An Experiment in Single-Gender Gaming #2: Technocracy Chronicles


With one successful Changeling campaign already under our belts, it was a given that my all-female gaming group would reunite to follow it up. I had some great ideas for a game of Mage: The Ascension with player characters drawn from the ranks of the Technocracy, and I was looking forward to trying out what I perceived as more "serious" gaming with a group as talented as the one I'd found. But before I get too deep into an explanation of how our second year of gaming together went, I'd like to take a few paragraphs to address some of the questions brought up by readers in the intelligent discussion my previous article sparked.

With one successful Changeling campaign already under our belts, it was a given that my all-female gaming group would reunite to follow it up. I had some great ideas for a game of Mage: The Ascension with player characters drawn from the ranks of the Technocracy, and I was looking forward to trying out what I perceived as more "serious" gaming with a group as talented as the one I'd found. But before I get too deep into an explanation of how our second year of gaming together went, I'd like to take a few paragraphs to address some of the questions brought up by readers in the intelligent discussion my previous article sparked.

Don't you think the nature of White Wolf games has more to do with your experience than the gender makeup of the group?, I've been asked. And what about your style as a GM? To that I say: yeah, it's possible. In fact, I'm sure the games I choose, the age and interest of the players, and my own GMing style contributed to the way the game played out. But I wouldn't be writing these articles if I believed it could be explained only in those terms. I've played World of Darkness games pretty extensively - it's going on seven years of experience with them for me now - and whenever I've played with or observed mixed-gender or all-male groups, the results have been radically different. Perhaps I simply need to make myself clearer.

The difference was not so much in subject matter (as many readers have mentioned, the WoD encourages the deep character development and internally motivated plots I saw in my group) as it was in the way the group approached situations. Most of the male roleplayers I know, when confronted with a problem or a puzzle in-game, are extremely goal-oriented. They focus on defining the problem and solving it as quickly and effectively as possible, with only the most needed detours along the way. These women, on the other hand, would generally perfectly content to take their time in resolving plot hooks and seemed more concerned with the experience of roleplaying than with "winning" or "beating" the game by figuring out the plot. Only in truly dire, life-or-death situations could they be counted on to stick to the story I gave them and follow anything through to the end. (This could get frustrating, as I'll demonstrate later in this article.) So gender wasn't the only thing that influenced the nature of the game, not by a long shot, but I still believe it was one of the determining factors.

Other readers have commented on the extremely visible presence of sex in my group. What would I say if a group of male players did the same thing with female characters? Would you want to be involved in that? I don't know whether I'd want to play in that group, but I do know what my response would be: "Great! I hope you're enjoying your game." I believe that a single-gender group of men gaming together can be just as beneficial as a group of women, for all the reasons I've already mentioned. However they approach NPCs within that context is their own business. The funny thing is that before I GMed for these women, I probably would have found a way to be offended by a group like that. But when the tables were turned I came to realize that no harm was really being done - it was all in fun, it stayed at the table, and the discussion never reached the level where anyone's sensibilities would be offended (male or female, I'd like to think). After all, it's kind of hard to objectify someone who doesn't really exist in the first place, don't you think?

Having answered some of your most pressing questions (I hope), I'd best continue with the story as I promised. I went into the first session of the Technocracy Chronicles game with high hopes, and rightfully so. I'd received what is still one of the most interesting and promising sets of characters I've ever seen. My players had really pushed their limits this time around - they hadn't been afraid to handicap themselves and go for a real challenged. Their character sheets practically dripped derangements, physical flaws, dark secrets, and haunting pasts. Together, they made a profoundly flawed yet determined and noble group of tragic heroes, which was exactly what I wanted. I spent months preparing for their introduction to the regimented and secretive organization into which their characters would be plunged - creating NPCs with elaborate backstories, fleshing out their connections to each other, inventing new creatures for them to combat, typing up mission dossiers to hand out at the first session. I was sure everything would be perfect.

Maybe I should have known better. Maybe I should have seen the way the players found ways to derail even the silliest and most simple plots and realized that they'd never be able to find their way out of the complex story labyrinth I'd created. But I didn't. The characters were a good match for the story, but the players weren't. The individual passions that had made Glamour & Strife so much fun had, in Technocracy Chronicles, reached the point where they detracted from everything else that was going on. This time around, they seemed incapable of getting past their interest in their own characters long enough to sit down and work through the story.

Four sessions into the campaign, one of the players had already changed characters because her character was incapable of working with the rest of the party. Her new character then proceeded to, at the beginning of the next session, make the same enemies within the party for all of the same reasons. And it only went downhill from there. The quintessential example would be the session in which the group had to travel from Washington, D.C. to Maine. I was planning to gloss over the trip in a matter of minutes and continue with the story. Instead, we spent two and a half hours bogged down in ridiculous arguments along the way, as the players blithely ignored my best attempts to get things back on track.

By the end of the campaign I was, in essence, GMing to an audience of two. I have to thank those two players from the bottom of my heart - they were smart, serious, dedicated, and a joy to play with, and gave me most of the good memories I associate with the Technocracy Chronicles campaign. Two other players quit without ever officially quitting - they just stopped showing up to sessions. The third showed up, but did homework all through the sessions and only acted when prompted. But when I asked them why they'd suddenly lost interest, they couldn't give me any better answer than, "It just wasn't my thing anymore." At long last, the campaign stumbled to a halt and I wearily told my players that I needed to take a break from GMing for awhile. The group disbanded, and I was left wondering exactly what had gone wrong.

And that's where the real trouble starts. I spent the entire first article in this series expounding upon how great it was to have an all-female group. But Technocracy Chronicles was an all-female group that, within a few months, had fallen completely and utterly apart. If I'm going to say that good things like Glamour & Strife came out of the gender makeup of my group, I have to be just as willing to say that things as frustrating as many parts of this campaign can also be born from "experiments" like my own. I have to be willing to say that sometimes, having an all-female group leads to as many problems as it leads to good things. And of course, I don't want to say that.

Nonetheless, getting this group together had one profoundly beneficial effect in the way it encouraged these women to game. Of the five women who participated in this group, all of them are still involved in gaming to some extent, and three of them have gone on to run their own successful games. That's more than I can say for a lot of the women who got their start in male-dominated groups. All-female groups are useful because (as I implied in the previous article) they provide beginning female gamers with a situation in which they can learn to play without feeling as though they have something to prove in a male-dominated hobby. Because of that, I'd do something like this again if I had the chance to introduce women to gaming by doing it. But for the most part, I now put together my groups with little or no regard for the gender of the players.

I don't believe Technocracy Chronicles failed because the players were female. It failed because the story was a poor match for the players' style of gaming (which, admittedly, may have derived somewhat from their gender). But if I believe this, I also have to believe that it succeeded on its own merits rather than the gender of its players. That's not so hard to think, is it? So, in the end, I suppose this group taught me I was wrong to think female gamers had something special going because of their gender - that, for better or worse, gamers are gamers, with strengths and weaknesses of their own. Gender may be a thing that affects those strengths or those weaknesses, but it's not the only thing. Thanks to this experiment, I'll never make the mistake of thinking that again.

Thank you so much. This is indeed an honest and well written article. I find the topic of female gamers who are actually in the proverbial driver's seat to be an indication of a healthier gaming world as a whole. Feamles in general have seem to have added a nice touch of depth into the gaming industry. Not so much because of their difference in style or content, but simply because they have confirmed the requirements for sound mechanics and quality of presentation.

I run two groups: one with mostly girls and one guy, and one with mostly guys and one girl. And the suprising thing is that after four years of gaming in the same campiagn, the two groups share a high amount of similarities in what they consider a "great session." Your frankness in the article really helps move the discussion of gender gaming, as a whole, forward. I believe a fun session is driven more by great mystery and challenge, rather than "style" or "genre."

That being said, a campaign supporting both male groups and female groups tends to be well rounded. There isn't an area the GM can slack off on. You mention character depth and developement being a focal point of your female group. We too find this a compelling portion of our gaming experience. Both groups certainly take full advantage of it (character developement), even though most of the background writing was created with the female gamer in mind. I was wrong for assuming that it would only pertain, in great part, to the ladies preferred stlye of gaming... this is but a small example of the many false notion errors on my part. I have been, we all have been, pleasantly suprised to find such a universal enjoyment of a campaign.

So. Do you think a male party would have responded better to the Technocracy campaign? I would be willing to wage that the campaign would have failed either way. Not to sleight the GM, but I see it as defense of the female gamer. I think you lead to this point rather well in the article. Hopefully there will be more write-ups to come on your endeavors with all-female gaming groups.

They are greatly appreciated.

You know Beth, I remember first stumbling on your site back in January of 2001 (just after the old Bravenet forum went up). At the time you struck me more as a player than a GM. In the intervening years you have taken up the mantle, and it has been interesting to see you grow into (from what your players who post say) a good Storyteller.

In my experience most beginning GMs, myself included, are prone to blame our players when a campaign fails. They were disruptive, ambivalent or immature. Or they were guys. Or they were girls. Or a host of other excuses.

It takes a big person to admit that we, as the GM, are the largest part of why a game succeeds or fails. Its up to us to tailor a game to its players, and to keep things fresh and interesting.

We all have our games that failed, and the mark of a good GM is learning from it and then running another game. You, I can see, have the potential to be one of the best. Never stop learning, and never be afraid of making more mistakes.

Inflated egos are not exclusive property of women. Personalities are both a blessing and a curse, and when they're a curse, its unsolvavble. I've only had a few female gamers in my undertakings, but I haven'y noted any particular excessiveness of ego in them. When you have competing egos in a campaign, you have a problem that wont go away. I loathe prima donnas, escpecially because they are usually the best role-players, and they know it. But let me say this unequivically: it is not your fault. I have prepared several campaigns that have gone under from what I call 'game morale failure'. That's the point at which, like an army, the game has no more will to live and flees for its life.
A game is an organic experience. It some of the cells in the body are cancerous, it will eventually die. My suggestion is to excise t hose ill cells delicately and finally. While I do make mistakes, which I am more than willing to rectify, I must make the point that player narcissism i the number one cancer in the organ. When it's not the greedy-grabbies, the 'you must love me, I am the reason for existance' schtick, then its the egos at war problem. Some poeple just do not mix. When Bob and Anti-Bob occupy the same game, it explodes. Its physics.
Once, I had two players who literally hated each other. One was a bully who couldn't stand people contradciting him, the other was a little guy that didn't like being bossed around. naturally, things got tense. I had an old sofa that needed to be thrown out, as it regularly poked peole in the rear end. I decided to try an experiment, and had the two in question destroy the sofa by hand and shove it out the window (yes, I was young at the time). Anyway, I figured that the release of agrression might stem the tide of hostilities. Rather, it augmented the testosterone levels and they nearing came to blows. Thus, I had to split the game into two groups, which effectively doomed it as people in the different groups communicated with each other about things that they weren't supposed to know.
In my opinion, games only fail on the gm's side when he is megalomanical, allows no rp ing at all, or gets adversarial with the players. Other than that, I find against the players. Puerile behaviour, incessant egotism, and othre personality defects are the true kryptonite of a game.
As an aside, I have to admit that I've always been curious how a woman would run a game. Gaming being the male bastion it is, it is a difficult concept for me to grasp. the Referee has to, in order to keep order, be a punitive, authoritarian figure, which is generally a Father/masculine modality. How do you (Gamerchick or other female gm )handle players that wander outside the accepted lines of behaviour? Just curious- no gender baiting.

Shark: I'm not sure how a male party would have responded to the Technocracy concept. When I told male gamers about my ideas they certainly did seem to respond to them on a deeper level than the women did. However, I think that given a group of male players *with the same issues and conflicts* the game would still have failed. Give me a group of male (or female) players who can stay on track and the campaign succeeds. Perhaps men would have been more likely to hang on for longer, but if the players had stopped getting along I think the campaign would still have fallen apart regardless of gender.

Dave: As for how I handle players who cross the line...good question. My personality in general is extremely nonconfrontational to the point of letting people take advantage of me at times, and I've had to work hard to overcome that when confronting problem players.

However, I definitely don't see myself as a "punitive, authoritarian figure." I see myself as more of a guardian or referee. My job is not to mete out rewards or punishments to my players, but to keep an eye on their behavior and ensure that everyone continues having fun by urging them in the right direction and correcting them when they make mistakes that take away from that fun. I try to change along with them as well and alter my game if needed to make it more fun, because I find I am having the most fun when my players get the most into the game. Confused yet? Here, let me give you an example:

One of the biggest conflicts I had to deal with took place when I ran a mixed gender group (half and half roughly) through a silly and light-hearted Mage campaign that lasted for only a month. In the group was a player who was one of my GMs at the time. He was an extremely experienced roleplayer and GM and knew Mage inside and out - better, in fact, than I did at that time. Our opinions on gaming and our interpretations of rules did not always mesh, but I was not that worried because we had talked extensively about his character and exactly how I would be running the game, and he had agreed to abide by my rulings.

The trouble began only two sessions in when he and his beloved familiar confronted another one of the characters (a ghostbuster complete with proton pack). Knowing very little about mages in general, the ghostbuster assumed the familiar was a ghost and tried to suck it into the proton pack. Of course this led to combat with both proton pack and ghostbuster almost being destroyed by Forces magic before the other characters leaped in and separated them. I believe that intra-party conflict is, to a certain extent, essential to a good game, so I let it go and hoped there were no hard feelings.

I was wrong. The player took the attempt on his familiar's life very personally. After the game he sent an irate email to me and all of the players involved in the game saying that he was upset about the night's events, that the rules clearly stated that he could do a lot of things that I and the players had told him he couldn't do, and that if anyone messed with his familiar again he would PK them. I got angry at that - not at the threat of a PK so much as at the way in which the player was trying to take my authority away from me and put words in my mouth about rules decisions. (And yes, I still believe gender may have been a factor in this.)

After giving myself a few minutes to cool down, I sent a response to the player telling him firmly and in no uncertain terms that I did not like the way he was trying to assume control of my game, that the rules he had given did not apply and that I was replacing them with the interpretation I preferred, and that I could not be responsible for the other PC's actions against him if his character continued to be a tremendous jackass (which he was being). He wasn't happy but he agreed that it was my call. I then met with him in person before the next gaming session to make sure he was 100% clear on what I expected from him rules-wise and that he was okay with what had happened. He finished out the rest of the campaign just fine, but after that incident I did not invite him back to any of my other games because I decided I didn't need that extra stress.

I hope that answers your question. Keep the discussion going, everyone!

I've found your stories very interesting, gamerchick, as well as the ensuing discussion. My own humble opinion as a female player is that it is the individual players, the setting, and the GM that determine what a game will be like.

I've been playing with a mostly male group for about 10 years now. Luckily my fellow players are mature and more interested in actual roleplaying than in massaging their egos or exercising their testosterone. Most of them play female characters sometimes, and they don't care whether I play males or females. As a general rule we keep sex and romance out of our games, partly to avoid embarrassing complications and partly because we usually play traditional fantasy RPGs like D&D that don't really encourage character development - though this doesn't stop us from developing our characters anyway.

Just as an example, a male GM ran a long-term Fantasy Hero campaign in which my female PC was given an opportunity to become romantically involved with a male NPC. The GM didn't push it at me, just offered the option. Our PCs were members of a mercenary army so the relationship never developed far, but it did give me some good opportunities for roleplaying when the NPC was sacrificed in the creation of a magical weapon, and my character ended up being the only person who could handle the weapon. Currently the same GM is running a D&D campaign in which my male PC is married to a female NPC. It's interesting to see how the GM handles that.

To sum up, I doubt that I'd be able to enjoy these situations with a different group of players, regardless of gender. And just to make an additional example that gender doesn't matter, when a male GM recently offered a romantic subplot in one game, *I* was the one who was cringing and trying to avoid the introduction of the relationship. The male player whose PC was directly involved didn't seem to mind it at all, and used it to springboard the game in a new direction.

Gc, it sounds like the guy was a punk. You were right not to invite him back- and I'd have to recommend therapy for osmeone that far into the game. I'm all for good, intense, 3-d non-cardboard role playing, but he clearly was way too invested in the character.
I am almost always gm in my groups, as I enjoy story-telling and directing more than acting. When I play, I usually annoy the other players by backing the gm up on what he says, and pointing out what the rules says on the matter so the players cant pull a fast one on the gm. That comes from my belief that a game has to have order to survive. Your player was clearly not on board with this, and you were right to call him on the carpet for it.
I dont like having to be the heavy, but when people cross the lines you have to deal with them, or else disorder results. Players also respect a gm who takes command and sets the standards. If a gm is wishy-washy, the game is doomed. You sound like you handled your problem ego just fine. And I'll bet your players gained respect for you not letting him walk on you.

"The funny thing is that before I GMed for these women, I probably would have found a way to be offended by a group like that. But when the tables were turned I came to realize that no harm was really being done..."

Just another reason that you are one of the best gaming columnists around, bar none. Keep it going!

One of the other reasons that I believe the group started to deteriorate had also to do with out of character issues. The reason that Glamor and Strife worked so well is mainly because we were willing to pretend that all six players were perfect friends. However, the Technocracy chronicles had the unfortunate luck of beginning as people were fissioning off. There is a direct relationship between the people who stayed interested and those who stayed close friends. So really, the stem of the problem seems to come from OOC issues, not the game itself. As a social epilogue, as soon as the game was over, "homework girl" virtually disappeared from day-to-day interactions. Similar occurances happened with the two less attentive players. It was not the fault of the GM in this case, but an example of the game being an unfortunate casualty of social disintrest.

Incidentally, I enjoyed this game much more than Glamor and Strife, and it has been my favorite campaign as to date. The character I created for the game, a psychiatrist whose enlightening and subsequent technocratic enhancements caused her a world of pain and problems, still remains my favorite character. And I look forward to any blatent attempts at "resurrection" in the future in the sillier games. :<)

Anyway, perhaps you should address the OOC aspect of the relationships of players in a future article - not the romantic ones, but the platonic ones, and how it influences the game.

Ahhh... this information from Chia is very enlightening. Personal incompatibilities have ALWAYS been the demise of the gaming groups I have experienced. Recently this has not happened, but I think I can speak for most gamers when I say that you should enjoy the company of your fellow gamers in order to realize a succesful gaming environment.

Both my fiance and my sister-in-law have stated that they don't ever want to game with people they don't like. This has probably been the biggest difference between the female and male gamers in our groups. The girls have been more prone to say something about gamers that they don't get along with. In general, it comes up in discussion more frequently then with the guys. However... the guys have been more aggressive in their actions to remove a player (or leave a group) due to out of game conflicts.

It dosen't come up often, maybe once a year. But it does crop up as an issue with enough severity that it makes me ponder its ramifications (god, I hate that word) on our hobby as a whole. In regards to the gender issue at this post, girls vs. guys, I am curious as to the experiences of other GMs. Do you see a difference? I am not trying to bait anyone into a stupid gender argument. This seems like legitamate RPG content. Perhaps there is enough non-gaming material out there to make this a discussion for another time, another palce. Like Chia said, a future article?

p.s. Does anyone know anything about the tropical island of Pohnpei? It is one of the few Matriarchal societies out there. Pretty interesting...

Perhaps the choice to socialise together is what we're really looking at? It has to be said most gaming is done in a fairly close-knit group and hence there is increased likelihood of friction becoming an issue - particularly in the shared unreality of an RPG. People change and that change is not always comforting for friends to deal with. Especially with time being so tight that these games may be the only time these friends meet.

Incidentally, if you feel that the game or your group is stagnating a bit one of the best cures is going out for a beer and evening of non-gaming. You'd be shocked how difficult this can get for some groups but you re-discover these people...

External stresses also play a big part - I'm wondering if Homework Girl felt obliged to play when she should have been focussed on her coursework. I also think GC has recognised that perhaps there was a little too much work in preparing Glamour & Strife but don't get me onto how much work it is to prep a decent WoD game...

The following are based on too damn many games and observation of gaming groups. They are purely opinion so if this mirror seems crooked, blame environment.
Or me. Whatever.

In my own experiences , women are more likely to say something but they're also more likely to resolve small-scale problems. If it's a big thing, then the situation is not so easily sorted out. Women are also very serious on the loyalty front when it comes to a game - once they decide to stick with a game, the game is stuck with. They also get IC with minimal fuss, seek to resolve plot arcs and will take time to do things just right.

Men on the other hand are more likely to let a problem bubble under the surface (or bitch about it without going to sort it out) until it becomes a big problem. Once it is a big problem, they move to resolve it one way or the other. Men are also more likely to wander from system to system - unless they've found a brand they *trust*. They can get IC but have to be pushed, will ignore plot arcs if they don't see them as relevant and fly by the seat of their pants - which can be wonderful or just bad.

Much thanks for the brainfood GC!

Thanks for the comments and praise, everyone. My next article is going to be about writing good character backgrounds (if I ever get around to finishing it...*cringe*), but after that I'll see what I can do as far as whipping up an article about OOC relationships and tensions and how they can affect a game.

And extra special thanks to Chia, who doesn't seem to mind that I picked apart her gaming experience and smeared it all over the Internet. You rock. And those milkshakes really were delicious. (c;

No problem. To be honest, I think it is kinda cool that our little group is gaining recognition (noteriety?) for our various strange stories. It kinda makes us like b-list gaming communitiy celebrities, or at least it does in my delusions of grandeour :<). Hmm.. If you are short on time.. maybe I'll use my own idea..

Or not... I dunno. :<)

I have DMed (I say DM instead of GM, please forgive the personal eccentricty) for both males and females, both with linear plots and non-linear, and both in groups that worked together perfectly and those that fought constantly. I have to say that never once have I ever seen gender become an issue. Female players and male players do not, in my experience, follow seperate trends. I've had male players who have played extremely introspective, detailed characters, and females who played hack-'n-slashers. I just felt it neccessary to point out that in both my opinion AND my experience as a DM, gender has never been discernably a factor in my players' characters and styles. I suppose that's all I have to say on this issue.

Well, I DM for a seven-player all-female group in the UK, and it's been interesting to see the comparisons.

For one thing, it has changed my attitude to relationships in character. Up until this group, I admit did think most sexually OTT stuff in games came from the guys. My opinion is forever altered (and my sanity unequivocally bruised) after, just a few weeks ago, having one player file an OOC request for the two NPCs her bard has been leading on to wrestle naked in jello to determine who gets the girl. o.O Along with a few similar incidents, it's been a real eye-opener.

The up-side of this is that my players unfailingly interact with NPCs as people, and often get into discussions of how to approach one NPC or another based on their personality. Having that happen is really rewarding - also when they try and work out what NPCs are up to by analysing their behaviour, psychology-style. I love working out the motivations of major NPCs and villains, and having the players reason it out as well is amazingly rewarding, especially when they work out something major enough to act on. Up until this group, I'd played entirely with guys, and they never took that approach, focusing on -what- was being done instead of -why-.

A corollary to that is that all the characters have screamingly detailed backgrounds - and they are more than willing to have really heinous things happen to their characters to advance the story. One player's reaction to almost getting her bard's face clawed off was to enquire about the pattern of the scars, spend the break sketching a series of character pics plus scars, and then announcing that she didn't want any healing magic because it might remove the 'cool-ass marks', and has spent a lot of time developing wild sagas her character can tell over how she got the scars. By comparison, I've run pretty much the same scenario on two guys, neither of whom did anything with it at all. Granted, a lot of guys would grab that ball and run with it, but I'm using it as symbolic of a tendency.

In fact, I can cut this whole ramble down to: ime, female gamers are interested in the world and it's people even more than the story. If you're DMing for a lot of women, you'll probably have better luck with a whole-cloth campaign, and it helps to let them choose the villains for themselves - they know who they dislike, and they don't need a 2-D Dark Lord Zackrathoth of Horrible to fight as well.