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Subject: Gendered Language in Game Instructions rss

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Mark Mahaffey
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Oh, what a terrible thought.


I'm glad Luke and I both missed it!
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Subhan Michael Tindall
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Elfbane wrote:
ScottE wrote:
I prefer to just keep it he/him. It gets confusing when you switch sentence to sentence. Really is this such a big deal? Not sure why this comes up over and over.

In general, yes, it is a big deal. There is a relationship between the use of language and social reality. If women are invisible in daily language, it's easier to maintain gender inequality. If we "erase" women from game instructions, it is easier to maintain stereotypes about women and think it abnormal for them to play certain games.


Yes, there is a relationship between language & social reality, but it actually is not what most people think it is.
The influence is reality >>>>>> language, & language > reality (imagine big & little arrows instead of > signs).

In simple terms, the influence of the words we use on how we perceive & think about things is quite weak, while the influence of the things we perceive & think about on the words we use is strong. Words used to describe or talk about negative things take on negative connotations. Changing the words used to describe them doesn't change the perception of the thing as negative, it changes the connotations of the words.

There's a common cultural misconception that the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that language strongly influences thought & perception of reality, is true, although it's been well studied & shown to have a weak impact at best. Sorry, but changing gendered language usage is going to have virtually no impact on actual sexist thought & behavior patterns. Change the behavior & the language will follow, not the other way around.
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Captain Ordinary
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West2 wrote:
Why is this sentence necessarily offensive? If I read the sentence, "Her score was higher, so she beats him," I don't get offended. Why would I? I'm genuinely amazed by this. Or am I missing something here?

Since this thread is so active, I'm sure someone else more passionate is writing a reply at the same time. But I'll reply. I don't think it is offensive by itself, but it is a sentence that easily lends itself to biased interpretation.

For a battered wife, "he beats her" is going to be locked into a specific interpretation.

One time when playing a tabletop RPG, I chose the name Captain Howdy for my superhero, having heard it somewhere in the past. Turns out that among the many places I could have heard the phrase (The Exorcist being the documented first), it was the name of a child molester in a Twisted Sister song. An anonymous member of our party who had been molested asked the game master to ask me to change the name. For that person, the meaning was locked in to child molestation.

In both cases, a victim of abuse would have a negative reaction to the words I used. Rather than stick to it and disregard their feelings, I choose different words.

In general, I swear like a truck driver/sailor/stand up comedian, and have friends with whom I play games and trash talk horribly. However, I would feel horrible if I called someone a dick when playing a game and hurt his feelings.

While I would enjoy the freedom of writing rules like I talk with friends, not everybody who buys my game will know that I'm a sweet, considerate guy. I would lose more potential customers than I would gain for using the word asshole in my rules.
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Paul M
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HamsterOfFury wrote:
...spastic...

I was wondering when they were going to change this. I visited our former oppressors from '83-'85 and vividly remember "spastic" being the operative word.

HamsterOfFury wrote:
"Dual heritage" instead of "Mixed race" instead of "Half caste".
"Ethnicity" instead of "race".
"Police officer" instead of "policeman".
"Police service" instead of "police force".
"Head teacher" instead of "Head master".
"Refuse collector" instead of "bin man".

Some of these are absurd. What's next? "No son, your father is not in the Police Service, he's part of the Cotton Candy Squad and his rank is Big Green Lollipop."

And are you still "Dual Heritage" if you have five ethnicities in your ancestry?
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Melissa
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doctorapocalypse wrote:
melissa wrote:
Regarding the use of "they" or "their" I agree. Please do so only if grammatically correct, i.e. in the plural.


Actually, it is almost always grammatically correct, not just for plurals. I teach Professional English and Grammar at Flinders University, and we teach to use 'they' in the singular. Anyone who says this is ungrammatical is completely ignorant.

[snip]

So don't thee be an idiot and pontificate about things that thee knows nothing about.


Actually, I did not say that.

What *I* said was

melissa wrote:
Especially as I kind of loathe the generic "they".


I hope you also teach your students to check their facts and attributions before hurling accusations of ignorance and idiocy. IMO, that is going to stand them in much better stead in their professional careers than arguing about pronouns.
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Hunga Dunga
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Since boardgaming is essentially a sexless pursuit, instead of using he and him or she and her, I suggest we use xe and xim.
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Melissa
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Just to elaborate on why I prefer not to use a pseudo-singular 'they' in game rules: In many cases, particularly in game rules, the number of actors is important. Is this action taken by one player or by many? Does it affect one player or many? Are actions taken simultaneously and in consultation with other players, or separately and individually?

Using 'they' makes it difficult to establish the number of actors. Using 'he' 'she' or 's/he' makes it very clear when only one player may act (and, therefore, by extrapolation, 'they' can refer to multiple actors).

There may be games where this is not a consideration. In my experience, however, it is preferable to be as specific and unambiguous as the language and context permit.
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Johnny
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Melissa's got it - a game's rules should be as clear as possible. Everything else is secondary. If the rules do a good job at explaining how the game is played then there is nothing to complain about.


Elfbane wrote:
We both find this annoying, possibly even infuriating at times. As a woman, my partner finds it off-putting and it can reduce her interest in playing a given game.


Hate to say it, but that's pretty lame. A good game is a good game regardless of which pronouns are used in the rules.
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J C Lawrence
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melissa wrote:
My preference is for the rules that alternate use of he and she, or potentially use s/he (but this is then confusing when you get to his/her).


I have no problem with using he/him/etc as neuter pronouns. There's a modest tradition there and it is at least clear. Alternation, variance and s/he or his/her provide opportunities for unwelcome confusion. The singular they works fairly well as does simply writing ungendered text. "One" is a wonderful pronoun.

BTW: Not a new topic. See:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/300564
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J C Lawrence
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Datharaur wrote:
You're missing something. Replace the word beat with one of its synonyms, strike and you'll see.


Yes, but the word strike wasn't used and the correct definition to apply was clear by context. Again, I fail to see the problem except for those looking for problems.
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Russ Williams
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ScottE wrote:
I prefer to just keep it he/him. It gets confusing when you switch sentence to sentence. Really is this such a big deal? Not sure why this comes up over and over. It's not about putting women in their place, its just easier to read when you settle for he/him.

When I see someone use she/her, it just looks like they are trying too hard to be PC.

For anyone complaining that any discussion about sexism in language is just a "PC" attempt to make language more difficult, and what could possibly be bad about always using "he" when you mean men and women as a group, I offer the obligatory link to Douglas Hofstadter's classic "Person Paper on Purity in Language":
http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/cs655/readings/purity.html
Hofstadter wrote:
The negrists claim that using the word "white," either on its own or as a component, to talk about all the members of the human species is somehow degrading to blacks and reinforces racism. Therefore the libbers propose that we substitute "person" everywhere where "white" now occurs. Sensitive speakers of our secretary tongue of course find this preposterous. There is great beauty to a phrase such as "All whites are created equal." Our forebosses who framed the Declaration of Independence well understood the poetry of our language. Think how ugly it would be to say "All persons are created equal," or "All whites and blacks are created equal." Besides, as any schoolwhitey can tell you, such phrases are redundant. In most contexts, it is self-evident when "white" is being used in an inclusive sense, in which case it subsumes members of the darker race just as much as fairskins.
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Patrick Hickey
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1. They is not grammatically incorrect when used as a singular pronoun.

2. If you are describing two different players in your rules, and using masculine pronouns for each, there is a very good chance that you are incompetent. "If his score is higher than his, he takes three of his cards and places them in his hand." GAAAARABGVH!!! Alternate genders you fool! Or don't use pronouns at all! Your pronoun rights are revoked!
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Tomas Syrovatka
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Oh my, I really can't believe there are people out there who buy a game, open the box and instead of "look at the beautiful bits!" they go "look at the rulebook! It's so sexist!" I would laugh my a** off if a Bloodbowl rulebook would be written in a he/she way. Some people are taking this too seriously. It's just games! It's meant to be played. This thread should be mentioned in that "game snob" geeklist. I wonder that some people actually have enough time to be concerned about such things shake

Before you cry at me that I am discriminating women, I wish to state that I am all for equal rights but things like rewriting rulebooks in boardgames and changing the figures on the traffic lights to females seem silly to me.
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J C Lawrence
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doctorapocalypse wrote:
The use of 'he' as a genderless pronoun is historically a lot rarer than people think these days.


How recent is it?

As a side article for discussion I offer a (nearly) ftp://ftp.kanga.nu/users/claw/odd/games/prototypes/OhanaProa..." target="_blank" class="postlink" rel="nofollow">gender neutral ruleset. As I've a particular dislike for the second person in rules (I find it offensively presumptive) I've also not used that.

 
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Captain Ordinary
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clearclaw wrote:
Yes, but the word strike wasn't used and the correct definition to apply was clear by context. Again, I fail to see the problem except for those looking for problems.


In my original post, I said that the sentence was an example of how easy it could be to read bias into something.

You're right. Rational people wouldn't think I was advocating physically beating women (unless that sentence was in the rules for Don't Wake Daddy ). But "he beats her" might make people have to read the rule a couple times because it more easily parses in a way that "she beats him" and "he beats him" don't. Stereotypes about violence and vulnerability are more congruent with it.

Edit: something like that can also stand out more for someone whose first language is not English.
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Captain Ordinary
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clearclaw wrote:
As I've a particular dislike for the second person in rules (I find it offensively presumptive) I've also not used that.

I don't get second person being offensive. Could you elaborate?
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J C Lawrence
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Aetheros wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
As I've a particular dislike for the second person in rules (I find it offensively presumptive) I've also not used that.

I don't get second person being offensive. Could you elaborate?


'You' refers to me as the reader and the rules text dictates not only what I do, but frequently my responses, desires and reasons. Those are not my responses, desires or reasons and I find it presumptive of the text to assume such. When reading such rules the not-so-small voice at the back of my head keeps shouting, NO, I DON'T!
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Captain Ordinary
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clearclaw wrote:
When reading such rules the not-so-small voice at the back of my head keeps shouting, NO, I DON'T!

Have you tried decaf?
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Russ Williams
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clearclaw wrote:
Aetheros wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
As I've a particular dislike for the second person in rules (I find it offensively presumptive) I've also not used that.

I don't get second person being offensive. Could you elaborate?


'You' refers to me as the reader and the rules text dictates not only what I do, but frequently my responses, desires and reasons. Those are not my responses, desires or reasons and I find it presumptive of the text to assume such. When reading such rules the not-so-small voice at the back of my head keeps shouting, NO, I DON'T!

But what about when the "you" is used to say things that you do indeed do if you are following the rules? I.e. mandatory actions, not "responses, desires, and reasons"? This is how I usually see it. As for "responses, desires, and reasons", would rules bother you in this sense if they said, e.g., "After placing your piece, you can optionally take a card", etc? I.e. talking about your "desires" without assuming anything about them?

Gipsy King has what I believe to be good writing that avoids any sexed pronouns, by the way. It also avoids the controversial-for-many constructs like "he/she", "s/he", "he or she", and singular "they". Its text uses a combination of techniques:

Explicit phrases like "This player" instead of a pronoun, e.g. "The next player can place a caravan now. If this player passes..." instead of "If he passes..."

Use player color to identify players in examples, e.g. "Purple passes, because Purple wants to have the..."

Occasional second-person pronouns, e.g. "After placing a caravan you always move..."

Use of plural "all" instead of singular "each" e.g. "All players get their caravans back..." instead of "Each player gets his caravans back..."
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Phil Walker-Harding
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This is a tough one.

In my game rules, I have used "he" when a single player is being referred to and "they" for mutliple. I was never happy with this. I thought it was a slightly better option than using "he/she" all the time, which doesn't read well (especially out loud). Alternating between the two was also a worry, as I wondered if people might think that each use of "she" and "he" was referring back to a particular previously mentioned "she" or "he", rather than being generic. Probably not such a big deal though.

I think the best way forward is to refer to players as "the player" or "the players". This is done in quite a few rulebooks these days and usually works quite well. The only problem is that sentences don't flow quite as well with all the "the"s, but no big deal.

Some rules are witten entirely in the second person which can also work if done carefully.

Oh, for a third person inclusive pronoun!

 
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Colin Jennings
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This is a website about boardgames....right???
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Ivica Crljenica
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Use "it".
Use plural.
Use passive.
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Tomas Syrovatka
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Yes, in order not to offend anyone, we will refer to humans as to "it". Ok. gulp
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Russ Williams
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coljen wrote:
This is a website about boardgames....right???


I think it is. Yes, good, I just checked, and it is. You had me worried for a minute there! Otherwise this thread where some people are talking about something that interests them about boardgame rules might be off-topic or something!
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Stefan Lopuszanski
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I prefer "he" but only because it is shorter. In the long run it saves ink and is almost most likely more accurate (not always, but it is the case generally).

By the way, D&D 3rd edition books almost always used "she."
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