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Gender Bias in board games -- issue or not?

6 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/31/1969

ok so i typed all this out and let me say that this posting is a prelude to the real question of gender bias in my next post....

let me give some history so you know where i'm coming from...

i am a thirty year old male...
in 8th grade i went into a little game shop in the local mall and had no idea what the hell was going on... my attention was grabbed by these funky lead figures and my friend bought one for me for my birthday soon after (he was with me in the shop and noted my interest) it was a grenadier line troll... i had no paints nor brushes but i just loved the thing.... i went back to the shop and asked what was what... they told me... and i walked away with a basic set of paints and a couple of cheap brushes....

two years passed and i had in my room a king's ransom of all things to do with modelling, dioramas, mini-sculpting, resin-casting, etc etc etc...

and still to that point the only gaming experience i had was with the random games my parents had bought for my sister and me as little kids...

then as a frosh in HS i met and became friends with this guy.... i was handing out at his house and he had some unpainted minis on his shelf... i started talking about them..... he asked me what games i played....

I think my answer was akin to "..... wha...???"

he promptly schooled me in the amazing world of AD&D 2nd ed not to mention the vast library of board war games his brothers owned. i was hooked. we played every weekend for five years.....
after my intro to "gaming" i went back to this shop and bought a copy of Battletech....

i was in love.

it's important to note that at this same time i was playing a huge amount of Nintendo... games like Kid Icarus, Legend of Zelda, Mario bros and of course... METROID (which i was and still am obsessive about)

after high school this friend moved away but other gamer friends were around... we picked up the first edition of Magic : The Gathering and saw the subsequent destruction and re creation of the gaming community... we played and loved games like Supremacy.... saw and experienced the rise and semi-fall of things like vampire, rifts, any number of games workshop games... (by the way is it me or did they make great games in the 90s only to let them go "away" in favor of worse games that appealed to a wider, dumber audience?... i digress...) and of course Battletech was always a staple. through this period i developed a taste for a plethora of board wargames from the simple to the masochistically complex... most of which i had to play solo because no one could stand them for more than one turn if even that...

about six years ago most of my gamers moved away.... i played solo games but moved more towards video games as an outlet for gaming.

now i have a good balance of playing video games, playing solo hardcore board games, playing more realistic board games with other people and designing games just because i HAVE to...

Joined: 12/31/1969
Gender Bias in board games -- issue or not?

so from all of this as it applies to the subject query...

during my initial gaming experiences i only ever played with females in a few rpgs.... most of the board games i liked to play ... even those i would not set into the "hardcore" category simply did not appeal to them for soem reason. why? i have no idea... perhaps it was just them personally..perhaps it had nothing to do with gender at all.

in fact i thought this for a number of years.. i thought that the women i wanted to play these games with were not interested simply because they as individuals were not interested...

now... i'm not so sure.

again: why?

this questiong mostly arises from my experience with video games.

the majority of VGs are completely insensitive to half of their potential audience... ie: women.
insensitive through advertising (obvious targeting of pubescent males with depictions of scantily clad women), horrible stereotypes (bot chat proclaiming that a female character is "pmsing" when she kills people), blatant disregard for reality (physics of body types and ability to perform physical actions in various outfits), and again, horrible stereotyping (most women need "saving" or are sexy liasons for the male hero, if they are the main characters they are unrealistic sexpots with no thinking needed by them to play the game)

this is not to put the blame solely on VGs....

the VAST majority of RPGs have all of those faults and more associated with them when it comes to women... even in the most recent editions of games where they ascede to it by saying "she" and "her" in their text while on the opposing page showing the requisite chain mail bikini chick....

Joined: 12/31/1969
Gender Bias in board games -- issue or not?

so all of this has me thinking ......

how does this gender bias apply to current and future board games?

sure, you can say that a number of games do not display versions of stereotyping that i have talked about... but the fact remains that there are different thought processes between men and women. fundamentaly different ways of tackling various problems within given situations of given parameters.

are the "great" games of past and present immune to this potential bias?

are there great games that are great only to one or the other gender?

how concious should we be of the hazards of gender bias in game design?

is it a hazard at all?

thoughts, feelings, flames....

all welcome

Dralius's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008
Gender Bias in board games -- issue or not?

Here is my 2C's on the subject and remember i am not a sociologist, these are just casual observations. I know this probably answers none of your question, Sorry.

I have always wondered why so few women enjoy gaming as a hobby, among my gaming groups less than 10% of the members are female. Of those women who do play they attend meetings much less frequently than the male members.

Here is the problem caused by gender bias, crappy kids games. Growing up games like Risk and Stratego were obviously targeted towards young boys. The girls had games like Mall madness and Mystery date pushed on them. Is it any wonder that girls grow up thinking that board games aren't much fun and without developing the interest in games that require strategy and skill.

For example my wife dose enjoy the occasional game of Chase or Robo Rally yet she would much rather play a game like trivial pursuit, a game that requires knowledge but no strategy or tactics.

For you parents reading this next time you are tempted to buy that game in the pink box think twice, is it going to be fun and stimulating or am i buying this because of an advertising campaign that just happens to targeted at my daughters age group. Don't think games are just games. We play as children to learn skills that we take along with us for our entire life.

Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
Gender Bias in board games -- issue or not?

I count myself lucky in knowing quite a number of female gamers*, and in general that analysis is correct: the competitive atmosphere of a lot of games seems to be what puts them off.
(*none of whom ever went out with me either :()

The renaissance of board games in the past decade however has had a big impact on women in gaming, as a lot of these games deliberately destress the antagonistic, win-at-all-costs focus that is, almost of necessity, inherent in directly confrontational wargames (which is where most videogames evolved from) in favour of the social experience: Settlers of Catan was a great success with female gamers because of the trading component, and likewise Carcassonne works because it can be played on a purely social level (as opposed to the cut-throat way, which it can also be played at.) Once women get introduced to these type of games, if they have any gaming "genes" they will embrace the genre wholeheartedly.

In role-playing, the one genre that broke the gender bias mould was with White Wolf's World of Darkness, in which the stress was on the storytelling, not the killing. My prior experiences bore that out; I had two regular fantasy RPG groups that I would GM for in the mid-80s (that's pre-White Wolf.) One of them was fifty-fifty male/female (with about eight regular players), and one of them was wholly male. In the split group I ran political intrigue, detection, subtle games - in the other it was dungeon bashes all the way.
Now I know I enjoyed both games, and a couple of the players were in both groups. But the women just didn't appreciate the dungeon bashes nearly as much, because the potential for social interaction was, um, somewhat limited shall we say? :)

I don't think that designers generally conciously think "will this appeal to women?" when they are putting a game together. But it seems pretty clear that anyone who tries to design specifically for women is riding for a fall - even designing for a family is fraught with difficulties.

So my broad generalisation is this. Any game in which the winning strategy involves directly destroying your opponents is less likely to appeal to a female audience. Games in which actions can have positive outcomes (even if the repercussions are negative) are much more likely to be well received.
(Having said that, of course, I know some female gamers whose only goal in life is to crush you into the ground, but there you go... :))

Torrent's picture
Joined: 08/03/2008
Gender Bias in board games -- issue or not?

Atleast here at school, my gaming group is 70% female. I even went up to Essen with one of my female friends here. I think she enjoyed it as much or more than I did. She certainly bought as much as I did. All of them the german designer/eurogames we all talk about here on BGDF.

There was a discussion on the SAZ YahooGroup about designing for or against one gender that was interesting. Not to mention, look at all the GeekLists on BGG about wanting to find games that one or the other of a couple likes as well.

The discussion on SAZ Group sort of boiled down to some elements and mechanical themes appeal to one gender or another more, but very little actually dictates what individuals will like. At least that I what I got out of it, go read for yourself as well.


Gender Bias in board games -- issue or not?

There was a discussion on the SAZ YahooGroup about designing for or against one gender that was interesting.

Yes, that was discussed on the SAZ Group and I followed it too. Here is the link:

On a personal note, I am a woman and it has been difficult for me to get female friends to understand the fact that I love designing board games and why is it, I think the fact that I am a graphic designer and am always designing something is the thing that lets me get away with it without them thinking that I am crazy or something.

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