Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Women in Miniatures Games

It's been almost a month since I last posted an article but I've been spurned into action by a recent article on Bell of Lost Souls about women in wargaming.  More specifically, I've been inspired to write this article because of the comments section for that article.  I've simultaneously been encouraged and saddened by the responses to the article, which only asserted that Warmachine/Hordes has a greater percentage of their demographic as women than other miniatures games.  Actually, I tend to find that Malifaux has more women, but the point that most people at the site took away from the brief question was that Games Workshop games tend to have very few female players.  Larry Vela (the author) asked why that might be, and the responses have been a mix of supportive and highly offensive (not sure if trolling or not).  Interestingly, there was an article written the other day about the same topic in video games only a couple of days ago (link) and the timing cannot be more perfect.  The difference, of course, is that the article I just linked came from a woman's perspective and she answers some common questions posed to women, which I think apply to wargames just as well as they do to video games:
So what should a proper female lead look like? Where do you draw the line between “attractive” and “cheap pandering cheesecake”? Which female leads resonate with women? Which ones repel them? Is it better to have a variable gender protagonist like in Fable II where you can choose a gender that basically doesn’t matter, or is it better to have a protagonist with a specifically crafted character? What genres of action-type badassery are most attractive to females, and would make a good starting point for a developer looking to court a female audience?
These are all great questions and I'd like to discuss a brief look into two games and address the question of why we don't see as many women playing miniatures games, and those that do seem to play particular game systems over others.

At the end of the great article (which you should all read, by the way), the author proposes that if any game designer wants to appeal to women in their game, they should ask themselves the following questions:
  • How many female characters are there in your game? Is there a 1:1 ratio between genders? Does this ratio hold true for playable characters? If not, why not?
  • Who are your female NPCs? What role do they have in the story? Do they have motivations beyond needing saving, being martyrs, or wanting to have sex with the player character? Do we ever see two female NPCs speaking to one another?
  • If your game offers the player a choice of love interest, do you have options for folks of all preferences?
  • How do your male NPCs treat female characters? If you have a female protagonist, do the male NPCs treat her gender as an oddity or a handicap? Do they begin interacting with her by flirting or making catcalls? If so, why was this choice made? What does it add to the story?
  • How do the characters in your game change if you swap their gender? Is there a reason some of your male characters can’t be women (or vice versa)?
  • Who’s displayed in your box art and marketing materials? Is a female character included? If so, is she in the background? What’s she wearing? What does the way that she’s posing say about her? Are the male characters making eye contact with the viewer while she stares off in another direction?
  • Imagine that you have a daughter of the same age as your target audience. Would you want her to play this game? What would this game be telling her about women?
While this again is framed in the context of video gaming, I think that it can be applied to miniatures games. 

Warmachine/Hordes is fairly representative of women, as far as miniatures games go.  Since it's more difficult to judge the ratio for the entire model range (especially with units), I will instead just look at the ratio for Warcasters/Warlocks, since they are the most powerful models in the game and typically the protagonists for the game.  I created a little spreadsheet here to tally up the information but I'll give you the quick summary
- 38 of the 124 Warcasters/Warlocks in the game are female, giving a percentage of 30.65% female.
- With Cryx as the exception, the primary Warmachine factions all have the same percentage of female warcasters - 2/7 or 28.57% female, suggesting an intentional ratio (even with Retribution only having 7 total warcasters).
- Hordes factions vary much more wildly in their percentage with Legion having a whopping 8/11 or 72.73% female and Minions have 0% female.
Even still, we have fewer than 50% females in the game (for warcasters/warlocks, anyway), but does that make sense in the context of the game?  I think it does.  While there aren't lots of women out adventuring, it's not unheard of and I think that the game recognizes reflects that truth in the universe.  Since most fantasy settings are parallel to European medieval history, it's unsurprising that most treat women as an anomaly since women were not particularly free during that historical period.  That said, there are other games out there which take place in the far future and women have even less of a mere presence, let alone leadership role.

Is it so surprising, therefore, that real women are less drawn to a game which doesn't even acknowledge their existence?  It's easy for a man to say "I'd play a game if there were no men in it," but would you play a game where men were featured in the stories as servants to women?  Mistreated and sacrificed for their goals?  I'm not even talking about a dominatrix sorta way either - I mean mistreated to the point where men aren't even considered sexual play things and where women would just clone themselves so they wouldn't have to have sex with a man.  Where men aren't even considered, for anything.  Does that sounds like a universe you'd be interested in playing?  I know I wouldn't be.  I'm not surprised that women don't really play Warhammer 40k.

I think the last question is the most important:
Imagine that you have a daughter of the same age as your target audience. Would you want her to play this game? What would this game be telling her about women?
 I wouldn't want my daughter playing a game which tells her she has no place in it.  "In the grim future... there is only war."  If she wants to play a miniatures game, I'd love to teach her one of the many others out there.  I would like to point out that the great steampunk science-fiction author H.G. Wells even authored what is to be believed the first rulebook for a miniatures game, Little Wars, but the full title is Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys' games and books.  Even Mr. Wells acknowledged that wargames were more of a "boys' game", but that was about 100 years ago and I think he was being quite progressive for the time even acknowledging girls being able to play.  Shouldn't we have the same consideration in our games, 100 years into the future?

Don't even get me started on race in gaming.
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