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Subject: Is my game design sexist? If so, how do I fix it? rss

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Stoic Bird
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I'm working on a game set at a modern party. (The theme is important and can't be easily changed.) At this point in the design process, the characters the players control are straight, single men, and one of the ways to earn points (of which there are multiple) is to get the phone number(s) of some of the NPC women in attendance. This is achieved primarily by talking with them and/or buying them drinks.

I'm still in the alpha testing phase, so (thus far) all of my playtesters have been friends and family, mostly male gamer friends with a little input from (mostly) non-gamer women. A couple of the male playtesters have commented that they think the game is sexist, and while none of the women have told me that, all have been disappointed that all the characters are men and all the NPCs to be "picked up" are all women. The sexist allegations haven't been a majority, but they've been enough that I feel like I need to do address it.

I was very concerned about this when I was designing it because this is meant to be a light, fun game - a filler for gamers, hopefully something with some crossover appeal to people who don't play hobby games. I don't want to make political statements with it; one of the playtesters said he felt like he was playing an '80s comedy movie, which is exactly the vibe I was going for.

I thought the buying drinks part of it would work because every woman I personally know who goes/went to bars, from traditionalists who later became stay-at-home moms to third-wave feminists, all enjoyed having drinks bought for them, even if they had no interest in the guy. (I asked one of my friends in the latter group her take on that, and her response was something along the lines of "if I have to live in a male-dominated world, the least they can do is let me drink for free" ) I've also never personally witnessed a woman buy a man a drink, other than in the "this round's on me" sense. I'm sure these things happen, but it seems to me that the usual course is men buying drinks for women, so I wanted to take the path of least resistance, since I want this to be a fairly intuitive game. (The alcohol mechanic is also interwoven with other parts of the game, so I can't easily take this out either.)

As for all the characters being male...this game is hardly the first where this has happened. Indeed, many games ask people to assume the role of the Nazis or Soviets or Empire or Mordor...entities that (I assume) are worse than generic single men. While I know that some do object to playing the Axis and such, again, it doesn't seem common, so I thought that women would be OK with playing male characters in this case. Reality hasn't seemed to bear this out.

As I said, I don't want to make a statement with this game, but I assure you I've been actively trying to keep it from being sexist. Playtesting suggestions I've flatly rejected have included:

-Bonus points if you get more than one number (as it stands now, each number is worth fewer points than the previous - thematically because these women know each other, and you don't know for certain if the number is real or if she's just giving it to you to get you to go away )
-Having some women be worth more points than others based on how attractive they are (even if one ignores that beauty is subjective, that's just not something I'm going to do.)

(Oddly, some of these suggestions have come from some of the same people who've said the game is sexist already...)

I don't want to mix up the genders formally, because I know that would just be trading a sexist controversy to a bisexual one, and I feel like it's just better not to go down that road if I want the game to be judged on its own merits. The only other solution I can think of is to make both the player characters and NPCs generic and let people fill in the gender of their choice. This would work without breaking the game mechanically, but it feels like a cop out to me, and the theme would suffer.

What do you all think? Are my playtesters making a big deal over nothing? If not, is there a way I can fix where it'll still be fun but won't end up being controversial?

(I'm aware I'm right on the RSP line here, so I'd appreciate it if we could keep the discussion on-topic to the game and the marketplace. If you've got a related issue that would demote the thread, I'd be happy to discuss it with you via GeekMail. Thanks in advance for your help there.)
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Franziska
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Oh wow.

Yes, it is sexist.

If you want to change it, change the playable characters to men AND women, allow them to try and get numbers from men AND women.

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Paul DeStefano
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Extremely sexist.

However, there are more sexist games out there.

How much you want to temper it is your call.
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Jules
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The "men need to spend money on women in order to deserve attention" is a trope that's unfair to men (sexism can go both ways) but is widely used, especially in videogames, because it facilities a nice goal structure (Japanese dating sims are notoriously bad in that respect).

That said, I would totally play this game

Though if you say that alcohol plays a further role in the game, that make it sound a bit shady.. like Baby it's cold outside shady..





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Mark Taylor
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
Are my playtesters making a big deal over nothing?


No, they are not. The game sounds rather crass, as it stands, to put it mildly.


Quote:
If not, is there a way I can fix where it'll still be fun but won't end up being controversial?


Complete re-theme? Without knowing more about the design, I don't know how achievable this would be. But I think you're onto a loser from the start with this whole theme.
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Stoic Bird
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Juleske wrote:
Though if you say that alcohol plays a further role in the game, that make it sound a bit shady.. like Baby it's cold outside shady..


Heh - I meant in terms of the other areas of the game. Once the numbers are obtained, that's pretty much it.

If the game is "extremely sexist", then I think I just need to abandon it. Board games aren't worth pissing people off.
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Matt Davis
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Theme-wise, is it that important that you're trying to get phone numbers? Could you be:

1. Trying to make everyone laugh to be remembered as the ``funny guy'' at the party?

2. Making business contacts of some sort?

I can't say that that what you've described feels too sexist to me, although it depends on the spin you put on it. If you set the characters up as ``player'' types who are just looking for one-night stands, then the quest for phone numbers feels like objectification. But if the end goal (for the character) is an actual relationship with a compatible person, then I'm really not that bothered by it. Maybe (although this is close to what you said you wanted to avoid) bonus points for getting the phone number of the woman at the party who's the best match for your character, but maybe that's far too much detail for this subgame.

And another question - what other ways are there to score points in this game? Knowing where the whole dating thing fits in to this might add some context.
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David Boeren
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Can you just make the character cards 2-sided or 2-ended (as in Yomi)?

Then the players can decide what gender THEY want to be, and also what gender they want to pick up. Seems like an easy enough fix.

Of course, both sides/ends of the card should have identical stats so that it's not easier or harder to pick up one gender.

For a re-theme, how about turning it into making business or show-biz contacts instead?
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Stoic Bird
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coolpapa wrote:
Theme-wise, is it that important that you're trying to get phone numbers? Could you be:

1. Trying to make everyone laugh to be remembered as the ``funny guy'' at the party?


This is basically the principle way to get points. The phone number bit is one aspect. I didn't get into the other part of the game since I don't think it's relevant to this conversation.

coolpapa wrote:
But if the end goal (for the character) is an actual relationship with a compatible person, then I'm really not that bothered by it.


That's what I was going for, yeah. Another suggestion I shot down was to change the "number" to "scoring", which is problematic thematically in several ways.

coolpapa wrote:
Maybe (although this is close to what you said you wanted to avoid) bonus points for getting the phone number of the woman at the party who's the best match for your character, but maybe that's far too much detail for this subgame.


I like the idea (I think that's different from "the hot one is worth more points", which is obviously horrible). The problem there is that it would eliminate the competition aspect - everyone would be going for different people, and then it would be a lot more dry. Either it would be worth enough points to make it worth the number of turns you'd spend or it wouldn't - either way, not that interesting.

dboeren wrote:
Can you just make the character cards 2-sided or 2-ended (as in Yomi)?

Then the players can decide what gender THEY want to be, and also what gender they want to pick up. Seems like an easy enough fix.

Of course, both sides/ends of the card should have identical stats so that it's not easier or harder to pick up one gender.


Again, I like the idea, but that introduces balance issues (e.g., if 3 straight men and one straight woman are playing, she has no competition for the men available to pick up).

I appreciate the suggestions!
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Rich Shipley
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
What do you all think? Are my playtesters making a big deal over nothing?


The pupose of playtesters is to give you another perspective. You should always pay attention to their concerns.

If I were making a game on this topic, I'd allow different genders and preferences and have some sort of hidden selection method so players could end up hitting on each other as well.
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
Again, I like the idea, but that introduces balance issues (e.g., if 3 straight men and one straight woman are playing, she has no competition for the men available to pick up).

I appreciate the suggestions!

If all cards are double-sided, then removing a woman from the game also removes a man from the game and removing a man also removes a woman, since they are on the same card.

However, I would consider the business contact angle. Both men and women establish business contacts with other men and women and it is often done in similar ways - buying drinks, taking out to dinner, talking charismatically, making false promises, and then getting them to agree to do business with you before summarily revealing that you don't know how to cook and you fart in bed.
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Stoic Bird
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Luce wrote:
VolcanoLotus wrote:
Again, I like the idea, but that introduces balance issues (e.g., if 3 straight men and one straight woman are playing, she has no competition for the men available to pick up).

I appreciate the suggestions!

If all cards are double-sided, then removing a woman from the game also removes a man from the game and removing a man also removes a woman, since they are on the same card.

However, I would consider the business contact angle. Both men and women establish business contacts with other men and women and it is often done in similar ways - buying drinks, taking out to dinner, talking charismatically, making false promises, and then getting them to agree to do business with you before summarily revealing that you don't know how to cook and you fart in bed.


The business thing doesn't make sense with the rest of the game, unfortunately.

I think I'm going to have to scrap this whole section of the game. It's secondary to the main part, which is gender neutral and utterly non-controversial. I'll have to start over, but that's what alpha's for, right?

I appreciate all of the help.
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What about while male characters are trying to get female's numbers, the female characters are trying to get males to want to get their numbers. Could have some slightly different mechanics depending on whether you are playing a male or female, and maybe even interaction between players of different genders.
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Tim Mirkes
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Is it possible at the current stage of development to have the PC/NPC characters be drawn from a common pool of characters? Perhaps the game includes 24 characters, 12 male and 12 female, and the players can choose who they will portray from among those characters, while the unselected characters become the pool of NPCs.

For example, Ed is a male character, rated 3 of 5 in intelligence, 4 of 5 in humor, and 4 of 5 in attractiveness. Perhaps add an illustration of Ed and favorite drink, and leave the card at that. Whose numbers Ed pursues is totally up to the person playing as Ed. (Of course, I have no idea what your system looks like; numbers are just for an example of what kind of info could be on the cards.)

Folks can feel free to choose the character/gender they like and pursue whatever numbers they feel appropriate based on their tastes. Don't expressly forbid same- or mixed-gender number-seeking. If your rules avoid suggesting any particular setup as "proper" or "correct", then you shouldn't have to worry about people viewing the game as endorsing one or the other. If you can keep your terms gender-neutral as much as possible, that should help to keep it from appearing as though you're trying to make a statement with the game.
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Shanthi Gonzales
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I am female and I think the premise of the game is sexist. I am glad you got some feedback early on and that you are trying to grapple with it.

Good luck.
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I don't think its sexist, but would guess its simply not appealing to women.

I could imagine a party game about pledge week at fraternities: you have to drink alot, or do pranks, or streak, or steal the Dean's car, or meet coeds, etc etc etc. That is not 'sexist.' If you are making a game about fraternity pledges, and you want it to be a bit silly, crass, and over the top, that's what the game would be about.

But it would probably not be especially appealing to women (for instance, I would not want to play a party game where I am a coed trying to get into a sorority, with the same type of crass humor).

Thus, if you did do a game like that, I'd imagine it would be 'pledge week into the greek system' and women play coeds, men play frat pledges, and so on.

Similarly with your game. I don't think its sexist to portray men acting the way probably 90% of men act, but to make it appealing, you would have to make it gender neutral or at least let players pick their genders. And if your game wouldn't support that, you probably have to drop the mechanic, as you have mentioned.

P.
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If there are people who don't like it, they just shouldn't play it!
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The other part of the game just got relevant. Fill us in.
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William Donks wrote:
If there are people who don't like it, they just shouldn't play it!


Whether or not people choose to play, we should all be aware that when we create games, we are shaping the culture of our community. If women perceive our community as sexist and hostile to them, they will not feel welcome or want to play games and participate in the community. That is why I think it is valueable that VolcanoLotus is grappling with the feedback he got. My two cents.
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David Boeren
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
dboeren wrote:
Can you just make the character cards 2-sided or 2-ended (as in Yomi)?

Then the players can decide what gender THEY want to be, and also what gender they want to pick up. Seems like an easy enough fix.

Of course, both sides/ends of the card should have identical stats so that it's not easier or harder to pick up one gender.


Again, I like the idea, but that introduces balance issues (e.g., if 3 straight men and one straight woman are playing, she has no competition for the men available to pick up).


What I meant was that each card represents BOTH a man and a woman. It's not until you "pick them up" that you have to decide which one it is for that action only... So everyone compete for all cards regardless of their gender or orientation.
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Jythier wrote:
The other part of the game just got relevant. Fill us in.


Eh, sure. (I'm paranoid about the Internet, but I guess I was about ready to play this in public at an upcoming convention since one of my out-of-town playtesters is anxious to see how it's coming, so why not?)

More specifically, the theme is a wedding reception, and the primary way to get points is by being a good dancer. (This was also a way to impress some of the women, who are the bridesmaids, and also why the business contact thing wouldn't work without a whole lot more massaging, if at all, since while dancing well might impress a potential date, I don't think it's going to land you a contract...)

The great irony of the design process so far is that some of the male playtesters made a big macho deal out of not liking the dancing part of it (themewise, anyway), while the female playtesters liked the dancing but, as mentioned, didn't like the idea of playing a male character. So, this game that I wanted to appeal to "everyone" appeals to only some male gamers (like many other games).

There's other wedding-type stuff going on in the background, so once I got over my initial "but this is an important part of the game" reaction, I think bringing some of that forward might still result in a fun game that doesn't offend anyone. As stated earlier, I've absolutely no interest in upsetting people. One of the first things I did when I started this project was talked with several women I'm close with to see if they thought it was sexist, and none did. (The original idea for the game actually came out of a conversation with my wife about weddings.) It seems they're in the minority, and I respect the opinions of the community here (if I'm getting compared to that Spinal Tap album cover, which I assume is the intent of the Christopher Guest picture, it must be pretty bad), so I'll scrap this part and rebuild it around the dancing.
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not all games need to appeal to everyone or even to large numbers.

I think you could "take the edge off" of the selection process by adding some other factors: they have an attractive ranking which raises & lowers with cards drawn:
get sloppy tipsy, down 1
finish Masters Degree, up 1
tell crude joke, down 1
keep talking after being rejected, down 2

could 2nd place go to whoever finds the best friend instead of a match?
3rd place to someone with a good business partner?
maybe these could be points awarded on rounds for Fri & Sat nights.
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
I'm working on a game set at a modern party. (The theme is important and can't be easily changed.) At this point in the design process, the characters the players control are straight, single men, and one of the ways to earn points (of which there are multiple) is to get the phone number(s) of some of the NPC women in attendance. This is achieved primarily by talking with them and/or buying them drinks.

I'm still in the alpha testing phase, so (thus far) all of my playtesters have been friends and family, mostly male gamer friends with a little input from (mostly) non-gamer women. A couple of the male playtesters have commented that they think the game is sexist, and while none of the women have told me that, all have been disappointed that all the characters are men and all the NPCs to be "picked up" are all women. The sexist allegations haven't been a majority, but they've been enough that I feel like I need to do address it.


I know a popular game that involves grabbing "colonists" from a "colonist ship" to work on your plantations while you reap the rewards.

I know another popular game that may involve declaring war on a rival civilization with the goal of wiping them out (presumably slaughtering hundreds in the process).

Another popular game asks some of the players to take on the role of cyborgs trying to wipe out humanity.

Another (less popular game) involves a monster walking around a dungeon, while your characters use blood pools to move fast and escape.

My point is: Your game is certainly sexist, but I don't necessarily see that as a problem. Also, I tend to play female characters online, even though I am male. Why do people have to stick their gender in fantasy play?

If it bothers you so much, retheme it as women picking up men by buying them booze. The reversal (from the standard setup in real life) might be interesting in itself. This way you can keep your theme while not offending anybody (and be a little cheeky at the same time).
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No it's not sexist.

Unless one is a humorless PC douchenozzle.

IT"S A GAME.
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