Adventurers Club Ltd. Member's Dossier, April, 1988 Hat

Richard Bartle's Pages

When you start to play a MUA like MUD for the first time, you need to think up a name for your "persona" in the game. Having tried the usual old cliches like MERLIN, ZAPHOD, CONAN and whatever your real name is, you'll eventually settle on something you can both type and remember, and which the game doesn't consider a swearword. The next question you'll be asked is what sex you wish to be, and then the game will launch into a persona-generation phase. Further information may be sought, depending on the game, for example what class of player you want to play as (eg. fighter, magic-user, priest), and your preferred race (elf, dwarf, human etc.). It is the gender question which is the most interesting, however.

In MUD2, the male/female ratio for personae is about 50/50. This was the case with MUD1, and is true for all the MUAs I've looked at. However, the actual breakdown in real life is more like 95/5. For MUD2, only about 5% of the players are genuine females.

At wiz level it's even worse: at the time of writing, MUD2 has NO genuine female wizzes (although one mage is very close!). MUD1 had 4: one shared the wiz with her boyfriend; two made it to wiz on their last day at the University on account of how their boyfriends were wizzes; the other was Anita Sinclair, founder and principal asset of Magnetic Scrolls, who made it to wiz as KRONOS (recognise the name?), and who can safely be regarded as a somewhat exceptional person in this context!

I don't think there are many MUD2 players who play a female persona for some kind of perverted pleasure, indeed most people have personae of both genders. Male seems to imply "playing for points" or "likely to attack", female is "playing for fun" or "unlikely to attack", but even these divisions aren't hard-and-fast.

The question I wish to address, however, is WHY are there so few women players? Looking through the pages of MD, there are many female names, I don't know the exact ratio but it seems around 60/40. This is the same as in BRITISH LEGENDS (BL), which is MUD1's name in the USA. The slight bias in favour of men can be reasonably well explained by the fact that fewer women have access to computers in what is still a male-dominated industry. Even if this were not the case, 60/40 is still close enough to 50/50 for us to assume that there's nothing inherent in adventure games, or even MUAs, which puts women off that doesn't put off roughly the same number of men. So why the gross imbalance in MUD2, and all the other British MUAs?

Asking female players doesn't help much, of course, because they don't understand it either! That's because they're playing the game, so obviously have found nothing wrong with it. The ones who play and then stop are the people we'd like to ask, but by then of course we can't.

It's tempting to think that perhaps harassment by the male players discourages the females. In BL, there were female players from the very start, so there was never the chance for the men to assume they were in a male-only club which needed its entrance requirements defending. This would appear to be evidence in favour of the "men hound the women out of the game" argument.

Unfortunately, there's no empirical support for this in MUD2. The players just assume that all other players are male, and if one tries to tell them she's female, they just don't believe her, even if she really is! Consequently, since they treat all players as if they were male, they don't harass at all (well, they do, but on the basis of how many points you have, not what sex you claim to be!). Such chauvinism as there is is confined to those adolescent types who haven't figured out yet that a female persona doesn't imply a female player.

So rather then the game itself, or its players, being the root cause for the dearth of women who play, perhaps social factors are involved? One obvious possibility, then,is that since men still tend to have a greater disposable income than women, perhaps it's the legendary "telephone bill syndrome", whereby people don't play because it costs too much. Again, that could account for a lot of the problem, but even so, surely it would only affect the frequency with which they played? MUD2 has several dedicated players who budget themselves based on their income. Some will stop playing once they've spent £10 in a month, and continue the next month. If schoolkids can play using their pocket money, albeit infrequently, it would seem to discount the argument that women, being generally less well off, would not play for that reason alone.

To play MUD requires a modem. You also need some terminal software. Figuring out how to use both these and your telephone to link through to MUD may be considered "technical". A well-known generalisation is that not many women know technical things about computers. Well, this is perhaps the most plausible argument so far. Girls in school are put off computers, and since there's no readable documentation on obtaining and using modems from first-principles, you have to be computer-literate to try them. Any one with a grain of intelligence can kick-start a micro and play an adventure game on it, but all this baud rate and stop bits business needs technical knowledge, access to which most women have been denied in the UK.

So maybe that is the reason? I remain unconvinced. Maybe some of the female adventure-enthusiasts out there could shed some light on the subject? In the long term, with few female players to add their ideas and vitality to MUAs, the games will inevitably suffer. Let's hope we find a remedy to this state of affairs soon.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: aclapr88.htm