Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Women Gamers

In 2006, I purchased the book Gaming as Culture which contained an excellent chapter by Michelle Nephew that discussed unconscious desire and roleplaying games. The chapter is a section of Dr. Nephew's dissertation. I found some of the observations about the way society views gamers, and how gamers view other gamers (in particular female gamers) interesting and worthy of further investigation. I eventually got a copy of Dr. Nephew's full dissertation and will likely do a read through of the work at some point, as it deserves discussion within the community it examines.

Just to be clear, while the dissertation is highly academic Dr. Nephew is more than a mere academic observer. She also happens to be one of the people behind the excellent gaming company Atlas Games and the designer of one of my favorite games this year Ren Faire.

I think that women in the hobby is an important topic to discuss and that the stereotypes that people, both inside and outside of the gaming community, need a good deal of dispelling.

But we need not go to a full dissertation to find a nice place to start the discussion. Susan J Morris -- Line Editor for the Forgotten Realms Series of Novels -- published a nice blog post over on the Wizards site the other day discussing this very topic.

In Morris' post, her opening paragraph mentions the current "gamer girl" stereotype and describes it as follows:

Part of the current stereotype is that we gamer girls fight with each other in order to compete for attention, status, and all those eligible gamer men.

An entertaining notion to be sure, and I can see why there is that perception. However, while I can’t speak for all gamer women, I really don’t think that sexual competition is at the root of the various rifts. I think it’s about image and branding, and what they do to the everyday life of your everyday gamer woman.

Two things stand out to me in the above paragraph, the concept of sexual politics and the underlying assumption that female gamers have "various rifts" with other female gamers.

My personal experience with female gamers has been consistently positive. The RPGA group I played with when I lived in Reno had a good mix of gamers and included a number of female gamers. I never noticed any sexual competition, or even branding based rifts between the players.

But I do find the concept of personality conflict based on controlling the "branding" of a particular sub-culture to be very interesting, the most interesting concept in Morris' post. In fact, it is one I see taking place among gamers at large. Given that gaming is a relatively small subculture, we all seek to define what it is that constitutes "a gamer." It is one of the reasons we cling to the "celebugamers" like Wil Wheaton so much, we have a desire to create a brand that is more acceptable to main stream society.

Could women gamers be under a similar tension within the gaming community itself? Do you think they have a need to "brand" what a female gamer is in order to help make it more acceptable for the gaming community -- and for main stream society as well?

What have your experiences been? Is it different for "Hobby Gamer" women than for "Roleplaying Women?"

What are your thoughts?
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