Important Distinction:
Sex - biological dimorphism; male and female; irrelevant to this article
Gender - social identity; man, woman, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transexual, polyamorous, and many more, few of them exclusive; what this article is about

Short Form:

I make games about people.

People are gendered.

Gender appears in every game I make.

Long Form:

Gender appears in every game I make, either explicitly or implicitly, because there's no such thing as an ungendered person and good roleplaying games are about people. I always include gender consciously, because I know it's important -- and, quite frankly, because it's fun and engaging. Additionally, because I live and write in a gendered societal context, I cannot escape including gender unconsciously, too. If I do my job well, the balance falls into the conscious category.

One of the best things that's happened to gaming recently is the (re)introduction of sex and gender into games, the recognition that it can create compelling stories, and that it's as much if not more a part of the human experience as gaming's first love, violence. This really should come as no surprise to us -- every player in the world is gendered, after all, which means that gender in games provides something that they can relate to, whether it's sympathetic (that's me!), alien (that's not me), antagonistic (that's bad), or idealized (that's good).


Gaming has a history with gender, though. One which has been the topic of much brouhaha, well-meaning diatribes, and vitriolic flame wars. Gaming's history includes objectification, infantilization, and stereotyping of genders, primarily women. We've all seen the covers of Avalanche Press; we've all heard the bullshit arguments. All of this, though, really should come as no surprise to us. Every player in the gaming world was gendered, after all, which means that gender provided something that they could relate to, whether it was sympathetic, alien, antagonistic, or idealized. Moreover, it sold books. It sold books primarily to one gender -- boys -- and it did it well. That these games did not appeal to girls and women is very similar to complaining that the Lifetime channel doesn't have enough programming for men. That wasn't the point. They had a market; they knew what their market was; they knew what their market wanted. They supplied the demand of the market -- and went home to feed their kids.

For every young girl who was told that they couldn't play D&D because it was a boy's game -- well, to some extent, that was true. It was a boy's game, made and marketed for boys. Girls did not have any more right to have a roleplaying game written for them than the boys had a right for My Little Pony action figures made for them. Or to take it a step further, they had no more right for a roleplaying game than the boys did in the first place. Nobody has a right to have a roleplaying game written for them. Roleplaying games exist so the guy who makes it can play it, enjoy himself with friends, and maybe make some money to pay for rent. The game is the creator's property, and nobody -- girls or otherwise -- had any right to say what the game should be. The roleplaying hobby didn't fail the girls in its demographic -- girls weren't part of the demographic to begin with.

More seriously, that gaming's history with gender may have led to objectification of women outside of games -- that's a completely different argument, and one that is difficult to prove. Did gaming promulgate destructive stereotypes that gamers applied to real women? Probably. I like to imagine that in the deluded young gamers' encounter with real women, the real women kicked the shit out of the boys' stereotyped expectations. On the other hand, I like to imagine a lot of things that are rosier than reality. But if the boys decided to apply make-believe principles to real life, is it really the fault of the books they based their make-believe on? To me, as one of those boys, I'd say it was way more our stupid fault than the books we read. Isn't it the approximate equivalent of trying to cast Magic Missile on the schoolyard bully? What happens in make-believe doesn't happen in reality -- somehow, I don't think that's a warning label that was really necessary.


Which brings us back to the present day, where the young boys have grown up and hopefully figured out that Magic Missile doesn't really work, and the girls who were excluded from first-generation games are in a position to write and publish games that are made for them. So we look around and we ask ourselves what we're going to put in our games. It will surprise absolutely nobody that I'll now point out that answering this question is a marketing concern, and an important one. What we put into our games is determined by who we write the games for. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not writing games for prepubescent boys. Consequently, I've got a pretty profoundly different palette to work with.

Part of that palette is gender, and I am absolute ecstatic to have such juicy material to work with. The gender material that I get to work with in writing games for adults, though, is almost completely different than the gender material that I would use in writing for boys. Adults have different interests when it comes to gender. Boys are exploring gender for the first time, and everything comes in broad strokes; adults are familiar in at least some corner of the vast gender landscape, and are either exploring new corners or are delving into the details and subtleties of their own psychosocial backyard. Boys don't recognize stereotypes as stereotypes because they have little to no empirical experience with which to compare and evaluate them -- what is presented is accepted. Adults, on the other hand, know stereotypes well -- so well, in fact that they are often quite adept at manipulating them to their own ends (this means you -- if you're a man, you've accessed your male privilege before; if you're a woman, you've let a guy carry something heavy for you). Boys accept things at face value (girls don't like adventure stories); adults know that there is always something behind what they're seeing and experiencing (my wife doesn't like this particular movie for about a thousand different reasons). I could keep going for quite a long time, but already the adult gender palette is familiar, detailed, nuanced, manipulable, subversive, layered, multifaceted, and quite simply complex. What's not to love?

On the other hand, there's all sorts of useless crap that I can pitch over the side once I abandon my plans for selling thousands of books to wide-eyed young boys. The cheesecake can go right out the window; in the simplest terms, it serves absolutely no purpose any longer. The embedded assumption that men must take up violence in order to save helpless women I can discard -- but I can keep the shape of the assumption so that it can be held up to the light, with players poking and prodding it and challenging it and subverting it. The superfuckingcool overpowered giant dick-replacements -- the mechs, the daiklaives, the endless angst -- can go swirling down the drain. The mechanical underpinnings that say that all conflicts are solved with violence, that power is an end to itself, and that bigger is always better can evaporate away. The thus-lightened game is liberated, flexible, adaptive -- and so much more capable to let the players tell their own stories rather than participate in a story the gendered skeleton of which is embedded in every book written for boys (cause they need the skeleton for guidance).

It's not that gender assumptions and stereotypes need to be ripped out of gaming. We're reinventing gaming from the ground up. We're writing for new, more adult audiences. We now have access to so much more gendered content -- assumptions and stereotypes included -- that we can include in so many more ways. What might be a stereotyped constraint in OGL 17 Magical Lands of Wonder can be put to better use in our games rather than expurgiated wherever it appears. We can take it and use it, encourage our players to examine it, to identify with it and evaluate it, to challenge it and perhaps even find a little corner of it where they still find some truth. Instead of rejecting what has gone before, we can adopt and subvert it and make it ours.

And that sounds like a whole lot of fun to me.

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> I always include gender

> I always include gender consciously, because I know it’s important

Important to /you/, perhaps, sure. But it's not important to everyone.

Every person has an eye colour too, but you don't find a lot of RPGs that are fixated on it.

Generally speaking, I don't

Generally speaking, I don't find that eye color has much impact on the decisions I make in life, the roles that I play, or the options available to me. Eye color does not form a large part of who I am. Gender, on the other hand, is pervasive. There are entire stories that revolve around gender, and there is no story that is untouched by gender.

More seriously, that gaming’s

More seriously, that gaming’s history with gender may have led to objectification of women outside of games — that’s a completely different argument, and one that is difficult to prove. Did gaming promulgate destructive stereotypes that gamers applied to real women? Probably. I like to imagine that in the deluded young gamers’ encounter with real women, the real women kicked the shit out of the boys’ stereotyped expectations. On the other hand, I like to imagine a lot of things that are rosier than reality. But if the boys decided to apply make-believe principles to real life, is it really the fault of the books they based their make-believe on?

I agree with lots of what you say here, but this is just a terrible, terrible argument. It's not the books' fault! It's not the gun's fault! After demonstrating such a strong awareness of the influence of unconscious gender on conscious gaming, to then go ahead and deny the influence of unconscious gender on actual interactions with gendered people seems absurd. If you are worried enough about your unconscious gender beliefs that you try and make sure to consciously filter them into your games, then presumably you are acknowledging that the unconscious opinions people hold about gender will influence their behaviour. Saying it's their stupid fault when this happens is disingenuous -- and even if it were true, it's besides the point. This is because even if it is their stupid fault for not correcting their unconscious, the reason that unconscious is telling them what it's telling them is someone else's fault -- specifically, the fault of every cultural anything they ever encountered that made a statement about gender. The RPG books fall into that category.

It may be true that when somebody shoots someone, it's ultimately their fault for doing so -- but someone still put the gun in their hands, and if there was some way they could have avoided doing so, they probably should have.

Enh... this is tricky

Enh... this is tricky territory.

My take on guns is pragmatic; less guns available = less murders, and less murders is worth a little trampling on the right to bear arms.

Gender portrayals in media, however, is a lot fuzzier. Let's just start with different audiences, determining appropriate audiences, and restricting distribution to those audiences -- Bachannal is a fine game for adults and a terrible one for preteens. And while the victims and fallout of "bad" gender portrayals merit serious consideration, we're not talking murders. This isn't a case where "something should be done" industry-wide to prevent stupid gender stereotyping from getting in the hands of impressionable boys. The payoff of such an action is a lot less reliable than the guns->murders equation, and I don't believe that it's worth a little trampling on the right to free speech.

To make it a moral argument... well, it becomes a moral argument. Is Gary Gygax responsible, at least in part, for a 14 year old girl being carelessly used by her 14 year old boyfriend in 1981? Maybe? But his 'in part' is pretty damn infintessimal. And in the end, I'm not really interested in assigning blame for events that cannot be changed. I'm interested in what I can do now.

So more to the point, is that incident twenty-five years ago a good reason to strip gender out of games? On the contrary, I think it's a good reason to put it in there. But you've got to ask if the game being written is for: (a) the now-39-year-old woman who was used, (b) the now-39-year-old man who used her, (c) a 14-year-old boy today, and/or (d) a 14-year-old girl today. Is the game supposed to mend past ills, to re-educate, to provide good examples, to build girl-power self-esteem? Whatever it is, that's what should inform what gendered content goes in there, not what some dude printed in some game in 1981.

I'll throw a curve ball your

I'll throw a curve ball your way. A fair number of the female gamers I've played with over the years wanted their metaphorical giant phallus RIGHT NOW. Consider the links between roleplaying and drag for context. I think roleplaying's got tremendous potential to subvert and disempower gender heirarchies and essentialism, and I'd hate to see it stripped of that potential by removing all the exaggerated burlesque of rippling thews and heaving bosoms.

Has there been a great camp roleplaying game yet? There ought to be.

Hackmaster? More


More seriously, there's a big difference between, say, your Glitterboy giant phallus replacement and your hard-nosed Aeryn Sun with huge gun giant phallus replacement. One is unthinking catering to impulse, the other is conscious use of and commentary on impulse. ;)

Oh, come on. "Glitterboy"?

Oh, come on. "Glitterboy"? The name says it all. Comic-opera fighter-jock hypermasculinity with a glam-rock twist.

God. Now I want to play RIFTS. What have you done, Joshua?

Haw haw! Oh hey, though:

Haw haw!

Oh hey, though: there's your great camp roleplaying game. :)

Your ``Then'' section's

Your ``Then'' section's reasoning seems pretty warped to me. (I'm not sure why you need the
argument you gave at all, rather than saying ``bygones are bygones''.)

First, historically, I don't think there were fewer women gamers in the 70's than there are now, proportionately. Women have
been role-playing since RPG's have been around. Yes, there were no girls in my high school games, but that was a bug not
a feature. By college (1981) however, every game I played in had some women playing and/or GMing, and most of them had been playing a while. About one in four gamers were women, and I don't see a lot more than that now.

Second, marketing using strongly gendered demographics is inherrently sexist, in the same way that segregated schools are racist. The partition of children into Barbies vs GI Joes says that a child's gender dictates their interests and opportunities in life. If that's not sexist, what is?

Third, even if a product were to be legitimately targetted towards one genders, it doesn't excuse stereotyping or derogatory or degrading portrayals of the other. Are Sambo dolls justified if they are only marketed to white kids? This
doesn't even begin to make sense to me.

Finally, what evidence do you have that the sexism of earlier role-playing products was driven by market forces? ( I'll distinguish sexism from sexiness. Sure, sex sells, but it also does not have to be sexist.) What non-sexist games went bankrupt? My impression is that the sexism in early games is there for the same reason they put ninjas in medieval Europe: they wrote down what popped into their heads, and they were as sexist as most people.


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