• Game Design and Sexism: Player Feedback Mechanics

    by  • March 9, 2012 • Essays • 34 Comments

    This is the inaugural post in a series exploring how specific game design decisions affect inclusiveness and gender equality at the gaming table.  In this series, we will point out problems, but we will also discuss examples of mechanics which promote equality and inclusion.  The discussion will be framed in the context of actual play experiences.  If you have suggestions for future posts in this series, please contact me privately.

    Many games have mechanics which distribute rewards on the basis of subjective player feedback.  For example, in many traditional roleplaying games, the GM1 assigns experience points subjectively, to some degree or another.  Often the goal of these kinds of mechanical rewards is to encourage “good roleplaying.”

    I’m not particularly experienced with most traditional RPGs, and I’m going to discuss this kind of mechanic from the perspective of games I am more familiar with.  However, I would love to hear about the experiences of women who play other types of games.

    I began thinking about this when I was reminded recently of some frustrating play experiences with Paranoia XP.  For the uninitiated, Paranoia is an over-the-top dystopian future parody RPG.  The non-GM players all play mutant troubleshooters living out their days serving Friend Computer (and secretly serving their secret societies).  Unfortunately, it is treason to be a mutant, or to be in a secret society, and treason is punishable by death (fortunately, you get six clones!).  It is also treason to even read the Paranoia rulebook!  Silliness is the name of the game.  (At least, that’s how I’ve played it.  I have heard rumors of people playing it straight, but, well, I don’t know about those people.)  And the GM rewards silliness with Perversity Points, which are tokens you can spend to improve rolls.  (Any roll.  Even the GM’s.  For screwing over other player hijinks.)

    First, a disclaimer.  I absolutely adore Paranoia.  It is an incredible amount of fun.  This is also not intended as a criticism of anyone who has GM’d Paranoia for me.  There have been several, and they were all great GMs, and are amazing people.   At least one even identifies fairly strongly as a feminist.

    However, we are all socialized very strongly to view women in certain ways. We expect women to be responsible, do the boring administrative work, and in general shut down the fun.  We emphatically do not expect women to be silly.  So women are less likely to be silly, and everyone is less likely to notice when they are.  The Paranoia GM (despite being quite the stand-up guy) is less likely to notice and reward it.

    At least, that has been my experience.  And honestly, the mechanical bonus from Perversity in Paranoia is almost incidental.  It’s the peer approval, the “Yeah, that was awesome!” from the other players when the GM throws you a poker chip, that’s where it’s at.  That’s what really encourages the player to top herself next time, and do something even more outlandish (and, you know, for sure get a clone killed this time).

    So, that sucks.

    The other thing that happens, in my experience, is that after awhile, the GM realizes “Man, I haven’t given Darla any Perversity in awhile!” and finds some excuse to do it.  Usually it’s not a terribly good excuse.

    And you know what feels even worse than no peer approval?  Charity peer approval.

    When I played Paranoia, I often just gave up eventually, and worked on my (much more “serious”) secret society mission instead.  These are really secondary goals, but if you feel that you’ve got no shot at the primary goal, you may as well get the consolation prize.

    I’ve experienced charity approval in other games as well, such as Primetime Adventures (where players can reward cool stuff with “fan mail”).  Now, I know of course, this happens some to everyone!  People aren’t perfect!  Sometimes we pick wrong and miss things and then try to make up for it.  But trust me you guys, sexism is playing a role here.2

    Are there any examples where this kind of mechanic could promote inclusiveness or equality?  I can’t think of any.  However, as I play more Apocalypse World, I’ll be curious to see how Hx goes, since it is different in several significant ways.

    Please share your thoughts and experiences!  I’m especially interested to hear from game designers, and about women’s experiences with mechanics like this.

    1. The GM is a player too.
    2. If you are going to comment just to say sexism isn’t playing a role here, your comment will not be approved, unless you are specifically one of the people who has GM’d Paranoia or played PTA with me.


    I am a player of indie tabletop RPGs, boardgames, and videogames. I am a programmer and an ex-computational linguistics researcher. I am a pro-sex feminist, and in general an advocate for social justice. I am a mother of a young daughter. I am a generally creative person; I draw, knit, sew, and occasionally try to write. I have lived most my life in the US, but I now live in Germany. You can contact me via my Google profile.

    34 Responses to Game Design and Sexism: Player Feedback Mechanics

    1. avatar
      March 9, 2012 at 23:19

      That sound you hear?

      That’s the sound of a bunch of newer game designers looking at their baby in the works and PANICKING because they have a ‘here, you were awesome’ mechanic. Dog knows I use one.

      To me ‘you were awesome’ mechanic may not be Mwa-ha-ha-Sexist! so much as culture blind. Many people, dudes and ladies alike may never experience the ‘girls can’t be silly’ situation. Or may not notice it. Many of these issues are invisible and easy to dismiss. (Which is exactly why Darla, I’m glad you point it out!)

      It may come down to behavior at the table, in which case, bring it up, and GMs and players alike need to watch out for ‘ignoring the girls being awesome’ phenomenon. (“Don’t be a sexist at your table, duh” always feels like such a cop-out.)

      How to fix, or at least help fix it in the game book? One thought is to make implicit in the writing the idea that players need to take turns in the limelight. Meg Baker’s game Psi*Run says that you can’t have a player roll twice in a row, and you sort of move around the table person by person. I know a lot of games do this, even without it being written down, but I wonder if round-robin play can reduce the ‘charity’ feeling since its just part of the method.

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      • avatar
        March 10, 2012 at 00:00

        I think one of the other issues is that most tabletop games are not terribly newbie-friendly (not to mention that the median culture of play is slanted towards hazing new people rather than helping them learn the ropes), and so it’s incredibly easy for an Old Boys’ Club to turn the rules on newcomers and for some of them to use a culture of turning the rules on new people to exclude or marginalize women, minorities, and queer people. Repeat by two or three such experiences, and you’ve got a situation where:

        A) they feel empowered to stab you, and
        B) you learn that it’s futile to stab back.

        At that point you are, to put it delicately, fucked.

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        • avatar
          Darla Magdalene Shockley
          March 10, 2012 at 01:07

          I wonder whether there’s something wrong with the rules if they are being used that way.

          I mean, I really don’t know the answer to this. I have been terribly, terribly lucky to have avoided the “be an asshole to the newb” phenomenon almost entirely.

      • avatar
        March 10, 2012 at 16:55

        I haven’t played Psi*Run, but I wonder about adapting Annalise Round Robin format to other games. The idea that you pick another participant at the game to be the GM, for this one scene about your character, seems to be an avenue to allow for better character concept communication and development. My experience is that it calls on a certain meta level communication “This is the tone and theme I want to bring out here, I want you as a collaborator to make this occur.” Has anyone tried such a thing?

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      • avatar
        April 23, 2012 at 22:32

        I really do feel a wee bit panicked right now, yeah!

        My game’s way of doing Karma is probably even worse. I hand out Karma to players that contribute something in alignment to one of the three Virtues in Michtim RPG (Charity, Civilisation and Conservancy). Everyone gains a point for a single player’s work here. The Karma is used to buy re-rolls or activate Ultimate Techs. At the end of game, all the earned Karma (wether spent or not) is converted to Experience, which has a more long-term value than in your examples.

        So what should I be doing now, I worry. It has not come to my impression that the rule fosters sexism so far; but now I start to understand that the peer approval (ultimately) may not work at all. I am aware of privilege; but on the other hand, I’ve never had the impression (in my own life) that women need to act straight — which does not invalidate the point. Quite the contrary.

        I still need to do play testing with female players, to see how they like the game. I will certainly not change the adventure’s content, and I will try handing out Karma just like in the previous play tests. So I think, maybe I’m safe if I ask them afterwards how they came under this impression?

        Oh, and on second thought I know how not receiving peer approval feels. I’m queer, so are my characters. In my current group my way of living is no problem; but I do sometimes seem to have problems to get other players to accept that my character is equally queer (and has equal rights at flirting or at least not-flirting-with-girls). This repeatedly leads to problems. I also think that my way of playing — I tend to play quirky odd-ball characters, artsy people — which certainly does not do ‘uber amounts of damage’. So yeah, my style of play probably doesn’t mix well with the others. This also means I’d never earn any ‘karma’ myself (however it would be called in different systems).

        So maybe this impression is not always related to the gender end of things, but maybe to the different types of fun people are having. I know that my expectations of players sometimes tend to be skewed, and maybe that’s also the point in this case.

        Which is also the reason I *never ever* would hand out different experience points to players. Even in my game the point totals are always the same for everyone. What do you think?

        Disclaimer: Due to my native language being German, I hope I haven’t made any gross (however subtle) hints at being a stupid guy. You know, I really try to be aware of sexism and take courses for that matter 😉 … doesn’t mean my thoughts are always that clear in the end. So yeah, if I’m not safe, just say so! :)

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    2. avatar
      March 9, 2012 at 23:42

      I definitely seen women deferring to men around the gaming table. But I also haven’t seen the reward mechanics you are talking about. Probably because most games I play in don’t involve a direct reward mechanic.

      No wait, I tell a lie. The LARPs I used to go to often had a round-robin at the end of game where players were awarded xp for doing cool things. And by cool things, I mean “Point at the player who caused your character to be angry” or similar things. Now, these were years ago and I don’t remember if men were pointed at more frequently than women (and thus got more xp). I do know that I frequently felt that I had worked really hard at interacting with people and was passed over because…whatever internal reasons the other players had. One incident that sticks in my mind, though, was at a game where I sang quietly in the background for in character reasons. The xp circle at the end then included the question “Who helped set the atmosphere for your character the most?”

      Of course this meant most of the hands pointed at me. But I felt badly about it because it felt like I was being pandered to. That the question had been singled out to support me rather than because it was a valid question. Of course, it didn’t help that everyone was /pointing directly at me/ which is intimidating as all hell.

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      • avatar
        Kim Lam
        March 9, 2012 at 23:25

        LARP also has the issue of bonus XP for things like costuming. On the surface it seems fair because people who costume well have clearly put in extra work and should be rewarded for adding to the overall atmosphere. On the other hand, this is often put to a vote, which sometimes leads to costumes which are deliberately simply to get the vote and extra XP, which seems to occur primarily among women. Now, I am a firm supporter of women dressing sexy but I think it’s an unfortunately side effect of the XP incentive for good costuming.

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        • avatar
          March 10, 2012 at 04:28

          Well, you have the perception of resource scarcity (there’s only so many bonus xp to be awarded, right?) and the difficulty of being called for doing something amazing enough to earn that xp. So /of course/ there is competition going on. That I suspect that the competition ends up being drawn between gender lines (women do costuming and schmooze, men do political and action oriented things) is a little frustrating.

          But yeah, land of cleavage, your name is larp.

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    3. avatar
      March 9, 2012 at 23:46

      This is really insightful, but I’d argue that it’s not just limited to silliness. People discount women’s contributions even in other kinds of social situations. I think we’ve all experienced the moment of “wait, I just said that, why is some dude getting credit for it?” That isn’t just anecdotal – the research backs it up.

      On the other hand, I think having a physical token is actually really powerful and feminist, because it exposes the disparity between how women and men get treated at the table in a way that people can’t just ignore. For example, teachers who physically tracked how often they called on men and women were a) shocked at how much more often they called on men and b) able to use that data to change their behavior.

      The key, I think, is how the GM reacts. Do they toss you a charity Perversity token (or, as a long-time 7th Sea player, a drama die)? Or do they use the signal to pay closer attention and appreciate you more? I’m usually running, not playing; you can guess which kind of GM I try to be.

      Now, of course, I’m pondering mechanical and/or social solutions. :)

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      • avatar
        Darla Magdalene Shockley
        March 10, 2012 at 00:35

        I’m sorry if I made it sound as though I only meant silliness–I definitely meant other things (mainly “cool” or “interesting”), especially when I was talking about PTA. I focused more on Paranoia because that’s where I’ve felt it the most.

        That second thing, about the token does a better job of exposing the problem, I think that is really true, and it’s something I thought about after I’d written the post and didn’t have time to edit to get into (also, it was also plenty long enough already). But that is a really good point.

        • avatar
          March 10, 2012 at 01:11

          Not just physical tokens, but really, an encouragement to have them on the table where everyone can see them. See what’s going on.

          Might be an interesting experiment to try out. A study sort of. Maybe with different colored tokens (pink and blue or something similarly gendered), or tokens on or off the table, that sort of thing. See if you get different results.

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          • avatar
            April 23, 2012 at 22:43

            Probably that would directly affect the rewarding-behavior though. If I’d be aware of differences in handing out rewards, I know I’d try to balance things out… which give other people the impression I was handing out charity-rewards…

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      • avatar
        April 23, 2012 at 22:41

        Very insightful. I think now I understand the original post a little bit better. I bet the tendency of gendered “do not stand in the limelight” education for girls (and the contrary for boys) is really not helping it either.

        Thanks for sharing. I try to be more attentive to that sort of thing in my own rewarding-behavior.

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    4. avatar
      Jason Morningstar
      March 9, 2012 at 23:27

      I know at my table, where a lot of Primetime Adventures goes down, an absence of fanmail is viewed as a thing to remedy, making it a sort of spotlighting mechanic. The default assumption is that everybody is bringing their best, so rather than charity peer approval it becomes peer attention, no charity assumed or given. At least obliquely this addresses your concern for promoting equality, but it is definitely occurring at the social level – you can absolutely play PTA in a less friendly way.

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      • avatar
        Darla Magdalene Shockley
        March 10, 2012 at 01:01

        Honestly, I wouldn’t describe what I’m talking about as “unfriendly.” To me that’s a completely different axis for comparison.

        We did not play a lot of PTA, so it’s possible it would have worked itself out to be like your game, I don’t know. I just remember rolling my eyes a few times and thinking “Come on, that was just stupid, and other people did cooler things recently.” when I got fan mail. It sounds like you guys used fanmail like a turn-taking mechanic of sorts, kind of like Filamena was talking about in the first comment. To me it seems like probably from a game design perspective, if you want a turn-taking mechanic, there are lots better options than fanmail, but I am not a game designer.

    5. avatar
      March 10, 2012 at 01:34

      Although I recognize the phenomenon, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced it as a player. It could just be that the groups I play with are *that* amazing. Or it could be that because most of the people I play with now are the same people I played with before I transitioned, their behaviors in respect to me were already set and haven’t changed even though my gender role has (there’s a worst case scenario too, but I’m saving that for a post of my own, so I’ll hold off on it for a bit). Although I’m okay with either, I rather hope it’s the former, and I think there’s some evidence to support it. For example (and maybe she would disagree), I always regarded Danielle Lewon as the power player at our table when we were actively gaming together…her contributions in PtA and My Life With Master were always the most interesting, cool, and powerful, and I know I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

      As a GM though, I’m not sure where I fall. I’d like to think I don’t fall prey to this kind of behavior, but it certainly isn’t something that only men do women (any -ism, after all, can be internalized, even by conscientious and well-meaning individuals). I guess we’d have to ask my players to know for sure, but I’m definitely taking a moment to pause and consider my reward methods.

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    6. avatar
      March 12, 2012 at 20:11

      Something I have read in some of the Gamemastering portions of gamebooks is advice on how to divide your attention. It’s not specifically directed at one sex or the other, just general advice for GMs on making sure that no players are getting ignored and that everyone has a share of the spotlight.

      While I’m loud and obnoxious enough (although I prefer to call it being extroverted) that I rarely get ignored for long, I have seen it happen to other women. I’ve been playing in shared world campaigns for years and there are a few GMs that I won’t play at their table because of problems like this. I’ve also seen the reverse of this; the woman gets all the neat bennies because she’s the only woman in the game. And sexism turned on its head is still sexism.

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    7. avatar
      March 13, 2012 at 04:28

      I’m very lucky to be larping with women who know their stuff inside and out. They know their rules and, not only that, they GM too. I’m also lucky to generally play with progressive males. But there are those exceptions that wander through….

      For tabletop gaming, I think that women who join games are often perceived as either a) being there for their husband or boyfriend; b) only interested in Narnia-like stories or c) bound to quickly get bored. These misperceptions often inhibit more experienced players from spending time on explaining the world, the rules, etc. When a woman is overlooked because she doesn’t understand the rules,when no one will explain it to her or allow her to make mistakes, when she’s shouted down because everyone already knows what they should do, THAT can end up being intimidating and we end up shutting down and reading a book. Sometimes it’s not overt sexism, just cultural conditioning. Not only do we as women lose a chance to play, but we lose a chance to shape the game and the males lose a chance to gain a new perspective and a recruit for a hobby that needs fresh blood for fresh ideas.

      I realize this comment isn’t so much about mechanics, but all I can do is remember trying to find a D&D miniature of a decently clothed woman…..I was never successful.

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    8. avatar
      March 13, 2012 at 11:49

      I registered for this site specifically so that I could respond to this essay. Just to be absolutely up front here, I’m an analog RPG gamer, I frequently GM games, and I’m male.

      I was rather insulted when the author made the sweeping generalization that, simply because I’m a male GM, I will a) ignore a female player’s contribution to the game and then b) give that player “pity rewards” because I’ve been ignoring her. I really don’t think that you can make a statement like that and say it applies equally to an entire gender group. You have obviously experienced this kind of situation numerous times though, or you wouldn’t have felt compelled to start this series of essays.

      Is sexism playing a role here? Well, if you experience this sort of thing happening regularly and in a variety if different situations, then yes; sexism is playing a role. But I don’t think you can say that it’s the rules or mechanics that are sexually biased, but rather the GMs who are adjudicating them and handing out the rewards. I have yet to come across a subjective reward mechanic that makes reference to or cares about the player’s gender in it’s text. If someone has an example of a mechanic that does make reference to a player’s gender or is obviously sexually biased, I would be very interested in seeing it.

      Because the GM of a game is often trying to do many things at one, I have found that it is the loud, outgoing, or noticeable players who often get the RP rewards regardless of gender simply because they pull the GM’s attention. So if anything, you could argue that subjective reward mechanics are biased towards a specific personality type or play style. They encourage people to act in such a way that attracts the GM’s attention.

      The is precisely why I prefer games that have more structured subjective reward mechanics. Games like Savage Worlds have mechanics that boil down to “When a player does something cool, give them a Bennie.” This mechanic is very broadly worded and very much subject to the GM’s interpretation of what qualifies as being “awesome”. It’s ripe for abuse. To contrast this, New World of Darkness’s Virtue and Vice system, or Ubiquity’s Motivation and Flaw system both have fairly specific guidelines of when these rewards should be given out, what action the player needs to take to get those rewards, and what quantity of reward the GM should give that player. Even Apocalypse World which you mention in your essay has a fairly structured reward system. The Master of Ceremonies cannot simply hand out Hx points or Experience Points whenever they want to; the player must have their character initiate or be affected by a specific Move to increase/lose Hx or mark XP.

      So to sum up, I don’t think you can say that the mechanics themselves are sexist. It’s the people interpreting and adjudicating the rules that are potentially sexist.

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      • avatar
        Kim Lam
        March 13, 2012 at 17:03

        Hi HyveMynd,

        If you go back through Darla’s post, you’ll see that at no point does she target men or GMs who are men specifically for being sexist. In other words, she doesn’t make a generalization about men being sexist at all. Instead, she says simply that, as a woman, she is met with sexist behavior which were emphasized by unstructured reward mechanics. Which is very similar to your own point.

        Sexist behavior can occur because of the actions of men and women.

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      • avatar
        March 13, 2012 at 17:36

        The thing is that yes, subjective reward mechanisms reward outgoing, highly active players, but a lot of women have been encouraged to be quiet, especially in mixed-gender groups, to conform with gender expectations. Also, a lot of guys will talk over and interrupt women, often without realising it. So there is a systematic bias in favour of one gender going on, even though it’s not intentional but just arises out of the ordinary ways people interact.

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        • avatar
          March 13, 2012 at 17:46

          What Pseudoephedrine says is key. Women across many cultures are socialized to take up as little space as possible, but physically and socially. It’s a responsibility we all have to recognize and help dismantle these kinds of expectations. The savvy gamemaster at the table can do this…but so can the savvy game designer.

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        • avatar
          Darla Magdalene Shockley
          March 14, 2012 at 02:47

          This is a thing, for sure (and even one of the things I was talking about). However, there is another thing, which is that when a woman contributes exactly the same thing as a man, it is viewed differently.

          • avatar
            March 14, 2012 at 03:31

            That’s a pretty important clarification, and one I very much agree with. Also, I have to remember this moment, because it’s relevant to something I want to talk about later, in a post of my own.

            *makes mental note*

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      • avatar
        Darla Magdalene Shockley
        March 13, 2012 at 21:11

        First, what Kim said. I even explicitly wrote that both women and men do this kind of thing. We’re all socialized this way. I am not sure why you read that we’re all socialized to behave in a sexist way, and turn that into an attack on men specifically. On a Google+ thread, the other woman I played PTA with, in fact, said basically “Yup, I did that..” (Which is funny, because I remember her more as being the victim of it, but obviously you can be both.)

        Second, I didn’t get into it in the post, because it was already plenty long, but actually I am quite an aggressive and loud player. I work in a predominantly male field, and I taught nearly all male college courses for a few years, so I’ve learned to behave so that I am heard when I want to be heard. For me, this is emphatically not a problem of I’m not being loud enough. (Or, I believe, cool/awesome/fun enough, but that’s harder to judge about oneself.)

        That is a problem for other women, though, and all of these problems should at least be considered by game designers. I have a feeling that you have played very particular kinds of games where the GM has a very specific kind of role. That is a game design decision. It is.not the only way games can be designed. If those are the games you want to play, awesome. I am not stopping you, or calling you a bad person or anything. In fact, I mentioned that I”absolutely adore one of those games right in this very post. However, I would hope that some designers want to design other kinds of games.

    9. avatar
      March 13, 2012 at 17:55

      I have only ever had wonderful experiences with reward systems, or “bennies” as they are called in Savage Worlds. They enrich the RP of the group and give incentive to quiet players to come out of their shells. The mechanic is subjective, and I think that is necessary. It allows the GM to reward different levels of achievement. The shy/quiet player should be rewarded for pushing their boundaries, even if their performances aren’t as impressive as the more outgoing “thespians” at the table.

      The discomfort that you are feeling seems to be caused by your player group, rather than the mechanic itself. I’d encourage you to speak with your GM privately. It sounds like he is a good person, who may not even be aware this is happening. The fact that he eventually gives you the reward, shows that he has good intentions and is trying to be fair. A civil discussion between the two of you might clear things up and make you more comfortable at the table.

      Subjective rules put the human element into RPGs. They can be abused, but they are also what makes tabletop games so interesting for many of us. If I wanted everything to be processed by “crunch” and set mechanics, I’d just go play video games.

      I think the golden rule of gaming applies to this situation… “Thou shalt not play with assholes.” If you talk to your GM and nothing improves, it may be a sign that it’s time to move on. If you see that he’s really trying to be fair (even if he doesn’t always succeed, because he is human and will mess up) then it’s a sign that underneath it all you have a good group.

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      • avatar
        March 13, 2012 at 22:08

        (Kimi, see my comment below, which for some reason did not post as a reply to yours!)

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    10. avatar
      March 13, 2012 at 22:05

      I believe mechanics make certain kinds of interactions easier and harder. It’s a question of affordances. You can hold a pencil in many different ways, but it’s easiest to hold it in certain positions if you want to write with it. The pencil analogy is one I’m especially fond of because it gets at the interaction with culture – we write from left to right – and education – we get taught at a young age how to hold a pencil correctly. In the same way, I believe a particular game mechanic makes some kinds of interactions easier and more likely, which are a product of the interaction of the mechanic (the pencil) with human capacity (our hands) with the sexist culture we live in (writing left to right) with how we’re enculturated into a particular gaming group’s standards and expectations (learning to write correctly). I absolutely agree with you that mechanics will function differently in different groups – but that’s because mechanics and groups interact, not because mechanics have no role and the group is everything.

      Think about the following variations on the “bennies” mechanic:
      – Who awards them? Players or the GM or both?
      – Who receives them? Are there limits on who can receive them at a given time?
      – What triggers them? Specific mechanical conditions? Fictional conditions? Emotional conditions (like “I enjoyed that”)? Can they be awarded for meta-game or out-of-game-behavior?
      – Are they physical tokens or a stat to record? Where are they physically kept and/or how are they written down?
      – What can bennies be spent for? How valuable are they? Do they expire?
      – Who can see your bennies level at any moment? How hard is it to take a look at that information? Is it secret?
      – When are bennies given, and how often during a play session? How often can a given player expect to get bennies compared to the frequency of potentially triggering events?
      – How explicit is the reason why a particular bennie was given? Does any discussion of it happen at the time? Is there later reflection?
      – Which of the above design decisions are understood explicitly by the group, and which are tacitly part of the group’s play culture?

      I’m hardly a mechanical determinist, but I think you’d see some consistent patterns in how different groups react to the same set of bennies design decisions, and some consistent differences in how the same group respond to different design descisions.

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    11. avatar
      March 14, 2012 at 03:13

      Perhaps I misread the author’s statement of “However, we are all socialized very strongly to view women in certain ways.” followed by “The Paranoia GM (despite being quite the stand-up guy)…” as specifically targeting men. Apparently I was wrong, and people can ignore the second paragraph of my comment. I am certainly not arguing that only men or only women can be or are sexist. As Kim Lam said, “sexist behavior can occur because of the actions of men and women”.

      To bring this back to mechanics though, I still strongly disagree that the mechanics themselves are biased to reward a specific gender. The argument in the essay and the comments that followed seems to be thus:

      1. Women have been socially/culturally conditioned to be less noticeable, take up less space, and to be quiet, especially when in mixed gender groups. Men have been socially/culturally conditioned to ignore women and to talk over or interrupt them.

      2. The subjective reward mechanics in many role playing games favor the players who are loud, outgoing, and more noticeable to the GM than those players who are not.

      3. Therefore, the subjective reward mechanics are sexist, as they are (intentionally or unintentionally) designed to reward behaviors that men are socially/culturally conditioned to do and women are socially/culturally conditioned to avoid.

      I don’t agree with that line of reasoning. As Kimi said “Subjective rules put the human element into RPGs.” and I totally agree with her. Unfortunately humans are far from perfect; GMs make mistakes, have off days, forget things, and are biased towards certain types of players, play styles, characters, genders, races, ages, etc. Again, it is the human GM who is potentially biased towards gender when handing out those subjective rewards, not the mechanics.

      As I said in my original comment, I would be very interested in seeing some subjective reward mechanics that the group here feels is biased towards female players. Or subjective reward mechanics that treat players of both genders absolutely equally, since the consensus here seems to be that they don’t. Also Darla, I’m curious to know what types of games you assume I play. You might be surprised.

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      • avatar
        March 14, 2012 at 16:56

        (If I’m putting words in your mouth, Darla, please correct me here…)

        Okay. Nobody is saying that feedback mechanics are THEMSELVES sexist, so please take a deep breath and maybe try to be a little more open to what Darla is trying to address here. What is being said is that feedback mechanics can become problematic when they intersect real-life sexist attitudes held by players AT THE TABLE – attitudes that are often unconsciously held and are a result of socialization that dictates different behavioral expectations of men and women.

        Do you see the difference here? The problem is that feedback mechanics are something that, on their face, should benefit men and women equally. But when sexism is present at the table, even unconscious sexism, they can wind up highlighting social inequality and making women feel bad about their contributions to the game. That’s not because the MECHANIC is sexist. It’s a breakdown in the system caused by meta issues at the table. That’s absolutely not the same as saying OMG FANMAIL IS STRAIGHT-UP SEXIST, PEEPS.”

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    12. avatar
      March 14, 2012 at 23:53

      While a “generic” player feedback mechanic may simply reward players for being making the group stand up and say “Dude”, it’s also possible to create more specialized reward triggers which could be used to create a different experience. The FATE System is a good example of this, with each character having their own player-created Aspects that they use to earn Fate Points (the game’s player feedback currency). You earn Fate Points by letting your Aspects “compel” you into a certain decision. While the rules talk about having the GM set up these decision points, it also encourages players to ask the GM for a Fate Point after a scene in which the player created the “compel.”

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