Hein (fub) wrote,
Hein
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Girls and RPGs: reprise

In response to my earlier post on the subject of girls and RPGs, millenia linked me to a very interesting article on sex difference in video game play in young adults.

The authors treat video games as a means of 'mediated communication', much like television or a newspaper. They analyse what people 'get out of it', and qualify that within three categories: inclusion (being part of a group), affection (closeness in a relationship) and control (having power over your own actions and those of others).
A table-top RPG is a prime example of mediated communication: the GM is the mediator through which the players can communicate with the fantasy world and the characters therein. There are some big differences between playing video games and a RPG, but I do think that the ideas behind the study are directly applicable to theorising about RPGs.

One of the points the authors make is the need for inclusion and gender roles. arnoudens already remarked that playing RPGs is considered a (nerdy) boys' passtime and that most girls would rather be grilled over an open fire than partake of such an activity. This is also the same with video games (allthough perhaps to a lesser extent), and the authors find that young women play less videogames (both in absolute numbers and in duration) than young men -- which supports that idea.

Then there is the social gratification that players derive from playing video games with their peers. Because peers impose sactions against cross-gender behaviour, young women are less likely to play video games with their friends -- and the data supports that.
In contrast to video games, RPGs are by their very nature social activities. If no-one of your friends plays RPGs, you have very little chance of having a satisfactory RPG experience -- and because it is seen as a 'male activity', few girls engage in it.

The authors make a big point about the fact that females are less adept at mental rotation tasks than males, and that that has an influence on the types of games they enjoy. I can see that (and they find evidence for that in their data), but the authors seem to think that RPG videogames also require mental rotation:
games in the physical enactment and imagination factors (e.g., fighter, shooter, fantasy/role playing, action/adventure) that often require mental rotation to play effectively. (page 17)
I'm not so sure what the authors mean with 'mental rotation', but the average console RPG doesn't seem to require lots of quick navigation through a 3D space...
But that makes me wonder: is imagination a typical male thing? I would think not.

Most video game players play the game to satisfy their need for control: they want to 'beat' the game. This is true for both male and female players (though males are more motivated to beat human opponents than females). I think that same need could be satisfied by RPGs as well: the players have full control over their characters and, because the mediator for the game world is an intelligent human being, the options of the characters are virtually limitless -- the ultimate sense of control. This should appeal to both genders.
The second gratification is social interaction for males (which are perfectly served by RPGs), and for females it is arousal (that is: excitement over the things that happen on-screen). This is new to me: apparently a high-speed, action-packed scenario is more to the liking of females. On the other hand, I have heard stories about an all-female group that was the blood-thirstiest bunch of Hack'n'Slashers that the hapless GM had ever seen before. :)

The questions then become: how can we take RPGs out of the realm of nerdy boys so that RPGing becomes a socially acceptable passtime for girls?
I think we're not that far off: geeky passtimes have been become much more acceptable in the last few years -- for both boys and girls. It is cool to have read all of the Harry Potter books, for instance. It is cool to be able to use a computer. It is cool to know the names of all of the 150 Pokémon.
Perhaps a licensed RPG for a hot media property that is attractive to both boys and girls would work best. It is a shame that there will never be an official Harry Potter RPG (though there is the fan-effort Broomstix, a review of which can be found here). There was the Pokémon Adventure Game, but sadly that didn't go anywhere. The thing is, that in the latter case it took an interested parent (and/or other adult) to take an interest in the games kids play, and to get them to play an RPG. Sadly, I don't think many parents are willing or able to make that kind of time investment.

culculhen is right there: you do need a good (adult) GM who can address the needs and wants of all the players. Most people get into RPGs with a friend as the GM, which might not be an ideal way to create a balanced game. Once the kids are well on their way, the GM-stick might be passed on to one of the kids, but that might take quite a bit of time. The kids_rpg community gives advice on RPGing with kids, and it may be of interest to anyone wishing to introduce both boys and girls to RPGs.

But that is a bit defeatist: why couldn't there be an RPG that kids can just play by themselves? Perhaps a pre-packaged multi-branched scenario module might do the trick here. It would be something like a 'choose your own adventure'-book, with a human mediator as GM. The book would provide structure for the GM (because frankly, preparing scenarios is frightening -- and every GM's first time GM'ing is a disaster), while allowing the characters relative freedom of action because the GM could interpret the wishes of the players into action in the game system. It would take a hit in the 'control' gratification department, though...
As the players and the GM would gain more experience, the stories could gradually 'open up' and become full-fledged scenario modules: provide a setting and characters with motivations, and let the GM handle the rest.
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  • Friday Five

    What’s your favorite color this week? Judging by the colour of the T-shirts I wore, black. Same as any other week! 🙂 What job would be…

  • Friday Five & GenX

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