Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Getting Permission

There’s a very interesting article in the current issue of The Escapist, an electronic magazine dedicated to computer gaming. It’s “Asexuality Actually” by John Walker, and it’s about the barriers that stand between girls and playing computer games. And no, he doesn’t discuss the sexist nature of the industry, the art, or any of the old excuses. Instead, he cites an actual scientific study (gosh, imagine that) on the topic:

Without the boys to push them out the way, and once the Schott and Thomas explained the [GameBoy Advance SPs] weren't some sort of makeup case (no, really), the girls mostly recognized Mario onscreen, but would predominantly declare, "Oh, I can't do these things."

Prompted to continue, Schott and Thomas found that after a few minutes, they couldn't get the girls to stop playing. This transition led the researchers to conclude that there was some sort of "permission" barrier between girls and gaming.

No, he’s not saying that sexist art or themes in games might not turn some girls off playing. (Though it doesn’t appear to have stopped them from reading romance novels in voracious numbers.) What he is saying is that it doesn’t matter how girl-friendly the games are, how hard they work to overturn stereotypes and gender biases, or how many women were involved in the development of the game. If girls won’t even take the time to look at the game in the first place because that’s something they think they can’t, or won’t, or shouldn’t do, they’ll never know what they’re missing.

Bringing this to the realm of pen-and-paper gaming, we’re clearly faced with the same issue. It doesn’t matter how girl-friendly a game like Blue Rose is, with its low level of book keeping, telepathic animals, exceptional mechanics, and romantic fantasy trappings. If girls have already decided that they can’t play RPGs, they won’t even give them a chance. I’m half convinced part of Vampire: the Masquerade’s success is due to the fact that “real” roleplayers, those AD&D and GURPS grognards, screamed about how horrible it was. “See,” White Wolf could say. “This isn’t like those ugly, old RPGs. This is something different.” And so it was, as thousands of Anne Rice fans invaded the hobby. Things have never been the same since.

So what does this mean? It means, dear reader, that the industry is incapable of bringing a significant number of women into this hobby of ours. Predisposed to ignoring RPGs, no amount of advertising or producing female-friendly games or hiring women designers and artists is going to breach the wall the separates women from the hobby. We’re right back where we began: the best way to bring people, of either gender, into RPGs is to invite them to play with us. Sitting down at the table and filling in a character sheet remains the best introduction. The reason more women don’t play RPGs and the hobby as an industry is in decline is because you are not inviting them to play.

So what are you doing sitting here surfing the internet for? Start a game already!

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