Gender and Game Mechanics: Part 3 – How we fare in Care and Justice

Originally posted by Mo on Gaming as Women on August 28, 2013

Last time, I discussed care-oriented and justice-oriented mediation, and had a brief look at how the conflict resolution in traditional RPGs exhibited principles of justice oriented mediation. I ended by asking the questions:

What does engagement with justice oriented systems mean to a woman with care orientation? What does it mean to her relationship to the system, the game, the experience, the people she plays with and the hobby at large?

To understand this, the first thing we have to consider is what being care-oriented means – not in terms of gender, nor in terms of how we prefer to resolve conflicts – but in terms of what we need to do to communicate with those that don’t think the way we do. I think it’s helpful to think of this in terms of language as the two things work similarly. We learn them both in the same stage of development. Both are learned in an iterative process of observation and repetition that teaches us how to be in the world, forming a bridge between our identity and what our community tells us that should mean for us.

The longer we spend exercising our patterns, the better we are at working in them, and the more strongly we prefer them. At the same time, as we get older we obtain more exposure to new environments and learn what they expect from us. When we encounter communities that want different things from us than we have practiced and prefer, we learn (to varying degrees of success) to “code switch” or move between the language and orientation that we have practiced and try to “speak” the new community’s “language” in an effort to fit in. So even though we have learned default modes, we try hard to pick up other modes like second languages, and use them when we need to. However, as ESL speakers could tell you: even when we can become highly skilled in a new language, communicating outside your native tongue is never as easy, natural, comfortable, or as advantageous for you as communicating inside it – it’s fighting what you have learned as a default state.

This is not about capacity, it is about struggle. Any given care-oriented person may learn enough fluency and skill in justice mediation to perform as well as any given justice-oriented person, however they must struggle through and overcome cognitive friction to do so.

So if care-oriented folks can learn to work in justice-oriented systems, why do we care? Well, friction is an essential component here because we are talking about engagement with our hobby. We are not saving ourselves from legal strife, feeding our children, or making our lives out of the practice of RPGs. Rather RPGs are the place we come to play. To explore, create, dream, experience, relax and restore. Energy lost in overcoming friction translates to fulfillment and engagement loss to the participant in a place where fulfillment and engagement is the point. It’s like going for a leisure bike ride with your breaks half engaged.

Fluency gap isn’t just a matter of an individual’s struggle to perform in accordance with the activity, it’s also a matter of the quality of an individual’s interaction with other individuals engaging in the same activity.

Here we should go back and re-visit the definitions of the care and justice orientations from my last post where the value priorities of the two modes are revealed: relationship based communion, harmony and reciprocity (care) vs. individualistic autonomy, agency and fairness (justice).

These value systems as priorities are not just a product of the of each orientation, they are a causative factor of the orientation. Our community builds systems to fulfill goals, and goals are determined by what we value. We latch on to those systems that match values that sync with our identity. If I am a justice-oriented mediator, it is core to my interactional satisfaction that my rights as an individual have been met and respected. If I am a care-oriented mediator, it is essential to my interactional satisfaction that the harmony of our relationship has been attended to. These outcomes are often at odds with each other, and made more complicated in a RPG context where “my” means both me-as-player and me-as-character and me-as-storyteller and “our” means us-as player community, and we-in conflict, and us-as-characters-together.

Where a system favours one mode over another, the person who defaults differently than the one the system supports has their needs met less often. As a result, small beats of alienating interaction will accumulate over time. Strife between the system and the outlier will compound, and satisfaction will wane. Players will need things from the game, and from the community of play that others in the game are getting, but that are denied to us, and this may be acutely felt when the values of reciprocity and communion are core to the outlier.

We can not bring our best selves to, or take away the best experience from an environment that contradicts or denies our core values.

This kind of thing could net care-oriented players less satisfaction of experience, and lowered interest in play. It could mean less willingness to engage with the game-as-artifact, more alienation from systemic interaction and more desire to circumvent the mechanical system altogether. It could mean less engagement in the community, and more friction between her and her fellow players. It could mean less constructive ability to represent at the table because something’s in the way. This would all hold true for justice-oriented players playing in a system that had a strong care-orientation bias.

Where playgroups are composed of justice-oriented players playing games with a justice-oriented bias, none of this may matter at all. That game may fit that play and play-style like a glove. However designers who want their games to appeal to and be played by care-oriented players, communities that desire to be inclusive to women (and encourage their participation), and playgroups that have a mix of care and justice oriented individuals (be they men or women) might want to have a look at what and who their systems are supporting.

Next up: I want to move for a bit away from meta-analysis and towards some more practical and specific examples. I’ll try and highlight some games that that may aim to support care-oriented players, and have a look for games and/or system mechanics that seem to be exploring opportunities to satisfy the needs of both care and justice oriented players as a hybrid model. I’ll likely loot Nordic larps, Powered by the Apocalypse games (like Monsterhearts), and White Wolf games for examples and analysis.

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