema-literature-comics of the escapist-fantasy variety also has an impact; though that is the subject of a different and longer post)

4. I think that there are some folks, specifically many women, who might find fantasy role-playing much more enticing as a pastime if the design and presentation were not skewed in a way that appears to appeal more to those that enjoy “badass-ery.”

[and just by the way, when I say “fantasy” I don’t mean “only pseudo-medieval/historical plus magic.” I mean science fiction, I mean horror, I mean western and spy genres. All of these are “fantasy.” When I play Boot Hill, I am living out the “fantasy” of being in the Old West. It’s still fantasy role-playing even without wizards and goblins, etc.]

THAT was the point of my original post. Game designers sometimes seem (TO ME) to be saying, “Well, we should be growing the hobby getting more people stoked to play and it seems like there is an un-tapped market of potential female gamers. What we need to do is more artwork showing how badass women adventurers can be…then more women will want to play our badass games!”

[perhaps TV and film producer folks say similar things]

Sure, maybe that will win a handful of converts to the cause…though I prefer to think that people in general (men and women) are smarter than designers (and producers) believe them to be, and that the women most interested in playing badass fantasy characters were already super-imposing their own female images into the game. But that may just be me being all Pollyanna and rosy and shit.

Okay, enough for now…please feel free to chew this over (or chew it up and spit it out). I think I’m going to “quit while I’m behind” and leave off on any more half-assed design theories for awhile. I've got other writing projects to work on.

; )


  1. 4. I think that there are some folks, specifically many women, who might find fantasy role-playing much more enticing as a pastime if the design and presentation were not skewed in a way that appears to appeal more to those that enjoy “badass-ery.”

    I definitely agree with this.

  2. Consider the possibility that the scarcity of women playing tabletop games (and other "nerdy" hobbies, come to think of it) has little to do with the specifics of its presentation or content. If I had to guess, I would blame something in the social context that surrounds the hobby, such as its stereotype as uncool and male-dominated.

  3. My experience is that when members of any gender put aside their assumptions, inhibitions, etc. and sit down and participate in a well run game. They find that they enjoy it.

    Discounting immature gammers (typically but not always sub 16-17 males) RPG's are about a lot more and their fun derives from much more than bad-assery.

    Yes, the design and presentation of most RPGs appeals to juvenile instincts. Cause look at the typical market segments that are browsing game/comic stores. It's up to DM's to reach out to the larger market and show them what RPG's are really about.