Sunday, 15 February 2015

Gaming with The Girls

I ran a Dungeons and Dragons game "for the girls" recently and figured that deserved a blogpost.


Question: What's the difference between male and female roleplayers?

One of the players asked me about this subject during a break in the game. After all, my experience with running games has mostly been with male-dominant groups (often all-male) and it's rare for a GM to run a game where all the players are female. However, the ranks of women in gaming culture are increasing, and I welcome the change. So how is it different?

Having now run a D&D session of all-women players, it's only natural to try to make observations. But I don't think I really can. Or should.

For starters, I've only run two sessions like this, which is not enough to make firm statements. Also, it would be foolish and demeaning to suggest that these women are indicative of all female gamers. Like most of the women I know, the ladies playing in my group are all highly individual people with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. I'd hardly say they're a typical group of women any more than an all male group is a typical group of men.

Maybe it would be best for you to meet them.

"The Girls"

First up is Hazel, the most experienced gamer of the gang, who I first met through my gamer housemate. Her perspective on the gender issue is probably better than mine and we like to talk about it. Her boyfriend Shane has also played with us, and she also has been playing in a group he's been running. This was her third session she's played with us.

Secondly is my newest housemate, Sally, a primary school teacher who has stepped into geek-dom (and our home) like a comfy pair of slippers. Having been subjected to Firefly and board games, she was keen to give roleplaying a go. Though hungover on her debut session, she recovered from a mid-game spew to go on to have a great time. She was looking forward to her second game.

And the third member of our little coven is Nat, my next-door neighbour. Her husband Roland has played a lot of roleplaying games and pressured her into playing. Her enthusiasm for the artform has been only matched by her natural talent,and she has gained a massive appetite for it since her first session with Hazel and Sally.

As you can see, that's two gaming newbies. At a recent barbecue party, they informed me that the next session was going to be a girl's only event. I seemed to be exempt from the gender divide (being the DM) and a date was set. Immediately plans were made for dips and margaritas, which was all fine in my book.

Hell, one of my house rules is that the storyteller's cup should never be empty. They've got that covered.

It should be noted that this means we haven't got merely a group of women roleplayers; we have a group of largely new roleplayers who happen to be women. I think that newcomer aspect is important. Definitely more important than their sex and gender.

Even so, the players themselves decided to have a "girl's day" playing D&D. And that itself is intriguing.

"Girl's Day"

Here's a point: though I've often played with men I've never encountered a group that has specifically wanted an all-male group. They've always been open to female members. There's been a couple of times where a game has become "boy's night" but that seems to be more consequence than artifice.

The fact that the group had specifically labelled this a "girl's day" means something to them, I guess. Very simply, it seems to mean that they want to value time with other women and do things that they themselves define as girly. It seems an excuse to indulge in certain girly behaviour.

The margaritas and choice of food are notably different to the classic beer and pizza of male groups, I guess. And I haven't had male groups talk about how cool it would be to have makeup in the style of their Dragonborn character's scales and how we should do that one session.

But apart from these artificial novelties, the game seems to run like any other group and I get the feeling that the "girl's day" trappings are going to lessen the more sessions we play. Already they are focusing primarily on the story and their place within it, and their choices and decisions are not dissimilar to any other group.

The Stereotype
I suppose I know what I'm meant to say. I'm meant to say that there's a definite difference between male and female players. I'm meant to say that boys like bashing monsters and competing whilst girls like talking with NPCs and working as a team. Guys are more interested in "what they can do" and chicks want to know "who they are".

That's not my experience. I've found that stereotype to be completely false. Both men and women are equally eager to roleplay or kill stuff. Though The Girls (for want of a better name) seem to love the roleplaying side of things, they're also more than willing to get blood on their hands in the most ruthless of ways (Hazel is a huge fan of the fact that she can spit acid in someone's face).

Maybe a part of this has to do with the way I run the game. I'm going for a comical Ankh-Morpork-esque tone more to do with social politics than dungeon delving and hours can go by without a single roll. The Girls seem to really enjoy that, but that's the same way I GM for my male players and they are equally responsive. It's uncommon for D&D games, but not unheard of. And I like to think my DM style contributes to the enjoyment of my players.

I think that my contribution is interesting and would be better expressed by one of the players. And I'd like to see what they think about the fact that I'm a male running the game for their all-female group.

What's the difference between male and female roleplayers?

Not much, really. Female gamers are less common, but they don't tend to act much differently.

If pressed, I would say that these are the only real differences:
1) They appreciate not being the token girl of the group
2) They seem to like Dragonborn more than guys
3) The catering is of a better standard

That's it.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I've had a very different experience with an all girl gaming group that I thought might be worth sharing. I played in a rather long Harry Potter campaign some 10 or so years ago that ran for a few years. The 5 players and GM were all girls. From what I remember the game started off fairly standard using a modified version of L5R third addition, but within a short while the dynamic of the game changed to be something unlike anything I have ever played before or since, and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that it was an all girl game.

    I think there was kind of a perfect storm of little things that contributed to the change, the fact that it was a Harry Potter game, the fact that we were all playing teenagers, the fact that we were all girls and the fact that one of the players was an actual teenager all probably contributed to it. I don't think it was intentional on anyone's part.

    Now that I'm trying to describe the dynamic itself I'm finding it really difficult. The game very distinctly morphed into the teen drama genre. Sure, a bunch of the time we were attending classes or fighting monsters or what have you, as you'd expect. As well as this however, our characters were developing emotionally. Very personal friendships were being forged, tested, broken and repaired all the time. Each of the characters were dealing with intense personal growth and exploring who they were and who they could become. Romance was a huge factor, as these characters were just discovering their own sexualities. There would be games when practically nothing happened, no dice were rolled but we spend hours and hours in "deep and meaningful conversations" and these were some of the best sessions in the game.

    Recently I've run an Avatar (the last airbender) and played in a superhero's game using the SmallVille role-playing system that specifically tries to encourage drama. Avatar in particular I tried to push the teen drama genre. While both games were/are great and they have some great role-playing and interesting interpersonal relationships between characters, they really don't even compare to that Harry Potter game.

    Given the unintentional nature of the twist in dynamic I really don't think that it would have happened if we'd had even one male at the table (including GM). It does, however make me wonder if you could foster this kind of game intentionally and, if so, how it would be influenced by mixed genders. Most importantly, I don't think it would be a game style for everyone. I'd guess that most of the people I know, of what ever gender, wouldn't want to play in this kind of game. Some would actually consider it a nightmare.

    If you were to find a group of people that were interested, I wonder how much you would need to do in order to develop this dynamic. I suspect it would require a fine balance of player willingness, player skill and player trust. Not everyone in our group was used to having long D&M conversations or sharing our inner most thoughts and feelings, but a few of us were and the others were willing to explore these things with their characters. There was a great deal of mutual trust and respect. I suspect this would be harder to foster in a mixed gender game, simply because of the current biases in how we are raised and what's expected of us.