For years, roleplaying games were a haven for young and middle aged males. Not a girl in sight. In recent years, this has changed. And I like it. Here’s why I prefer diversity at the table.
Here in Iceland we have a law that forces most companies to have as much gender equality within their boards as possible. This might come as a surprise to some people, why should gender matter when you are running a company? But, studies have shown that women are different managers than men (see here), and why shouldn’t they be? After all, they are not men.
One of the fundamental problem we face as human beings, is our tendency to try and put everything we see, hear and experience into the perspective of our own mindset or our own personal experience.
This self-centered way of thinking is very evident in children, they experience everything in the world in relation to themselves. They believe that everything that happens has something to do with them, i.e. therefore many young children feel somewhat responsible if their parents are divorcing, without really knowing why.
As we grow up, we learn to think in a more abstract manner, to see ourselves in other people’s shoes, and to relate to their problems. Still, we often tend to judge other people, groups and cultures based on our own preconceptions and ideologies, i.e. many of us at times fall back to an ethnocentric mindset, despite our capability to do otherwise.
Mono-gender groups vs. multi-gender groups
Many gamers prefer to play roleplaying games with people of the same gender as themselves. I played for years only with men, people of similar income, social status, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. And I had fun, that kind of gaming was my escape at the time. Many men go to the pub or watch football, I played roleplaying games.
Now, for more than a decade, I’ve also played with multi-gender and more diverse groups. To me, that is just as much fun and just as much an escape for me, as playing with gamers that are more like me.
There’s a stark difference, however, in how these groups approach problems presented by the game master. And that difference has shown me, truly, the need for these laws in Iceland.
Diversity -> more roleplaying and less rollplaying?
In many less diverse groups I’ve gamed with, often a single alpha male takes the lead and assumes that the other people at the table follow him and do as he says. Sometimes, this can be good, since it urges the narrative forward without the other players having to do much other than having fun.
However, at times this can be horrendous, because, as with many alpha males, they tend to be quite convinced that their solutions are the best ones. Always and forever.
In my experience (and mind you, this is not a scientific research you are reading), the more diverse a group is, the more interaction and discussion the group has. Of course, alpha males (and alpha females) can be just as much of a problem, but for some reason, at least in the groups I’ve played with, the alphas tend to be more relaxed when the diversity is greater.
As great as men are, as great as women are, as great as gender-fluid people are, when we come together, share and relate our experiences, great things happen.
Our approach to problem solving, like the problems the game master presents through the narrative, are different. There’s not only the difference from one person to another, but also the difference from one gender to another, because we experience the world in a very different manner.
Many women and gender-fluid persons are afraid to walk alone after nightfall, while we men don’t feel as afraid. Experiences like these put their mark on us, just as much as it shapes the way we play roleplaying games.
Diversity at the table
I’ve never played roleplaying games with a group that consist solely of women or just gender-fluid people. But I would love to.
Roleplaying games are still dominated by men, but things are changing and they are changing fast. And I have to admit, much as I like to have a game night with the “boys” (who are more like balding middle-aged men with families now), I like even more to game with groups where there’s more diversity at the table.
I firmly believe that due to many publishers’ focus on diversity, roleplaying games are experiencing a surge in popularity, in number of great roleplaying games being published and creativity. Because women and gender-fluid people took an interest, our hobby is changing.
As James Breakwell put it: “Girls, man. They’ll take over the world.”