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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Girls at the Table


Back in the day, the below article caused an immense scandal that got my previous articles removed from the Wizards website and led to me being called some very unflattering, but decidedly creative, names on various forums and blogs. I now understand it's a very touchy subject to many gamers on the other side of the ocean, but back then, I was ignorant of the fact that I just lit the fuse of a bomb I was sitting on.

Back then, writing this article was an innocent mistake. Today, however, it's conscious stupidity.

So why am I doing this. Well, mostly because a friend asked me to. However, I could easily say no. This friend lives far away and was unlikely to come all the way here and kick my ass. Why then?

You know what, let's expand this to a more general question. Why do I seem like a decent fellow most of the time, and yet from time to time make posts that get everyone riled up.

Around here, we joke about everything. There are no taboos. There are no sacred cows here, because we ate them all. For example, I have a friend who is a black Ukranian. I mean, the guy talks like a Ukranian, drinks like a Ukranian, fights like a Ukranian, but he's got black skin because his mom's family is originally from Sierra Leone. So one day, we were practicing for a LARP event and some dude passed by and asked if he could join us. The dude had fun and then he asked, “what do you get if you join the Community?” Someone pointed at my friend and said, "why, a complimentary slave!" Everyone had a jolly good laugh.

Israeli girls (at least the ones I know) tell jokes like, "it's not rape if you yell surprise!" or "what do you mean 'thank you?!' undress" all the time. They frown on vulnerable femininity and this is one of the ways they show it. Maybe. I don't know. I'm not a sociologist. Maybe military service does that to people, maybe we're callous because we're living in a bubble. I'm not sure. My point is that among friends, such jokes are perfectly fine. No one gets mad, nothing is triggered, no harm is done. We're all about shocking the bourgeois with our crassness. We’re badass. We make respectable people blush and frown. We real cool we. That’s how we roll in the shire.
Just like that....
So, not knowing any better, I used to write online just like I would talk while goofing around with my buddies. I never imagined anyone would take these things seriously. I mean, who, in his right mind, would even consider blaming a woman for being beaten, this is just absurd. No one would think we were really selling the best swordsman in our company. You can't own a person in this day and age, right? Clearly, it's a fine piece of black humor. Literally black humor.

Now I know. Now I pick my words more carefully. But online, the past doesn't fade into oblivion. It's always there, and you have to come to terms with it to move on. I did post this article and it's there. Might as well keep it in plain sight.

Many of my personal views differ form the overseas community's, if only because I'm a Soviet-born Israeli who grew in the shadow of Communist terror, never-ending wars and the evils of fanaticism, religious and otherwise. It really takes a lot to shock me or my fellow dice rollers. I know my work in the army led to people getting killed, several of my players actually killed people, or had friends killed in war or terror. But this is all in the game. Play or get played. You feeling me?

I am very opinionated, but I rarely voice my political views online these days. Social networking is for fun and gaming, and I want to leave it like that. I mostly just goof around, because in my “me” time, I really don't want to deal with all the crap of my world. And yeah, I can joke about it. Why not? Joking is coping, isn't it?

The ironic part is that at the time the shit hit the fan with the Wizards scandal two years ago, my flag group had three girls and one guy. I went to a demonstration against female segregation by the Haredim. I went to an Arab village to try to get folks there interested in gaming (funny story that...). I'm really quite liberal on most issues. I just suck at slacktivism and consider that entertainment and politics have nothing to do with each other. I talk and laugh about what's fun and do what's right.

So, back to the original question. Why am I posting this? Because fuck you, that's why!

(Did you expect anything else)

So, without further ado, my last disastrous expedition into Wizardstan...

Once upon a time...

Girls at the Table!

The first and most apparent difference between male and female players is what they enjoy in the game. From what I observed, boys or girls enjoy more or less the same things in D&D, but for different reasons; boys usually prefer “crunch” (often literally) while girls usually prefer “fluff” (also often literally.)

Boys

Male players seem to have two main motivations; winning and goofing around. These two are practically contradictory and often lead to friction and conflict.

D&D is Sport

Best Example: Oi! Stop talking about football, we have a dragon to kill! Buy provisions and LET’S DO IT!
Worst Example: Our mission is to kill the dragon? Okay, I kill the dragon. What do I get?

Those who live by this code feel that D&D, unlike what the rules say, has winners and losers; the one with the most XP a the winner. The one who successfully completed the most quests is a winner. The one who has the most money and the best items is a winner.
The one wastes times doing things that don’t grant XP or treasure is a loser.
An interesting side effect of viewing D&D as sport is how alignments are perceived; most players, upon meeting a new NPC, ask whether he’s good or evil. The more competitive players, on the other hand, ask whether the NPC is with them or against them – abstract concepts of good and evil are of little interest to a soldier on a mission. Who’s a foe and who’s an ally, however, is of top importance.
While turning D&D into a contest makes DMing easier and the general atmosphere at the table more serious and businesslike, it also makes DMing less interesting; instead of telling an interactive story with your group, you take on the role of a military commander who sends the PCs to missions which they either accomplish or die trying. Their odds of surprising you are very small, unless you actively put them in situations in which they have to make decisions based on morality and not gain. Even then, however, they are likely to simply ask you what would you prefer they did... sporty players are nothing if not helpful.

D&D is Playground

Best Example: I wonder who lives inside this city with walls of night and towers of unfulfilled dreams... let’s go there and find out!
Worst Example: Wow! A new sword? Awesome! I stab Ron in the head to see what it does.

Should you ever spot me fervently banging my head against the whiteboard, you’ll know someone just kicked the anthill that is my adventure too hard. This sort of players views D&D as a playground where they are the heroes and everyone else are ants or toys, to be played with or destroyed, according to the player’s disposition.
In the best case, such players use the game as a journey into their own subconscious, a therapy of sorts. This is fascinating to observe and makes for excellent sandbox games. Some of their actions might be irresponsible and throw the campaign into disarray, forcing you to improvise and make adjustments to your plans, but at least you know you’re building a good thing there. At worst, they use it to break stuff (and your spirit) to either compensate for powerlessness in real life or for sheer sadistic glee.

Good cop, bad cop?

Repercussions of Violence

What happens when you shoot everything that moves in real life or a CRPG? You die. No matter how tough you are, the cops, the National Guard, the USAF, The Justice League of America... someone will eventually stop your rampage. The problem with young players is that killing their characters can be traumatic and cause them to leave gaming for good. Nevertheless, you don’t want to encourage this sort of gaming, so here are a few tricks that can be used to counter it without resorting to PC-killing.
Imprisonment: the players attacked a night watch patrol and got TPK’d? No problem. They wake up bound and disarmed (erase all equipment from their character sheets). The enormity of their actions is made clear to them by an authoritative and stern judge. Although he could easily have them executed, the judge says, he nevertheless believes there is goodness in the PCs and sentences them to a long prison term instead. Some XP is lost because the PCs don’t get to practice in prison, contacts and patrons disavow them and the players walk away with a valuable lesson – you’re part of the world, not its center.
Conversely, you can give them a chance to break away and learn what it feels like to live on the lam; no more shopping in the market and no more quests from the King – you’re outlaws now and every visit to a town or a castle can be your last.
If the players messed with criminal elements instead of the authorities, you can have them shipped to a faraway slave camp from which they have to escape or die of overwork or starvation – this is more exciting for the players and more torturous for their characters.
Atonement: If you feel that prison is a little too harsh for your group, you can replace it with a fun adventure they have to complete to make up for their crimes. Feel free to use magic to compel the PCs to complete this quest... and then donate all recovered treasure to charity.
Manhunt: Having a powerful enemy is less fun than it sounds. A short while after the PCs kill an NPC for no good reason, they discover that he had some absurdly powerful friends, friends that the PCs have no chance of defeating. Soon they encounter those people and barely escape with their lives. Now the campaign has a new focus – somehow calling off the hit, possibly by making amends and changing their evil ways.
Common Sense: Ask the attacking player why he does what he does. If he says “because” or “I feel like it” tell him there is no such thing as “because” in your group.
You don’t allow players to play evil characters and so every act of violence must be explained in-play. If they fail to provide an adequate explanation, don’t allow the action. After all, you don’t stab the teachers in the hallway for fun, why would your Lawful Good Paladin do it? Feel free to confront them with the harsh realities of violence.
Yes, you will be seen patronizing, preachy and a right proper killjoy, but maybe, if you roll your Diplomacy high enough, you’ll get your message across.

In any case, it’s a good idea to take the time to instruct players about what role playing is and how it’s different from FPS in advance; we’re telling a story, not pointlessly roll dice.

Israel is, of course, full of Jewish mothers...

Girls

Girls mostly play to express themselves in artistic ways and to see others doing it. They are not nearly as confrontational as boys and give their positions much more easily. Those who are confrontational tend to be extreme individualists always voicing a dissenting opinion. More often than not, they are a voice of reason in a cacophony of silliness.

D&D is Drama

Best Example: I’m so sorry we weren’t here to protect your home, honored treant, join us and we’ll be your new family.
Worst Example: Wait! You didn’t let me finish describing how my character is dressed this morning.

A nine year old girl who came to see what D&D is all about asked me if her character can be a vegetarian, to which I replied “of course” and rewarded her 200 XP because she was the only one who bothered with non-combat aspects of her character. As I reviewed the character sheets that evening, I noticed she wrote in the character class “vegetarian ranger.” Practically every decision she made during this campaign was affected by her character’s vegetarianism and love of nature. This included not only her selection of friends and enemies, but also character appearance, choice of items and making a point of petting an animal or planting a tree at least once per session.
Dramatic players care about how their characters look like and how they are perceived by seemingly inconsequential NPCs. In a way, they are much more immersed in the game than the sportsmen, who view it as, well... a game, or the hooligans, who view it as GTA: Nentir Vale.
Crunch is of secondary importance to them; if you want to capture a dramatic player’s heart, it’s much more important to act the witch as stooped and cackling, to describe the dragon’s magnificence with epic prose and grandiose tones. A dramatic player cares less about the powers and bonuses granted by the treasure and more about its luster and beauty.
The negative aspect of the dramatic player is her exaggerated attention to detail which sometimes borders on narcissism and is likely to bore other players, who view a five-minute long description of how the group’s wizard is dressed or an equally long chat with a random eladrin traveler as a waste of time. Worse, if you go along with it, some players will feel the dramatic player is enjoying a special treatment as she’s getting much more air time than anyone else. This sort of narcissism is more often seen in male players than female players, which is not surprising, given that the original Narcissus was a guy.

D&D is Spectacle

Best Example: Could you please describe how the eladrin priestess looks like again? I want my drawing to be accurate.
Worst Example: ...

Another thing which girls sometimes do and which some boys find annoying is taking the role of the observer. Boys also sometimes behave like this, but it’s mostly because they are busy making detailed travel journals or comics of the game, not because they don’t feel like acting. A girl, on the other hand, would often sit back during the game and just observe the occurrences without taking any actions except during combat or when directly addressed by an NPC. She’s not being distracted; she’s perfectly focused on the game, probably more than this very active fellow who just cast flames of phlegethos on the troll who was killed five rounds ago because he didn’t hear you saying the troll is toast. She doesn’t feel the need to intervene in the story just yet.
My advice is: don’t force observers to act. There’s nothing wrong with observing; being quiet is certainly better than talking all the time. Trust me – when the time comes, she will act, sometimes surprising everyone with the decisiveness and cleverness of that one action.
Some time ago, a girl whose actions could be summed as “I follow the group” for half a session just happened to be the one to discover that the gigantic garbage pile the group was climbing could be used to empower the robotic PCs, a discovery that saved the day. She only did one thing in the entire session, but this one thing happened to be the most important thing in the whole game.

Heading towards war...

Bows and Fairies

We talked about why boys and girls play; now let’s talk a little about what they play.
My personal experience shows that girls are not less violent than boys; they are less wantonly violent. They don’t mind using force to achieve their goals or defend their honor, but they don’t like taking reckless risks solely for the sake of awesome.
I recollect a session in which a group came upon an infernal anaconda. A minotaur PC threw down his great axe, stripped to his breeches and declared that he’s going to wrestle with the anaconda one-on-one and strangle it to death with his bare hands. Why? Because this it totally badass!
This is not something I imagine a female player is likely to do. In fact, nearly all females playing for the first time, both young and old, created characters that specialized in ranged attacks, most often rangers and druids. Those who didn’t start the game as ranged strikers did so because of peer pressure from boys who really needed a leader in the group. Now, did you notice how leaders in D&D never really lead, but only serve the group? A girl forced to play a so-called “leader” is much less likely to stay in the game than a girl given a character with which she can express herself and act as an individual and not part of a well oiled monster-killing, XP-making warmachine.
Therefore, if you’re running an introductory game and want to appeal to girls, make sure to have a suitable character handy.
Girls seem to like fey and sylvan races and prefer their characters tall and slander. They like nature-based, ranged and quick classes and value Dexterity more than Strength or Constitution.
Taking all this into account, I think the character statistically most likely to be attractive to girls is an eladrin or elf ranger or seeker. The character least likely to appeal to girls would be a four-hundred-pound mentally-retarded half-orc warlord armed with a dinosaur femur and no back story whatsoever. (Side note: this is awesome, gotta play one like this next week!)
If you have a group with one girl and half a dozen boys, as if often the case, expect a fair (or not very fair...) amount of badgering and attempts to coerce the young lady into playing male style – either a team player who never asks questions or a jolly psychopath who goes around wrecking the campaign world. Some intervention is advised, at least at first. While I usually support absolute impartiality in DMs and consider railroading a crime worse than ethnic genocide or misspelling the word rogue, in this case, if you don’t intervene you’ll lose an almost certainly good player. I say, “almost certainly good,” because girls who bother coming to introductory sessions are usually independent thinkers and keen enthusiasts of the genre and often grow into very imaginative and dedicated players. Besides, we have a stereotype to kill, right?
Last but not least is a minor difference that should nevertheless be taken into account; contrary to the prevalent stereotype, girls are much less concerned with shopping for shopping’s sake than boys. An all-male group will never leave the marketplace of their own accord. They will spend the whole session buying trash they don’t need, animals that won’t help and stealing shiny nonsense that could easily get them hanged. Girls, in my experience, don’t do that. They only buy items that they actually need or that are necessary to advance in their quest. For example, a girl with a masterwork sword will buy an enchanted sword. She won’t buy seven other mundane melee weapons, a trained but sarcastic parrot and a souvenir glass bubble with miniature Waterdeep inside.
Of course, all of the above is a generalization. Last year, I had a girl who played a dragonborn barbarian and slew everything that stood in her path. However, she did have an elf ranger best friend, so there’s that. I guess my point is that anecdotal evidence can only go so far. Don’t assume that just because most girls prefer something, your players would do the same.

Debriefing

3 comments:

  1. This is a brilliant piece, both via rpg's and the general study of group decision making.

    Per my lovely wife, to whom I read excerpts of this article, the backlash to these articles is due to the agenda of feminism that attempted to downplay the differences between the sexes rather than accept them as being complimentary to one another.

    That and the that whole polical correctness thing... anyway, no criticism here. Keep observing and commenting.

    (Daughter plays hard-charging barbarian, wife plays elf thief who takes stuff.)

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    1. Thank you for your kind words :)

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    2. No worries, man.

      I read the article and kept waiting for the inflammatory part, or the controversial part, or the knuckledragging mouthbreather part. But couldn't find them. Your article rubbed people the wrong way because some people have been conditioned to suppress the appreciation of difference. (I don't know the whole story, but knowing trolls and forums, can make some inferences...)

      Honestly, what you wrote has been discussed ad nauseum through plenty of social studies, teamwork studies, education studies, etc. Boys and girls role-play differently in play. Take a boy raised by hippie parents who gave him 'gender-neutral' toys and kept him off violence, give him a stick, and he'll turn it into a sword or gun. Likewise I recently read an anecdote of a dad who played with a firetruck for his daughter - she took it and wrapped it in a blanket, saying that it must be tired from all that running around...

      Similarly, take out 'boys and girls' and substitute 'extroverts and introverts' - also a current pop-psych trend. They take different approaches to interpreting stimuli or information and problem-solve differently. Excellent - people are not meant to be cookie-cutter souls. We complement one another. A team needs leaders, collaborators, observers, etc.

      Your PC party? They are a team - often dysfunctional, squabbling, unfocused, but once motivated, they take on a problem and seek that goal. Just like in 'real life.'


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