Blogfight: Sexism in Roleplaying Games?

I love this, an Irish gaming blogosphere “heated discussion”. I came across mer writes about roleplaying blog when she wrote about one of my articles on roleplaying. So I started to follow her blog… and then this post appears Spirit of the Century. Spirit of the Century is a Fate/Fudge based RPG that I’ve been hearing lots of good words about. Mary was actually commenting on an LJ post (here) about it.

Now, in my mind, it’s a Fudge game. I haven’t read it, however I have read Fate and think it’s one of the best systems I’ve read. So I’m not surprised Spirit of the Century is well-liked. The issue the original LJ poster (peaseblossom) has is that:

The biggest hurdle for me is the list of character ideas, which starts on page 15, at the very beginning of the character creation section. Of the twelve basic ideas for characters, four of them (Gadget Guy, Gentleman Criminal, Jungle Lord, Man of Mystery) are specifically male, four of them (Academic, Operator, Primitive/Foreigner, Two-Fisted Pilot) are referred to exclusively by male pronouns, and the other four (Explorer, Plucky Reporter, Science Hero, Scientist) simply avoid pronouns altogether (and Science Hero uses as its sole example Doc Savage, a guy). I’m a bit gratified that there isn’t a Femme Fatale option (although, wait for it), but, would it have been so hard to come up with an example that would make me, a woman, excited to play the game? And don’t even get me started on the Primitive/Foreigner one; I mean, the fuck?

So basically there isn’t enough female archetypes in the game for her to get excited about. But wait…

Another thing that I semi-appreciated is the section at the very beginning of the book, entitled ‘Some Ugly Truths’. This section entreats the players of Spirit of the Century to be aware that sexism and racism happen in the source material, and should be addressed “in a way your group is comfortable with.”

So the authors were trying to keep true to source material. One of the authors actually comments on the LJ page here. He says:

A fair critique, there. Honestly, if anything, the reason these weren’t presented as Gadget Guy/Gal, Gentleman/Lady Criminal, yadda yadda was that the slashes looked really distracting and ugly. We should have varied it more, certainly, but decided to let that be something that played out in character examples. Sally Slick is a Gadget Gal. Claire Holloway is a Woman of Mystery. Etc.

Also note that the character types grew out of our actual play, with a mixed gender group of players, some of whom preferred to play male characters.


You’re also being selectively ignorant with your examples. You left out several very key illustrations of Sally in action.

One shows her rescuing Jet Black, who’s been chained to the face of Big Ben, in danger of getting pulled apart/crushed by the movement of the hands.

Another shows her outnumbered three to one by shadow men, as she swings her big wrench through the gut of one, cutting it in half.

A third shows her building gadgetry.

Which makes me say, uh, yeah… we sure made her look like a chump. I mean, she rescues men from danger, fights as well as or better than any of them, and builds crazy machinery. How dare we also show her needing a little rescuing (by the guy she has a crush on, no less), diving for safety, or being more alert than the bumbling guys she’s surrounded with!

Just to be clear, I’m totally on board with some of your complaints. You’re right; we didn’t put a heavy focus on making sure we did the gender balance act throughout the book, and that’s going to be offputting for some women. Then again, we had a female editor go over the book, and had the book proofread by my wife, and made one of our central, iconic characters a Rosie the Riveter-esque persona who was based on the player’s actual grandmother (whose real name was, in fact, Sally Slick). So if you want to suggest we didn’t make an honest effort to be pro-female, I’m gonna laugh at you. Good-naturedly, but I’ll laugh. :)

I think this is a “non-issue”, a virtual flare-up, if you will. I know that I have a few female gamers who read my blog, are RPG games really so male biased? What kind elements of an RPG get you excited or inspired?

As a maturing male player, I genuinely like good female archetypes in the RPGs I read. Heck I sometimes like to play a female character, as long as it’s a good female character. I know it’s a predominantly male hobby, can’t escape that. The best game I know of that really included issues of racism and sexisms as part of the setting was Riddle of Steel where different regions had very different clashing cultures. You could build an equally interesting male and female sword-swinging that wasn’t a D&D clone.

I think it’s nice to have a few good female roles/archetypes in games, as long as that is reasonable.

I’ve sidetracked a bit, check out the title of this blog post: If Jesus had tits, would you believe in God? which is a direct response to Mary’s “Spirit of the Century” post (who was only agreeing with peaseblossom). My, my. I love it, not for the content per say… for the drama. :) I would have commented on the post, rather than post myself about it but you have to register on their site! And as the Matt said in the post:

I’d have commented directly on Mary’s blog but…I’d have to register on for that and really I can’t be bothered.

*shess* I find Matt’s post, simply an over-reaction. But hey thats the fun of the Internet! :) (And here I am commenting on flame war started by feminist thoughts on RPG…. isn’t it just grand!) His second follow-up: It’s about starting conversations with new people, he tries to express again his annoyance about the issue.

Some game companies are currently trying to market cute and fluffly and romance and “social” games to women which is utterly patronising.

Seems like quite a reasonable point. So I ask the few female gamers (okay 2 maybe?) that read my blog again, are games like this patronising to women gamers?

Update #1: I’ve opened up the discussion on LiveJournal’s irishgaming community.

Update #2: Mary has replied on her blog.

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