“Hello from the other siiiiiiiiiiide”; except not really, because it’s been a year and this manuscript is taking forever to write, but I felt that a community update was necessary. It’s me, your favorite researchin’ bird! I have not fallen off the face of the earth, I just really underestimated the amount of tomfoolery that a federal hiring freeze was going to cause and how much support our exchange students were going to need this year. A refresher: last summer, your girl decided to do a study on the experiences of 200+ lady table-top gamers and you can read the logic for it here.
Purpose of the study (now I can talk about it without worrying about biasing my sample!):
A) Establish “traditional” demographics (so age, race, sexual orientation, etc.) along with game-specific ones (how long have you played, player vs GM vs both, what was your first game, etc.)
B) Establish whether or not mentoring relationships exist within the community and whether or not they served as moderators for levels of coping skills and social skills (two things that would serve as “real life skills” within a connected learning context)
C) Look at the levels of sexism women in the community have faced from other players and GMs, opinions on how important community was to them, where they’d like to see the community go in the future, whether or not they felt their gender had influenced their experiences as a gamer, along with asking why they were comfortable/uncomfortable with their current/most recent gaming group.
**Disclaimers: my work PC is currently in the shop so I don’t have access to SPSS/my data so numbers in this article are my best estimates/are probably a bit off, sorry. This research was conducted only with US residents so results might not apply to other countries.
1) Everybody’s Queer Up In Here And Other Fun Stats Trends
Much like my study on the cosplay community, there were a surprising number of queer and trans women in this study (read: higher than the 5% and 1% in “general population” samples but lower than the levels in the cosplay sample)! This is super cool because there’s something about niche hobbyist communities that seems to be drawing these typically marginalized folks. Research in the cosplay community has indicated that being LGBTQ is more socially acceptable within that community and “being someone else” may help them to solidify their identity as an LGBTQ individual.
The same seemed to hold true for female-identifying folks in the TTRPG sample. However, the opposite was the case when it came to race and ethnicity; well over two-thirds of the sample were White/Caucasian. Part of the reason games in general (not just TTRPGs) have issues with finding diverse audiences is due to a lack of representation/stereotyped representation of ethnic and racial minorities, something that was echoed in the qualitative responses from that population. A sizeable chunk of participants had been gaming for 40+ years (read: women have been gaming since the beginning). Most people in the sample had completed at least some college and most identified as players-only.
2) Dang, Sexism & Harassment Suck And Are Totally A Thing™
A small part of my soul dies every time I have to do really repetitive data analysis tasks (read: coding 200+ qualitative responses for 6-7 questions). A pretty sizeable chunk of it died when coding responses to the questions about sexism experienced within the last year and some of the other open-ended questions. I used a validated scale to measure this and tacked a qualitative item to the end of it asking about other instances of sexism participants may have experienced at the hands of other players or GMs.
I had purposefully excluded two items looking at sexual violence because I’d applied for expedited review with my institution’s review board. However, the number of people reporting those things on the qualitative section of this measure and others was disturbing. While the levels of sexism experienced within the last year were relatively low in this sample (yaaaaay!), that may have been due to the fact that many of these women had experienced lots more sexism in their early years of gaming (booooooo!), and had taken steps to avoid those experiences in the future; which leads me to my next point.
3) Lady Gamers Are Resilient As Heck
Typically, when people experience lots of aversive events related to doing a thing, they stop doing that thing. Lady gamers say, “To heck with that,” and keep gaming despite (and oftentimes to spite) the people that would like them to remove themselves from the hobby or to just “shut up and deal” with poor treatment because “that’s what it means to be a gamer.” To cope with negative experiences, lady gamers in my study employed a number of strategies to keep themselves safe: gaming only with close friends, not gaming at conventions/game stores, only playing online, not engaging with the community as a whole either online or in person, only playing with other women, and there were a few people who were thinking of leaving the hobby entirely because “things never change,” which is a damn shame.
It’s also upsetting to me that lady gamers need to jump through so many hoops and often choose not to engage in the larger TTRPG community as a self-preservation measure; this means they’re losing out on one of (in my opinion) the best parts about the hobby. These tactics might also explain why people are so quick to say that women don’t game; they’re just not vocal about participation and their opinions because those things often lead to harassment and violence.
4) If You Wanna Grow The Hobby, You Gotta…
Get with my friends! And be inclusive! My eyeballs are gonna bleed if I have to code “less gatekeeping” or “more inclusivity” one more heckin’ time. The end of qualitative coding is in sight but these were by far the most common themes from the “where would you like to see the community go in the future” question and the open-ended response related to current/most recent group comfort. Honestly these things apply to hobbies beyond just TTRPGs; people are reluctant to change and share their thing with other people because then it won’t be “their” thing anymore.
This is especially true if it looks like their thing is becoming mainstream, because being ostracized for being a participant in the thing, is a part of their identity. It’s true that with new people and varied perspectives involved, your thing will, indeed, change, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s different, sure, and it might take some getting used to, but in the end, variety’s the spice of life and there’s going to be more people who enjoy the same thing as you do. Remind me again why we’re still pulling this gatekeeping business?
There’s a lot more to the study than this but I felt like these were some of the big takeaways from it. Fingers crossed, the whole shebang will be coming to an academic journal behind an exorbitant paywall sometime soon. If you want more info on methods or results, I’m happy to talk shop!
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress all under the same convenient handle.
Is there a connection between playing D&D and Satanism?
While the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s may have died down to some degree, a small portion of conservative and religious groups still believe that playing Dungeons & Dragons turns people into Lucifer’s servants of eeeeevil.
When The Heavy Metal GM originally suggested that I conduct a study on table-top role-players, he suggested that I try to debunk this claim. I did a quick literature search and found that (sadly) there have not been many studies on table-top role players since the ‘80’s, but then I came across a study by Stuart Leeds in the 1995 edition of the Cultic Studies Journal addressing my original question.
1. The Question
Leeds wanted to investigate whether or not the claims that Dungeons & Dragons caused Satanism and higher susceptibility to beliefs in the paranormal. Leeds administered a personality questionnaire assessing participants on psychoticism, extraversion, and neuroticism, a scale assessing belief in the paranormal, and another scale to measure participants’ involvement in gaming or Satanic practices.
2. The Sample
He recruited 217 test subjects in total to participate in his study, and these were comprised of three groups. One hundred and twenty five participants were control subjects who were not dabblers in the occult nor players of table-top roleplaying games, 66 were players of RPGs, and 26 were Satanists and/or “occult dabblers” -- his definition of which is a liiiiitle bit wibbly wobbly, so bear with me. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 31, and were matched to controls by age, marital status, ethnicity, and highest level of education. The sample was 95% Caucasian and 100% of participants were male due to the “overwhelming preponderance of males in gaming and satanic practice groups.”
3. Stats And JUICY FINDINGS!
Leeds used a one-way ANOVA (analysis of variance) to compute between-group differences on the personality and occult beliefs scales.
4. Finding #1: Spoilers: Gamers Aren’t Any More Psychotic Than Joe Non-Gamer Schmoe
Participants in the Satanic dabbler group scored significantly higher on the psychoticism scale than the gaming group and the non-involvement group with a 95% confidence rate. (Just FYI 95% confidence means that there’s a 5% chance that the results are due to random chance, and this is usually the gold standard for significance in psych studies.)
5. Finding #2: Gamers Aren’t Introverts? Say What?!
On the extraversion scale, there were no significant differences between the gamers and the controls, but the Satanic dabblers scored significantly lower on this scale than the other two groups. No significant differences between groups were found for the neuroticism scale.
6. Finding #3: Gamers Can Separate Fictitious Play From Reality!? WHO KNEW?!
In terms of the belief in the paranormal, once again, gamers and non-gamer controls scored about the same as each other, and the Satanic dabblers scored significantly higher on this scale than the other two groups.
So, in short, this study found that for white, mostly college-educated, young adult males, there are no differences in personality characteristics between gamers and non-gamers, and playing Dungeons and Dragons is not associated with increased beliefs in the occult. However, the results of this study should be taken with a small palm full of salt for a few reasons.
However, 3 Reasons To Be Skeptical Of This Study
1. Sample Size
The sample size is pretty low, but given that this project was probably a master’s thesis, I can’t really blame Leeds for not having funding/resources to get more participants. Because there are so few people in the Satanist group (and the definition is so weird), the variance within that group is limited, and we can’t prop them up as being representative of Satanists as a whole. Same deal goes for the gamers, albeit less so. It’s easier to get a significant result when sample sizes are smaller, so someone, somewhere down the line should try to replicate these results with larger samples from each group.
2. Generalizability Is IMPORTANT
The sample might not be representative of gamers or Satanists or Joe Schmoes as a whole. I still have yet to see a comprehensive study on the demographic characteristics of table-top role-playing gamers, but there’s a lot of vague “well women don’t play so we’re not going to recruit them” bologna that seems to go on whenever someone decides to do a psychological study on this population. Same deal goes for race and ethnicity and geographic location (since all participants were from New York), and these criticisms also apply to the sample of Satanists. The results might not generalize to these populations as a whole, so getting a more diverse sample when replicating this would go a long way to lending more credibility to these claims. But this is a problem that occurs regularly within psychological and medical research and instead of going on for another five paragraphs about my biggest research pet peeve I’ll let you go do some digging on your own.
3. Do You Even Have Power, Bro?
The correlations they found for the personality factors were pretty small (generally anything between .1-.3 is considered a small correlation, .4-.6 is medium, and .7-.9 is large) which is to say that while the results are significant (read: probably not due to chance), belonging to any one of these groups probably doesn’t have much influence on personality.
So, there you have it folks! Next time Uncle Jim tries to get on your case about being an obedient servant of the devil because you play D&D or that you must be some kind of social pariah, you can show him this study and proclaim with the power of SCIENCE that this is simply not the case.
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Cospix, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress.
Leeds, S. M. (1995). Personality, belief in the paranormal, and involvement with Satanic
practices among young adult males: Dabblers versus gamers. Cultic Studies Journal,
12, 2, 148-165.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games