Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sexism in Role-Playing Games

And so, having avoided the latest thread concerning Palladium and Kevin Siembieda on I chanced upon a thread concerning Sexism in RPGs.

The thread, in which the original poster had requested men refrain from commenting initially so that the side of the women could be heard first, is very long. Despite the not-surprising comments and arguments from the male side of the community (many of which are fairly common arguments outside of the RPG community) there were some successful sharings of experiences which seems to be composed of the following:
    a) sexism during gameplay;
    b) sexism in the written RPG material; and
    c) sexism outside of gameplay, but within the group.

The issue of sexism is very complex, can vary in some ways from culture to culture, and -- while certainly unwelcome -- doesn't seem to have very many easy answers.

Because I feel that it's unlikely that it will be possible to impact the sexism in (a) and (c) without being able to impact the societies and communities that they're taking place in, I seem to really zero in on the question of sexism in written RPG material.

Above and beyond the issue of gender neutral language, there seems to be a concern about the 'sexiness' of the portrayal of female characters in RPG books (pictures and write-ups of NPCs and sample PCs). Interestingly, many of the concerns raised are about the unrealistic portrayal of women (yes, yes, many of the worlds of RPGs are unrealistic -- but the plausibility of the women in them need not be) and the rebuttals thereof seem to be the same concerns and arguments raised about the portrayal of women in popular media.

Could it be that possible approaches to addressing the issue of sexism in RPG books are actually similar to the approaches espoused by female writers of SF/Fantasy?


  1. I recently did a panel on LGBT people and gaming, and developed a theoretical framework to focus my thoughts on the issues. I think the questions of the "isms" operate at four levels within gaming:

    -REPRESENTATION (how is the world depicted; what kinds of characters can people play, and how are they drawn and described?).

    -RULES - do the rules reward or punish playing certain races, genders, etc. over others? With respect to tabletop RPGs, this isn't usually the largest issue. Most published games avoid lower STR scores for women, for example. It is a much more open category for video/computer games. For example, the new LOTR online game has banned ALL marriage between PCs in order to avoid same sex marriages. Of course, with these kind of games, the rules are code that need to be written, so official rules can be quire constraining.

    -PLAY - What are the traditions of play at particular gaming tables. What social contracts explicit or implicit exist among players at the gaming table.

    -COMMUNITY - How do things like conventions, online fora, etc., shape and reinforce certain kinds of behaviors and ideologies? Do they resolve issues in community that were open issues at the level of rules and representation?

    I hope to do more on this at a panel in the Fall of 2012 when the Twin Cities, MN hosts Gaylaxicon, the US/Canada-wide LGBT SF&F convention.

  2. I think that in your framework rules and representation seem to be the core area that I'd think to focus on -- it seems easier to pin down something concrete in these areas since the text and images are in 'black and white' so to speak (even if the interpretation of the text and images will certainly vary between individuals).

    Play and community should certainly be up for discussion for purposes of awareness (though, as always, it depends on the openmindedness of those listening).


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.

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