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Gender Bias in Gaming

by Hawke Robinson published Apr 24, 2013 02:05 PM, last modified Aug 22, 2017 04:24 PM
I am currently in a course titled "The Psychology of Women" and we are covering various gender-bias topics. Recently on the CAR-PGa email list a link was sent related to gender-bias in gaming. Have you seen/experienced gender-bias related to gaming?

Here is an interesting and relevant article on women and games, titled "Why Gaming Matters". I ran this by Dr. Islam-Zwart for approval first before posting it in the EWU classroom forum for discussion, and she stated "It is interesting and relevant."

http://www.gamermessage.com/2013/02/22/why-gaming-matters/

As full disclosure, my major is recreation therapy (with research psychology emphasis) so I am very interested in issues related to recreational activities and games related to impact on quality of life. I also received the link to this article because of my involvement with the CAR-PGa (Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games)http://www.car-pga.org and the RPG Research Project: http://www.rpgresearch.com (studies on the educational and therapeutic aspects of role-playing games (tabletop, live-action, and computer-based).

While the author of that article takes the perspective that men are protective of games, and do not want women (generally) to participate, I'm not so sure about this in the tabletop RPG context. This is an area I have had trouble finding research information about because it triggers a lot of political correctness issues that makes it difficult to discuss in relatively uncontrolled public fora. For example, I tried running polls on the RPG.net site about how many women play tabletop RPG's, and the rpg.net folks quickly locked the polls as part of their list of topics never to discuss, because people started getting into discussions about transgender, gender identity, etc. Every public site I have tried to find information about the current ratio of female:male in tabletop and live-action RPG's has had the same reaction. Computer-based/online RPG's are less problematic since those industries have a lot of demographics information at their disposal. There have not been any official, properly controlled scientific studies performed (yet, that I know of) regarding gender ratio in tabletop or live-action role-playing games. This is the closest I can find currently: http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/theory/gender/disparity.html .So I can only really base these ideas on anecdotal experiences of my own, and those willing to discuss the topic. If anyone knows of a reliable source that would have useful information, suggestions are very much welcomed.

I have been involved with RPG's on and off since 1979. I do not recall anyone in any of the groups I gamed with stating, or behaving in any obvious way that indicated to me, that we did not want female participants in the groups. That being said, the observed ratio has continued to be around 4:1 or 5:1 male:female  over the past 34 years. Sometimes I managed to get a group with 2-3 female gamers, but that has been extremely rare. And usually there was only a female member because she was the girlfriend/wife of one of the male gamers. Currently I am running 3 groups. 1 online with 1 female player and 4 male, another at home with (the same) female player and 5 male, and a third at the RPG Research office as a preliminary observation group that has zero female players. During the search for participants for the third group, only 1 woman applied, while nearly 20 men applied. She was in the end unable to participate due to scheduling issues.

I have always been puzzled by this ongoing imbalance. In discussions, people have claimed "RPG's just aren't interesting to women, because it is not the kind of activity they enjoy". This sounds like ongoing stereotyping to me. Most of the female gamers that I have spoken with, enjoy RPG just as much as any of the male gamers.

I will make the following statement with hesitancy due to the risk of stereo-typing; the main difference the female gamers did point out however, was that they preferred campaigns (the world and setting and style of the RPG) that involved a lot more social dynamics and ROLE-playing (detailed character backgrounds, complex social interactions between player characters and non-player characters, etc.) over ROLL-playing (statistical number crunching, hack and slash combat, divvying up loot, etc.).  I generally prefer the ROLE aspect over ROLL myself as well, and run games with the ROLE-playing emphasis.

There is also of course the stereotyping (proven false through real research) about all RPGers (role-playing gamers) being socially inept, anti-social, suicidal, homicidal, occultists, freaks, etc.

Plenty of research in the 1980's and early 1990's disproves all of the negative stereotypes about RPGers. Since tabletop RPG's are by nature a completely social activity, it requires strong social skill development in order for it to work effectively and be fun for all. In fact the research showed that RPGers were either within the "normal" range, or else exceptional ranges for their population group. For example the suicide rate in a (meta-analysis) study indicated that RPGers had 1/5th to 1/10th the suicide rate of the same age groups in the US (http://rpgresearch.com/documents/rpg-research-documents/web-version/potential-benefits-of-rpgs ).

I am attempting to develop research that tries to determine causality. Are people with strong social and problem solving skills drawn to RPG's because it lets them exercise these skills effectively? Or is there something else about RPG's that draws them to the game (favorite books, movie, tv series, etc.), and then BECAUSE of the game they develop strong social and problem-solving skills? There have been many correlative and meta-analysis studies on the topic, but next to nothing on causal relationships in controlled, large scale, longitudinal studies.

Again from a purely anecdotal observation, in the early 1980s it seemed there were a lot more female gaming groups than in the latter '80s, 1990s and 2000s. In the 2010s it seems even fewer female tabletop gamers, but a lot more computer-based and live-action role-playing gamers are female.

While videos games in the '80s and '90s were predominantly male-dominated, the video gaming industry reports increasing balance between male and female gamers:

http://www.marketingcharts.com/interactive/women-comprise-40-of-us-gamers-26-of-whom-are-over-age-50-5327/ (a 2008 report)The question still remains, why do there seem to be so few women involved with tabletop role-playing games?

There are millions of role-playing gamers in the US, and millions more around the world (though nothing like the peak in the '80s around 20-30 million players/consumers per year in the US).

Are male gamers actually (as the article at the beginning of those post suggestions) being resistant to allowing female gamers and driving them away?

Or is there something about RPG's that is just a "turn off" for women to even consider trying them?

Does all the false stereotyping by the media and the general public about gamers keep women from even considering this cooperative, social, shared narrative, recreational activity?

It seems fairly obvious that women do experience significant gender-bias in mainstream sports settings, (and video game settings?), but what about other gaming venues like tabletop RPG and live-action RPG?

Have you seen or experienced incidents of gender bias in various (non-sports) game settings?

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