Tuesday, 28 February 2012

I don't have any answers

I'm not sure what spurred him on to writing it, but Zak S has a great post up on women in gaming. Go and read it.

Anyway, it got me thinking about discrimination law and gaming. There is a lot of discourse amongst both economists and lawyers on the value of anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation and what real effects it has. I've heard the argument made by those of the pro-market persuasion that ultimately discrimination law doesn't have a great deal of an effect beyond what can be achieved by the market: if you as an employer deliberately restrict your own access to huge pools of potential talent because you are sexist, racist or homophonic, you will pretty much by definition end up losing out to other employers who don't restrict themselves and will thus have more talent to draw on. Ultimately you will have to rethink your attitudes if you wish to remain competitive. This fact, coupled with the financial implications of regulation, make discrimination law at best irrelevant and at worst a net negative.

Whether or not this is true is by-the-by (it presupposes that all employers will not adopt discriminatory hiring practices, and it also presupposes that you could possibly hold enough other factors constant to be able to discover whether it was true), it's an interesting thought. Think about the RPG industry, such as it is: the people who are traditionally less participatory in RPGs (women, but also non-nerdish men, older people in general, people from certain ethnic minorities within the Western world, and members of the non-English-speaking world to a certain degree) are a huge and largely untapped pool of game-creating talent. Are we persuaded that game systems, gaming movements, or gaming companies which, for whatever reason, appeal to this largely untapped pool, are more likely to succeed in the long run than those that do not? Will we see a Darwinian process by which those systems/movements/companies which tend to remain the province of the nerdish male decline in comparison with those which extend beyond it?

[NB: I'm not saying anything about actual discrimination in the gaming industry here. When I compare those systems/companies which appeal to wider audiences to those which appeal mostly to nerdish men, I'm not talking about anything purposive - I'm talking about the way things appear on a prima facie level.]

I don't think it's a clear-cut case, because I think it's possible to construct the argument that the RPG industry is about niche marketing, and systems/movements/companies which either identify a certain niche or come to be associated with a certain niche can achieve greater success than those intended to have broader cross-market appeal. 

Anyway, discuss. What are you looking at me for? I don't have any answers.


  1. The video game "RPG" space seems much more progressive than the tabletop space here - not sure why that is. About half of the rock star artists I worked with in the video game industry were women.

    True, there weren't many female programmers, but the rates for that are about the same as across all programming jobs.

    I'll also note that, having lived in a few different countries, some countries have disproportionately high ratios of female gamers, of all kinds, and some are disproportionately low. Has a lot to do with social acceptability.

    Sort of like the concept of Criminal Justification, as applied to RPGs...

  2. I'm always sceptical of huge pool of 'untapped talent' arguments; it takes very strong discrimination indeed to stop people doing things they are (a) good at and (b) like doing.

    However, re the non-English-speaking world; parts of it do seem pretty keen on RPGs - not just Japan, Spain is one country that comes to mind. I do think there is a lot of potential for increased cross-fertilisation, RPG translations and so on. The Spanish games certainly *look* amazing, I suspect that even if their mechanics are similar, their takes on themes and genre could have a lot to offer the English-speaking world. That may be true of other countries too.

  3. I'm always sceptical of huge pool of 'untapped talent' arguments; it takes very strong discrimination indeed to stop people doing things they are (a) good at and (b) like doing.

    Sure, if they know about the thing in the first place. Vast swathes of the female/non-nerd/old/non-English-speaking world don't even know what role playing games are.

    As for Japan, I'd say the hobby there is vanishingly small even in comparison to the UK. You might ask a random person in the street in the UK if they know what Dungeons & Dragons is I'd say there's a 50% change you'll get some sort of answer, but in Japan I don't think it would even approach 1%.

  4. "it presupposes that all employers will not adopt discriminatory hiring practices"

    Actually, it's much stronger than that; it merely presupposes that all employers will not adopt discriminatory hiring practices to an equal extent. From there, the marginal effect will apply.