Online or Tabletop, but Never Both; Young Women in Gaming Redux


When asked what my dream freelance project might be, I immediately thought, “boy, wouldn’t it be great if I could buy the RPG rights to Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy,” since right now my work on the Lady Blackbird hack is stalled because, well, she expressly forbids RPG’s based off of her games, in spite of the healthy crop of play-by-post forums that populates the net (and has, for the last five years at least). Granted, there are only a few mainstays compared to the number that rise and fall in a given year (lesson of that story: it’s very hard to reach critical mass on a PBP RPG), but you have a dedicated fanbase with numbers enough to warrant multiple campaigns.

It’s the forum role-play audience that hasn’t been tapped, in my opinion, full of talented, design-oriented young (men but mostly) women who are fledgling writers and burgeoning storytellers. And there are a fair number of them. The former runs at over twenty two thousand users, the latter a “mere” eighteen thousand. Sure, you have the stigma of all the Harry Potter schools, network spin-offs, and “real-life” academies you can think of, but it’s just the flip side of the “role-playing is weird” coin. You want your women in RPG’s, there you have it.

My question is, Where are they in real life? The internet has been such a wellspring for communities of niche interests and hobbies, but I don’t think (m)any of these girls have touched a set of dice, much less tried to get in with the tabletop crowd. I role-played online for almost a decade before I finally drank the D&D kool-aid, and had it not been for a particularly inistant boyfriend, that would have never happened on its own.

The fact of the matter is these young women are probably not going to budge from their Invision Power Boards and the like, so the onus is on the game companies to figure out a way to bring the game to them. I’m hopeful for the World of Darkness MMO to be put out by CCP (same guys as Eve Online) eventually, but the paranormal genre only stretches so far, and not everyone can afford a computer with a dedicated graphics card.

The powerhouses of mainstream gaming have been slow on the uptake of the digital revolution, perhaps plagued by the general resistance to change that all print publishers are facing in light of the new paradigm, but their attempts at creating digital toolboxes for their games have been notoriously buggy and useless. A go-to virtual game table still eludes us, with D20 Pro and Fantasy Grounds leading the way after Wizards encountered technical difficulties on its own reveal and had to cancel their demo at Pax East 2011.

For what I’d like to see–that is to say, a marriage of tabletop and play-by-post gaming–a good deal of coding would be necessary, or an in-depth mod to the existing forum software out there, because as they stand now, most are simply not equipped to handle arbitrated (or rules-based) role-play, diceless or no. Google Wave came the closest to being able to handle conflict resolution given its various dice bots, but Wave is to be shut down by April 2012. Buddypress holds some potential, but from what I hear it isn’t quite up for the task either. Shinobicow and his crew tried to utilize Google Plus, but eventually migrated back to forums and then again to Google Docs. Regardless of its ultimate software, the product would have to have a serious eye for design, rules flexibility, a social networking aspect, and facilitating storytelling uber alles.

Because for all that I love me some tabletop, geographic restrictions are a heavy burden to bear; the more specialized the game becomes, the more one has to turn to the internet to find players. And the rules simply aren’t written for the online medium, or the online medium is as yet unable to accommodate the rules. Somewhere, a gap needs to be bridged.

3 Responses to “Online or Tabletop, but Never Both; Young Women in Gaming Redux”

  1. burned says:

    Where are they in real life?

    Hardly scientific, but out of the two girls that I Dungeon Mastered for in college, only one of them was also involved in role-playing online. It was in the form of chat, rather than via message board.

    Out of the the two girls and one woman I Dungeon Master for currently, I think only one of them would be interested in forum play (the 12 year old). I’m positive she has never been introduced to that form of play, but, based on her age, I’d be hesitant to show her what it’s all about (That’s more of a protective parent reaction and not based on any feelings about forum play).

    When we gamed at our local hobby shop during our very brief foray into “Encounters” the girls out numbered the guys. Not counting the two girls I brought, there were three other women and two young boys (none related).

    I realize your post was not necessarily focused on “Where are they in real life?” but I think both of us just have different sets anecdotal evidence that conflicts, when it comes to answering that question.

    I just don’t think you can accurately get that data and even large companies like WOTC or Paizo can only roughly guess who really plays their games (they only see sales numbers), let alone who plays RPGs in general, currently and how they play them (in person tabletop, forums, chat, etc) not to mention guessing at what gender.

    This isn’t to discredit your idea of finding that perfect forum software that would facilitate the forums games you enjoy. It sounds like this would definitely be useful to you and the people that enjoy these kinds of games, regardless of gender.

    Finding like-minded individuals to play is always good.

    Just some thoughts that ran through my head when I was reading your post this morning.

  2. Rob Lang says:

    I thought a lot about this when I played on the desert realm PBP forum. I think dice rolling is quite easy to do but the bigger problem is that there is no sense of geographical location. PCs could beam about at will. Also, XP/levelling wasn’t dealt with so you could have someone be fantastically powerful without any effort.

    What sort of features do you need?

    There are the the hygiene features like registration, login, inventory and character creation. How would you see posting working? Like Google Wave or more like a forum system? What about experience? Post count isn’t very useful, so perhaps there should be experience awarded by other players for good writing? How would that experience be used? Buying stuff? More talents or feats?

    Social aspects are best done by tracking mentions of characters and posting those mentions to feeds. Mostly people want to know when others are talking about them.

  3. Loc says:

    One of the important things that is lacking in forum gaming is that someone can disappear for long stretches of time and there’s usually no way to say “Hey we’re waiting for you”. Email (or preferably text message) alerts to the player that’s up would be a good way to lessen this.

    A chat system/forum might be functional. All the chatter goes in the chat column (OOC discussion) and important stuff (IC discussion) goes on in the forum. Docs, maps etc could be uploaded and linked on the forum side.

    A dice roller would be cool too, although I like a system that would handle the rules for me, I’m okay with not automating that. It leads to the need to program every system and that’s not possible. Just a random number generator and that’s all that’s needed.

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