Gender and Game Mechanics Series: Part 1 – Introduction

Originally published by Mo on Gaming As Women on August 5, 2013.

Disclaimer: This is the first part of what will likely be a series on Gender & RPG Game Mechanics. In this series I will refer to patterns of gendered socialization as documented in the field of sociology and cultural theory. When I refer to them as patterns, they are just that: behaviour that has been observed as trending by gender. This series bears no assertion that the behaviours themselves are exclusive to either (any) gender, or that any specific individual person will prefer or adhere to the patterns discussed. Also, I am North American English speaker, and the overwhelming majority of my study has been with North American English language research. As such, this series could probably inform discussion at an international level, but does not intend to speak for it. As ever, context is critical to analysis.

There is a wide body of research in sociology and sociolinguistics that examines how men and women interact, how we speak to each other, and how we differ in terms of preferences, goals, tactics, focus and priorities. As a feminist gamer who has an interest in game theory and design, I have long been interested in using ideas and information gathered from that body of work to explore the games we play, and to inform our theory, design and play practice.

If men and women, have significantly differing patterns of talking and if roleplaying is an activity based in conversation, what does that mean for our games? If the mechanics of the game serve to inform, direct, control or contain the conversation of the game, how do they influence the experience of the people playing it? Through this lens, are some games generally more accessible to women than others? More enjoyable? More equal?

Could a gender-minded design practice invite greater participation of women in gaming? Could it create a greater multiplicity of available experience and practice, and what would this do to our play? Could it serve as an agenda in specialized games that aim to create a cross-gender play experience or to fulfill a feminist design goal?

All of these things are ideas that I’ve been exploring and would like eventually to write about. Hopefully through this series, I can get closer to some of them. As a starting point, I’ve decided to pick a place where there’s lots of juicy fruit. It’s a place that I think might be critical to the intersection between gendered communication patterns and RPG mechanics: where gendered conflict resolution styles meet conflict resolution mechanics.

Next up: Part II: Care and Justice Mediation