On Saturday night, I got to play in a Houses of the Blooded game session with five women. Sure, there were other guys there, too, but what fascinated me was how the women were playing the game.
The women had a wide diversity of characters. A pillowbook author. A huntress who could speak with orks. An opera singer. A highly sexualized power broker. A duelist. Watching the women play the game was like a fulfillment of a dream. Two of the players were not regular rolplayers but were playing because a male suggested they read my book. They read it, became fascinated with the concept, came up with characters, and were now engaging the game with full-steam.
In many ways, Houses is a game written to appeal to women. The rules aren’t about success or failure, but about narration rights. The game is about tragedy rather than power/wish fulfillment. The game encourages and rewards making relationships, creating art and romance. And, of course, bloody revenge.
The women picked up on this quickly. They were far more interested in creating relationships with each other and NPCs. They also loved the "open betrayal" kind of play the game encourages. Instead of the players having secret meetings, the characters did while the players sat at the table. They got to watch each other gossip and plot and plan against themselves. And, they were having fun.
Like I said, the ladies at the table were both newbies and experienced gamers. For one in particular, HotB is her first roleplaying game. Call of Cthulhu was my first and it created in my mind the Platonic ideal of RPGs. CoC is the branded roleplaying game in my mind. For her, Houses is the standard by which she will measure all other roleplaying games. Thinking about that is rather daunting. At the same time, it makes me smile, just a bit. My game is the standard by which all other games measure. I can feel my ego butting against my skull right now.
Likewise, another woman told me she had played another game before (I won’t mention the name, but the initials are "d" and "d"), but she didn’t like it. "It was all about math," she said. "And killing things. I like this more."
Now, again, I have to pause here and say that I don’t think my game is better than any other game, but I did make a conscious effort to make a game that appealed to both gamers and their girlfriends. I wanted to make a game about relationships, about cruelty, about mercy, about art, about profanity, about love, about revenge. Houses is that game.
My buddy Matt and I once had a discussion about D&D being the archetypal game: the game that was neccessary for the entire hobby to begin. If the game had been RuneQuest or Call of Cthulhu or The Fantasy Trip or anything else, the glue that holds the history of our hobby together would not have held and none of us would be playing roleplaying games now. The nature of roleplaying games–puzzle-solving, troubleshooting, tactical, mathmatic–was neccessary to begin the trend. Like the beginning of the universe, if any of the primal forces were off even by a touch, the whole thing would collapse.
That was what Matt told me. I disagreed. I said that if the first roleplaying game–the branded roleplaying game–had been different, we’d have different gamers. We’d have different tropes. For example, if RuneQuest was the branded game, we wouldn’t have games devoted to Authentic Tactical Combat Simulation, but games about exploring and interacting with living myth. Would it create as successful a hobby as we have today? Who knows. I don’t think anyone can say.
Your first RPG defines roleplaying for you. It is the lens with which you see other games. But now, we have gamers who get introduced to our hobby through different lenses. Games like Dogs in the Vineyard and Burning Wheel and Vampire. I know a whole slew of people who have never played D&D. In fact, when they encounter it for the first time, they scratch their heads… because they don’t recognize it as a roleplaying game.
That’s an important point I think needs to be said again: I know gamers who do not recognize D&D as a roleplaying game.
I don’t mean to say it isn’t a roleplaying game (although I have made that argument elsewhere), but what I am saying is that, in their minds, the concept of a roleplaying game is so far removed from the traditional definition, that the traditional definition doesn’t fit their experience. Are they wrong? Or, are the games they are playing not roleplaying games? Or, is the term "roleplaying game" big enough to fit all kinds of experiences?
Watching women play my game reminded me of the conversation Matt and I had. Why is the game industry dominated by men? Because the games available appeal to men. A particular kind of man. A man who likes using math to solve problems.
I designed a game that doesn’t appeal to that audience. It appeals to an audience who likes using game mechanics to tell stories about relationships, tragedy, revenge, romance, violence, art profanity and (most importantly) love.
And chicks dig that.