Wednesday 16 July 2014

Distracted, Nobody Noticed The Consultants Are All Men

I know, right? While arguing over the contagiousness and toxicity of two personalities on the list when it comes to gender-and-sexuality issues, nobody - at least looking at the first 20 google hits for "D&D 5th edition consultants male" - has commented that all eight consultants, plus the seven designers, developers and writers, appear to be male. Female names appear in the credits in editing, art direction, and artist roles - and yes, art is important, but also a different post.

I think this hasn't been commented just because it is so obvious and so usual. After all, a recent study identified 85.5% of published tabletop RPG creators as male by name, while only 6% appear to be female. Still, if you are drawing from that pool at random for 15 people there is a 60.5% chance that you will have at least one woman on the team. (Imagine rolling percentile dice for gender 15 times, calculating the odds you will roll at least one 06 or below.) So it's not unimaginable that there could be at least one solitary woman on the panel just by chance. Also not unimaginable that a woman game author or commentator could have, you know, been included on the panel intentionally to give her perspective.

Because for D&D and old school RPGs in particular, there is a thunderous statistical skew towards male creators. Now, when people celebrate gender equality or bemoan its absence they point to people at the table. Indeed, discussing roleplaying with a curious sci-fi fan at a professional conference last week, I was able to answer her gender question quite creditably: my main campaign has 3 women and 3 men and my side game, 2 and 4.

But left aside in that conversation was the almost unrelieved maleness of the top RPG creatives in my blogroll (as of this writing, only Gaming as Women hanging on with a 1 day old post), the module authors I read and use, the gamemaster role that women are less often seen in, and so on.

Often observed: it is easier and more rewarding for our primate social brainbits to personalize inequality, to make it be about pointing out who is a racist or a sexist and so on, than to take on the evidence of inequality that persists even when nice people are making the decisions, and raise hard questions about what accounts for it.

Perhaps after 20 years where DMs who would inflict rape upon their female players' characters are viewed with the same loathing as DMs who would climb up and take a dump on the table so that their otyugh miniature can have a "realistic" nest ... 20 years where most of the mostly male creators mostly "get it" in their writing ... 20 years of having as many men as women at table, as many all-female as all-male groups ... we can have a clear view of which one of these things is true:

1. Creating material for adventure role-playing is just one of those things that average men statistically tend to get into more so than average women, for whatever reason (nature, nurture, culture...) and that reason is mostly legitimate.

2. Creating for adventure role-playing is one of those things that average men authentically enjoy more than average women, but this is for a reason that should be questioned - such as women being put off by games that involve math or complex procedures, as a result of socialization that also forestalls their interest in prestigious careers and science topics.

3. Women would gladly create adventure role-playing stuff as much as men currently do, but they are kept from doing it by the implicit and explicit sexism of men in the field, as well as the message that the sausage-fest sends - that "people like you are not welcome here."

I'll just note that even if you believe #1 is true, that does not let you off the hook for women's participation and representation in the hobby. That just means you treat the 10% of creators who are women with the same consideration that you would treat the ~10% of people who are non-straight, or the ~10% who represent a local ethnic minority.


  1. Looking back over the past 20 years and among the people I've played ongoing campaigns with about 33% were women. Many of the women gamers I met were prone to be better versed in RPGs outside of D&D as well.

  2. This is not a terribly fashionable thing to say, perhaps, but in my experience people who tend to want to be the DM are the people who are so unspeakably nerdy that they are willing to devote long solitary hours doing game prep. And since there are vastly more unspeakably nerdy men than women (probably to women's credit, by and large) you tend to get much more male DMs and hence more male RPG designers.

    1. I've got you covered .. Option 1. If I'm going to disclose my own suspicions it's that the truth lies somewhere between 1 and 2. With some obscurity due to the conflation of roleplaying with wargaming. I do want to write about the gender angles of the different aspects of RPGs including combat, problem solving, system vs. improv, social interaction ... eventually. But maybe people are just burnt out on this topic.

  3. I actually toyed with the idea of doing women-only "How to DM" workshops at my local college, but chickened out. Afraid either there would be no interest or that it would come off as creepy.

    The reason I wanted to do it was to bypass the whole crappy gamestore-ruleslawyer culture. Show them, hey, here are some free rulesets online, DMing is pretty straightforward, here's a few pointers, now go DIY and have fun playing D&D with your friends.

  4. As a female gamer I can tell you #1 is hogwash. I learned about D&D when I was in 7th grade, back when the original "blue box" was out. But the guys who played at my school didn't want girls in their group. 30 years later and sexism is still around--a few years ago I was voted out of a group (in which I was the only female player) for expressing discomfort over fag and rape jokes. We are far from gender equality in gaming, no matter how "enlightened" the current male designers and writers may seem.

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