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Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005, 02:43 pm
Research Thoughts

Something that's occurred to me:

I've always been interested in games and gender. (In fact, my original impetus for getting into game design was wondering how to get more women and girls to be playful with technology!) I've been loosely following the research on this topic, and it seems to fall into two distinct camps. The more superficial approach talks about boobs, guns and male/female character ratios - not unimportant issues, but not ones that get at the heart of the differences between male and female play. A more thoughtful approach talks about women's lives and how games fit into them. For example, women tend to have less free time than men do (don't get me started on gender differences in work hours and housework!), which is part of why women don't play as many large-scale games. I'm wondering, though, whether there's a third approach - one that looks at how women feel about play, and about whether they are socialized to play and culturally permitted to play. Does anyone know about research on gender differences in beliefs and attitudes about play? I think it would be useful to look at media portrayals of women and men playing, as well as observations and interviews of women and men at different points in their lives, but before I get too into this, I'd like to read about what's out there.

FYI, folks, I think that within the next month or so I will be starting a research blog for relevant links, random thoughts like these, and reports on progress. I'll post when it's up, and maybe I'll see some of y'all over there? I'll continue to post personal stuff on here, of course - I don't think I can live without my friends-locking. :)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:02 pm (UTC)

(don't get me started on gender differences in work hours and housework!)

I will.

I can't tell you how many women I know who don't know how to cook and don't clean much. And this goes way past being an American phenomena. I've run into this with Europeans, Chinese, and Vietnamese women with the same way of life. The men end up doing the majority cooking and not an insubstantial amount of the cleaning.

And it goes past the married/partner types. If I go to the domicile of the male (and usually straight) bachelors I know, all their places are clean and nice. For women, the opposite is true, their places are a rampaging mess.

I've found this a near constant in work and with friends in the 20 odd years I've lived away from a parent.

I think everything else you are thinking about is good.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:17 pm (UTC)

There may be women out there that don't cook and clean, but they are not the majority by a long shot. Women, on average, in the United States, spend more of their free time tending to household chores even after entering the workforce. While husbands do 71% of the household repairs, women do 75% of the cooking and 70% of the household cleaning, even when they have an active career. You need to consider the pool you're pulling from before making generalizations.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:18 pm (UTC)

But my pool is arguably the gaming pool of women. At least in this area.

Look at all the other women gamers you personally know and my assumption rings true.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC)

Your sample, a convenience one, is skewed at best, highly faulty at worst. I'm a gamer woman that definately is not someone who fits your stereotype of the lazy indifferent wife who doesn't cook. You've eaten my food, so you can at least attest that I cook.

And above, you weren't generalizing to women gamers, but to women in general. So be careful about your wording.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:43 pm (UTC)

You are right, I'm generalizing to women in general, not to women gamers. And my sample may be skewed, but it certainly isn't flawed.

I am talking about my experiences over the past 20 years. Women's Liberation, in my experience, has seen to the Liberation of Women from the majority of their household chores.

Katie, in my experience, your cooking ability makes you an exception to the norm that I have encountered.

Maybe I know too many metrosexual-wannabes?

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:53 pm (UTC)

Your experience over the past 20 years is -highly- flawed. It is one of the most flawed ways to gather information about a demographic, and one that costs people in general no little grief as a society. It's the same method that leads people to assume things about other races, socio-economic levels, or groups of people in general. These assumptions are not only way off base, but damaging.

The problem probably lies in the way you meet people. Like gloms to like. You might be attracted by properties in men that correlate with cleanliness. Likewise, when it comes to women, you may be attracted to a different set of characteristics that correlate with messiness.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:06 pm (UTC)

There you go, trying to bring science into it.

My experiences are not flawed. How does one have a flawed experience? How does one measure the quality of an experience from an objective viewpoint? It is like saying that green is 4.

That said, my observations are admittedly skewed because of my limited subject base and haphazard method of tracking research subjects. This method is, as you said, capable of causing grief in society.

Of course I doubt, besides kleenestar's desire to do one, that any real, meaningful study on women in my kind of circle has been done.

Personally, I think that women don't gravitate as much towards gaming because of some curiously fun issues. I can toss in my own skewed observations, but then it would be filtered through my own male-dominated viewpoint.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:13 pm (UTC)

Actually, your experience -is- flawed when you try to draw conclusions from it that you generalize to the population.

And, actually, since you asked for it...

Norris, Kamala O. Gender Stereotypes, Aggression, and Computer Games: An Online Survey of Women. [References]. [Peer Reviewed Journal] CyberPsychology & Behavior. Vol 7(6) Dec 2004, 714-727. Mary Ann Liebert Publishers, US

Anderson, Craig A; Murphy, Christine R. Violent Video Games and Aggressive Behavior in Young Women. [References]. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Aggressive Behavior. Vol 29(5) 2003, 423-429. John Wiley & Sons, US

Bartholow, Bruce D; Anderson, Craig A. Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior: Potential sex differences. [References]. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Vol 38(3) May 2002, 283-290. Elsevier Science, Netherlands

Canada, Katherine; Brusca, Frank. The technological gender gap: Evidence and recommendations for educators and computer-based instruction designers. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Educational Technology Research & Development. Vol 39(2) 1991, 43-51. Assn for Educational Communications & Technology, US

There are other studies that, while not focusing on women, made certain to have a subset of women in their group. Though the interest is just beginning, it's a field that's growing as the industry does.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:36 pm (UTC)

I'd be very curious to hear what issues you think are relevant. Even if I heartily disagree with you, it'll likely provoke good discussion and hopefully some good research. :)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:47 pm (UTC)

Let me see:

1. Women want to be effective or ineffective. They don't want the middle ground. In my experience, women in roleplaying don't want to have a chance of success or failure, they want to be able to determine things themselves without the interference of dice. They want absolutes.

2. Women want characters who are effective at their specialties. The fastest way to kill a woman's interest in a game is to make her character ineffective in her specialty. In essence, women want the ultimate munchkin character. Which is why smart female gamers stay the heck away from generalists.

3. Women want to be more sexual than the men around them and love to embarress the men, often bordering on near perversion. But they invariably get upset and flee if the tables are turned by a male with tendencies towards perversion. In many ways, I think that women want control over the sexual nature of the gaming environment.

As I think of them, I'll post more. But I can tell you that understanding these issues has been how I have maintained my popularity with women in gaming. I just tend not to voice these things.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC)

Huh. That's *really* interesting, because none of those issues have showed up (well, not as particularly linked to gender) in my own games. The two players who can be counted on to create the hyper-specialist characters are both male; everyone in the group is pretty pro-dice; and no one (male or female) tends to be embarassingly sexual, as we've instituted a "fade to black" rule so that no one ever gets uncomfortable. (And we've had it invoked for violence and emotional trauma as well as for sex, btw.) I wonder whether one of our groups is atypical, or whether it's an influence of specific individuals within the group, or what.

It's useful to hear your perspective, though, because none of these things would have occurred to me as particularly linked to gender (especially the second one). Even if the answer is, "No, these things aren't gender-linked," it's useful to ask the question.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 09:15 pm (UTC)

In my experience women want to roll dice, but at the same time they want the dice to roll the way they want. And they feel this way with a vengeance.

Also, to explain more fully, women don't focus so much on hyper-specialist characters as they do on characters who does a group of things well.

I too have seen women in games go for the fade-to-black deal. However, they are the ones who push the limits of proper behavior so long as they are the only ones who push it.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 09:23 pm (UTC)

See, the whole "I'll push things as long as I'm the only one doing it" sounds just plain immature to me - though I'll add that as a woman GM, I've had far more problems with male players pushing beyond the boundaries of what I was willing to tolerate (usually as a means of hitting on me) but being unwilling to tolerate it coming from players in whom they were not interested in real life. That might be why I associate this behavior with immaturity. :)

Even with your clarification on specialist, by the way, it is still pretty definitively two male players. It's kind of interesting that I often see the need to be really good at something with female characters, whether or not it's a woman playing them - though this seems to be most common in settings where you really need a good excuse to be playing a woman in most roles, and is perhaps not a surprise in those situations.

As far as the dice thing goes, I really haven't noticed any difference between male and female players. I suspect this is just a group-to-group thing. Unless I'm still not understanding you and you can give me an example? Most of my female players look at failures with the dice as ways to get awesome plot, but that may just be because I've got them trained. :)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 09:54 pm (UTC)

I'm wondering if boffo9 is talking about the same people. I see in our group both male and female players who prefer dishing out risque talk to eating it.

Now that you mention it, there are various varieties of maturity deficits to be found in our group...

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 10:01 pm (UTC)

I'd have to agree with
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I'd have to agree with <ljuser="theczech">. Danny is talking about a specific subset that he games with.

Now, as for me, the characters I run under him do tend to be very specific, but this is usually at his encouragement. Since these enhancements tend to give me great plot, I go for them. Under other GMs, I tend to play a backlines character, one who is neither vital in a fight, nor even usually very important in the plot. Flavor, if you will.

On the other hand, I've stopped showing my character sheets to men outside of my gaming circle, since they usually declare I'm building my character 'wrong', and the proceed to try to fix him/her. In my guild, I have another rogue prodding me about how I should gear one one, and my guildies who insist on another, when in fact, I am perfectly happy playing a combat specced rogue, which is a less than ideal build.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 10:26 pm (UTC)

In my experience, women in roleplaying don't want to have a chance of success or failure, they want to be able to determine things themselves without the interference of dice. They want absolutes.

I find your connection between the first sentence and the second an odd one. To me, dice are more absolute; there's a randomizing element, but the determination of success or failure is usually clear-cut. Determining things by other means is often not clearly defined, and so to me is actually less "absolute."

This also opens up a fascinating can of worms about the role of randomization in gaming -- is it truly a necessary element? Is it a game if there's no element of chance? But that's quite a side point.

Tue, Jul. 26th, 2005 04:25 am (UTC)

I think what he means is more that they want to be able to *decide* whether they succeed or fail . . . though again, in my group it's two male players who are the most vocal about needing to know in advance about how they are going to succeed or fail, so I'm not sure whether this is a gender thing.

Also: chess is a game. Chess has no randomization. Hence, I believe that randomization is not necessary for a game. :) I don't mean to be facile, but you did say "game," and I use a fairly broad definition - Callois might differ, at least for some of his categories, but that's a different story! Getting to what I think you mean, I don't think you need randomization to RP, either - point-spend systems like Marvel and Nobilis seem to work fairly well for storytelling, and I imagine that could be extended to LARPs. Though I suppose there is always the element of interactivity and surprise, but you'll get that no matter what when there are multiple people involved . . . .

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:00 pm (UTC)

Actually, I would argue that it's not surprising at all that your experience with female gamers is skewed from the average woman's experience. Women who play games by definition have time to spend on games - and that time has to come from somewhere. But I could point you to any number of books and studies that show that the experience of the women you know is not typical, as gooberfishbowl has already pointed out.

It would be really, really, really interesting to see whether a woman's tendency to play games correlates positively with how egalitarian and equitable her primary relationship is . . . . Anyone want to put together a study? :)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:25 pm (UTC)

The data gathering sounds brutal on that study. How do you measure egalitarianism? ;>

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:35 pm (UTC)

Well, there's actually a fair amount of sociological research that has found some pretty good markers for egalitarianism in a relationship. Unfortunately it tends to rely more on observations than on self-reports, as self-reports are hugely flawed. (Men tend to think they're doing half of the household work when they do less than a third, for example; this is part of why I don't blame men, but blame the way they're socialized to perceive their contributions. I believe that many men are actually trying pretty hard to be fair, even if they're not succeeding.) I'm not sure what self-reported measures we could use, but if we were going to go in and do observations I would be able to find out what to look for. The problem is that I don't think I have time to do that many observations. -g-

I wonder whether there's an accepted measurement metric for things like this . . . .

*rummages in giant piles of paper*

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 09:49 pm (UTC)

Self-reports on just about everything tend to be flawed.

You hit on one of my thoughts which was that a survey would not be enough. That's a potential for a lot of time spent per data point.

But then observationally, it is also to some degree a matter of intepretation. When is something inequality and when it is just differing personalities or choices? My parents lived under a old-fashioned single-income structure (before my dad retired), but they are both type B personalities and always seemed to me to have equal say. Is that unequal? Some would say inherently so, but I'm not so sure.

Tue, Jul. 26th, 2005 04:20 am (UTC)

See, I wouldn't say it's a single-income vs. dual-income issue (though I believe there's research which indicates it's easier for dual-income couples to be seriously equal). I believe the current consensus is that one looks at big-picture things, like how major decisions get made and who has control over the money, and little things, like who silences whom. I agree it's definitely a matter of interpretation to some extent, but you can definitely also point to certain things which indicate power struggles in the relationship. I don't know your parents, so I have no idea which category they fall into, though!

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:31 pm (UTC)

But my pool is arguably the gaming pool of women. At least in this area.

Now you know better than that. We're one social circle in a large metropolitan area. It's a drop in even the small bucket of female gamer.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:05 pm (UTC)

Using your aquaintences as a sample is likely to be biased for a number of reasons. They will be a thin demographic slice classwise and probably in other more subtle ways. Still is it no less valid than anyone else's observation.

Certainly, the modern household dynamic is much more complicated than hard working females and lazy male parters. Years ago, back when I was still watching news magazine shows on TV, I remember seeing a segment where they followed professional couples where the woman complained that she did all the work keeping the house and raising the kids. The reporters (if people on news magazine shows can be called such) clearly wanted the message to be "wonderful strong hardworking women put upon by lazy bad unhelpful men", and they pushed hard for that message, but if you were paying attention on your own, you saw that every one of the featured women were actively sabotaging the efforts made by their husbands.

Their preferred methods were criticism of everything the man did and generally treating their mate with no respect whatsoever...an example the children were clearly picking up on by the way. The men learned their lesson: their input was unwelcome, so they withdrew. These women, who had set up the dynamic in the first place, bitched and moaned about it endlessly. They wanted 50% of the work but 100% of the power and were more than happy to claim victimhood because they didn't get it. The segment did everything possible to portray them as heroic martyrs. It was a sexist piece of garbage.

It was also one of my most substantial lessons in being critical of what people portray as solid fact, because, you see, I went in buying the premise they were trying to sell, but they sold it so badly that they actually caused me to consider a different point of view.

In general, I think a common dynamic when it comes to housework is whoever cares more ends up with most of the work. Someone who doesn't mind things being a little messy is not motivated while the person bothered by it cleans up. If the relationship has any defensiveness, then positions harden all the more. The stereotype is, of course, that men can stomach greater messes than women can. The reality is, again, more complicated.

Oh, and I am a straight bachelor whose house yoyos incessantly between clean and messy.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:31 pm (UTC)

I certainly don't mean to valorize women and demonize men. Yes, the power in these situations is usually with the male partner (at least in relationships that have not yet achieved egalitarianism), but that doesn't mean the women don't react in some very unhealthy ways to the power imbalance. I actually just read an extremely interesting book (Love Between Equals) about the effects of both partners in these imbalanced power struggles. She describes how the situation you describe (hyper-critical women who force their partners out of their little kingdoms) comes from the ways BOTH partners respond to the imbalance of power in the relationship. I don't blame men for this; I'm sure that in many individual situations there is a villain (of some gender!), but I also believe that it's hard to generalize, especially when society at large promotes and condones relationships that are "separate but equal," economically imbalanced for women, and full of power agendas.

It's a little facile, though, to say that the partner who cares more about housework does it. That's only the case if the partners have equal power to do and not to do the housework, so that housework becomes a matter of choice. More often it's the partner who can least avoid it, or the partner whose time is considered less valuable in the relationship. Choice only becomes free choice when both parties have equal power within the relationship.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 10:18 pm (UTC)

I'm certainly not equating your views with those presented by a crappy news magazine show. The last thing I need is another entry on my reading list...

Egalitarianism seems to my observation to be extremely rare, and unequal power is rarely unequal all in one direction...though there are certainly cases where one is dominated almost completely by the other. Another question is whether or not egalitariansism is necessary in a healthy relationship. I know it is a must for me, but dare I paint everyone with that brush? Can people be satisfied without equal power? More importantly, are some people inherently dissatisfied with it? If so, are they unhealthy or just different? Is it wrong or weak to want someone else "in charge"?

Tue, Jul. 26th, 2005 04:17 am (UTC)

Hmm. I think that equality (which is not exactly the same as egalitarianism) is necessary for a relationship of equals and peers. If you're not looking for a peer in a relationship - and a lot of men and women aren't - then there's no reason why an imbalance of power should necessarily affect your relationship for the worse. Unfortunately, I think that most people aren't actually okay with the kind of relationship that inequalities in power tend, over time, to impose. Wanting someone else in charge is one thing. Being okay with them making decisions that take away your authority and autonomy is another - and it's hard for the first not to lead to the second.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:35 pm (UTC)

It is worth mentioning that usually I clean before people come over. You have probably never seen my house at near its worst.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:09 pm (UTC)

Consider me friended to it! I think a lot about women in the gaming industry... I'll see if I can dig up anything pertinent.

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:14 pm (UTC)

I too think about women in the gaming industry a lot. Admittedly, probably not for the same reasons as you and Johanna though ;)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:17 pm (UTC)

Did I just say Johanna? Wow... wrong journal completely. :o That'll learn me to pay attention!

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:16 pm (UTC)

I know that one of the things Microsoft is wanting to do with 360 is bring the console into the living room as a holistic media/entertainment solution. I've read a few articles now quoting Microsoft with examples on how they want to broaden the gaming experience to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Although that's probably something you're already aware of...

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:03 pm (UTC)

Yup, I've read about it, but I'd love to see anything you can dig up that has actual examples of ways they're planning to do this - everything I've seen has been pretty puffed-up and hypothetical. Thanks!!

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 07:48 pm (UTC)

Ah, the friends-lock, when not telling your family about your blog just isn't enough... :-)

(What? Speaking from experience, me?) :-)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 08:50 pm (UTC)

The bit about being socialized to play and culturally permitted to play is interesting to me, as I have a younger sister who games, but probably wouldn't, if I hadn't first. At the same time, I know other people (male and female) who have younger sisters who don't game.

Also potentially interesting for you is that I know a family in which three generations of women (and men) game. I'm friends with the son, but his sister, his mom, and his grandma all game. The whole family goes to the gaming convention we have here in the spring. They're atypical, I think, but it's still neat. :)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 09:01 pm (UTC)

That is extremely interesting; I might pester you to let me interview them at some point. :)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 10:33 pm (UTC)

Kewl, I'll mention it to Chris (the son) the next time I see him. :)

Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 10:03 pm (UTC)

Hmm... I had an idea for a study on the way home... On that I bet could actually work!

Let me toy with some concepts and I'll post it in a few days. Maybe you should make a community for this!

Tue, Jul. 26th, 2005 03:33 am (UTC)

Oooh, that's an interesting idea. Let me browse around LJ and see if there's a community for game research. If not, I'll make one!