AMTGARD'S OPINION CODEX ALL OPINIONS, ALL THE TIME OCTOBER 17, 2017
HOME ARCHIVE WRITERS FORUMS WRITE FOR US ABOUT

AMTGARD RULES

Amtgard Rules of Play.

ONLINE USERS
KINGDOMS
 Burning Lands
 Emerald Hills
 Celestial Kingdom
 Iron Mountains
 Golden Plains
 Dragonspine
 Wetlands
 Goldenvale
 Neverwinter
 Rising Winds
 Blackspire
 Crystal Groves
 Desert Winds
 Tal Dagore
 Northern Lights
 Westmarch
 Rivermoor
 Polaris
 Northreach
 Winter's Edge
PEOPLE WITHOUT A CLUE
Women on the sword path in the Iron Mountains
[08/28/2017] [Lightning]

Correction, Aug. 31, 2017: An Iron Mountains senior player has identified one IM player who is a woman and earned a 5th Order of the Warrior in 2007. This does not substantively affect the conclusions of the article.

Summary

This essay explores how the Iron Mountains can be more inclusive to fighters who are women. The discussion is founded on databases of all Iron Mountains Warrior awards and player attendance in the Online Record Keeper (ORK)--as far as I know, no similar analysis exists in the game. This dataset shows a discrepancy. Women don't earn the same Warrior awards that men do in the Iron Mountains--for example, no woman has earned a 5th Warrior this century. I argue this discrepancy is a problem because half our potential players are women, and because achievement depends on cultural factors and intrinsic advantages, not just dedication. The ORK records show that the gap begins with fewer women who start fighting. I interpret this as mostly a cultural issue and make suggestions for improving the culture. Then, the gap continues with a smaller fraction of women who persist in fighting. I interpret this as having several causes, including cultural issues and new women's physical disadvantages. Finally, the gap is cemented by the top women's tournament placement: almost nonexistent. I suggest this is caused by differences in training. ORK records show that women do show up to park days as much as men, but anecdotally, they don't participate in the same way. I argue these differences in participation mean women are learning less, and suggest ways to share more resources. Since the problem has many small separate causes, there's no single solution. I believe the issues presented may be relevant to other kingdoms as well as the Iron Mountains, and offer the following discussion hoping that it will be helpful.

Introduction

In everyday experience, most Iron Mountains fighters are men. All our high-level fighters are men--no woman has earned even a 5th Order of the Warrior in our kingdom this century. Clearly the Iron Mountains struggles to recruit and retain its fighters who are women. How can we be more inclusive?

In this project I discuss women on the sword path in the Iron Mountains. I used records from the ORK and inferred gender from persona names to assemble databases of Iron Mountains Warrior awards and player attendance over more than 17 years. This allowed me to describe women's progress on the sword path in detail. Based on these descriptions, I discuss women's fighting interest, persistence, and achievement, pointing to likely causes and potential solutions for the gap in the Iron Mountains.

I realize that prominent Amtgarders have discussed game-wide causes and solutions over two decades. However, I believe this project brings a fresh perspective and new information. I have just two years in the game, which complements the viewpoint of experienced players. I discuss familiar ideas, but I place them in context with data for an entire kingdom's player base over decades. This has not been done before to my knowledge. Additionally, the national discussion emphasizes high level fighting, while I will show that the Iron Mountains needs to focus on the early years and lower rungs of the award ladder before we can hope to train high level fighters who are women. My conclusions are most applicable to the Iron Mountains, but I believe the discussion is relevant to other kingdoms as well.?

Where's the Problem?

The ORK dataset (shown graphically below) establishes there is a difference between women's and men's fighting achievement in the Iron Mountains, and that difference is not wholly explained by the gender ratio. While some women do earn the same awards as some men, there's an extreme difference at the higher levels where no women hold more than 5th Warrior. There are fewer women in the game, with about one quarter of players being women. However, if the difference in fighting achievement was explained by the gender ratio alone, a quarter of the Warlords would also be women--clearly not the case. Instead, three observations combine with the existing gender ratio to explain the lack of higher level fighters who are women.

1) Interest: A smaller fraction of women begin to fight, with 64% of women versus 80% of men earning 1st Warrior.

2) Persistence: Women leave the sword path at higher rates than men. More than half the women leave between each of the first 3 award levels, while less than half the men do.

3) Achievement: A tiny minority of women achieve 4th Warrior. None of them earn 5th (with one exception in the '90s).

Text Box: The ORK dataset shows a marked difference in men's and women's fighting achievement.

Why Bother?

Simplistically, women leave the sword path because they choose to. The game rules don't limit awards based on gender, and anyone is allowed to play. Some could argue that since it's each fighter's individual choice to improve, the game doesn't need to change. Any woman who's interested simply needs to make different choices and try harder.

This is true insofar as nobody becomes a skilled Amtgard fighter without effort. Individual dedication is necessary for success, but it is not the only factor. Intrinsic advantages and game culture are important too. In Amtgard, all players compete with all other players, so intrinsic advantages probably matter more than in sports with classes (for instance, men and women or lightweights and heavyweights). We can't change players' intrinsic traits like height or reach, but we can help players learn more effectively by understanding how the traits matter. Also, all players including women make decisions about fighting with the influence of game culture. If we can fix areas where game culture guides women off the sword path, we will retain more potential fighters. Issues in the game that affect women are worth discussing, just as any issue that affects half our potential players is worth discussing.

There's also the argument that physical differences between men and women cause the achievement gap. In that case, cultural and training issues are less relevant and we should change the game or the awards structure. However, I argue that currently in the Iron Mountains, there are many other factors holding women back. Also, there are so few active fighters who are women in the kingdom that it wouldn't be feasible to create a ?women's league? even if we wanted to. Therefore, I discuss? physical differences in the early years and lower levels of the game, but focus on suggested cultural changes.

Fighting Interest

As discussed above, more than a third of women never earn 1st Warrior. In contrast, only about a fifth of men leave the path at this stage. While earning a 1st Warrior isn't a perfect indication of fighting interest, it is the best available indicator on the ORK. This data, as well as everyday observation, implies that a disproportionate number of women don't really get into fighting. In this section I argue that some changes to game culture would help interest more women.

New Amtgard players usually start fighting because they have fun. There are many reasons why women might have less fun initially. For example, some players who are women have health issues that prevent them from fighting. They often find other valuable and fun ways to participate, and that's great. A less innocent factor is wider societal attitudes which discourage women from combat sports. This discouragement isn't Amtgard's fault and isn't absolute, but it means we get fewer new players who are women, and they are on average less attracted to fighting than new players who are men. Building on this, the atmosphere these players find may push them out of the game completely.

Our game's atmosphere has improved over time, but there's still room for growth. Men really outnumber women on the field in all of the Iron Mountains parks, which makes those fields a little less friendly to women. A group of men, or almost all men, is a bit more intimidating to most women at first sight than a group with a good gender balance. Since Amtgard is a combat sport, this is true even if the men are perfectly nice guys. If instead some of the men are loud, sexist and obnoxious, the gender imbalance amplifies the effect of this--especially if the other men present laugh or stay silent. Fighting is less fun for players who don't feel welcome on the field.

I believe two changes could be helpful. The Iron Mountains is already starting them, and I want to emphasize why they're important. First, I hope men who don't make sexist comments will tolerate them less. Taunts like ?you're gonna cry like a little girl? may seem harmless, but using women as a metaphor for weakness sounds hostile and discouraging. We also can't expect the handful of fighters who are women to do all the work of re-educating problem players, especially when those women are new and we're trying to recruit them.

Second, women could be more visible to new players on park days. Even one woman fighting nudges the heuristic in women's thoughts from ?this is no place for me? toward ?look, women can do this!? Also, when women encourage new women to fight, those conversations are often less awkward than when men try to encourage new women. This is not a blanket rule that men shouldn't talk to new players who are women--senior players who followed this would leave new women at the mercy of the most clueless man present for an introduction to the game. However, senior women can make a great difference to new women with a few encouraging words (?Do you want to fight?? or? ?You were looking good out there,?) and they don't have to be fighters themselves to do so.

Persistence

Some women ignore societal conditioning against combat sports and experience a welcoming culture early on, or aren't deterred by subtle hostility. They decide Amtgard fighting is fun for them and start earning Warrior awards for their prowess. However, we observed from the ORK dataset earlier that these women don't seem to persist along any part of the Warrior award ladder as much as men do. Specifically, a higher proportion of women than men leave between Warrior levels 1-4 in the Iron Mountains. I show that women do stay in the game long enough to earn more awards, and advance as fast as men when they do earn awards. I argue that we can't change most of the factors responsible, but could make some cultural changes.

Perhaps the award system is sexist--leadership just doesn't give Warrior awards to women who deserve them. This guess doesn't actually seem valid in the Iron Mountains. The graphic below shows women progress as quickly as the lower-level men. (Here, ?lower level? is defined as a player who never earns above 4th Warrior. Also note that where the curves bend backward, they're dominated by older awards). The 15% of men who go on to achieve 5th or higher Warrior earn lower awards faster; however, the difference is small--a year or less by 4th Warrior--and all three populations overlap. Similar speeds for players with similar achievement argues against rampant sexism in passing out awards.

In the early years, women earn awards as quickly as lower-level men do. Where the curves bend back, they're dominated by older awards.
Text Box: In the early years, women earn awards as quickly as lower-level men do. Where the curves bend back, they're dominated by older awards.

We could also guess that women are leaving the sword path because they leave Amtgard completely. This also isn't generally true for the Iron Mountains. The graphic below shows the result of cross-referencing awards with attendance: both men and women who stop on an early Warrior award tend to play for a long time afterward. (If anything, women persist longer than men.) For example, the average woman who stops at 2nd Warrior keeps playing for about 3 years. Meanwhile, the average woman who continues to 3rd Warrior takes just 1 year to earn this next award. Other levels are similar, which suggests that many players who stop focusing on fighting find other enjoyable ways to participate in the game. It appears that a larger fraction of women than men make this choice, and that's why a smaller proportion of women persist on the low levels of the sword path. If we could figure out why these women lose interest in fighting, we could probably retain a number of them, since they seem to be changing focus rather than leaving the game entirely and immediately.

Text Box: Many of the players who stop on a low-level award keep playing for more than enough time to earn the next award.

I can suggest two plausible reasons why women might be more likely to burn out on fighting. As mentioned earlier, the game environment isn't always friendly to women who want to fight. Women may eventually decide that fighting isn't fun enough to be worth the hassle they're getting from other people over it. Second, women start with a physical disadvantage. They're often smaller than men and not as strong, which is why most sports separate the genders. Many players claim training can compensate for this at high levels of Amtgard. However, newer players have little to no training, so physical advantages do matter at this stage. Women are also socialized to be less aggressive. These differences mean that while all new players lose to higher end fighters, new players who are women often lose to their own cohort and even to newer fighters. It's not surprising if many women are discouraged after a few years of this; I think many men would also be discouraged in that situation.

Most of these factors are out of our control. Physical differences between average men and average women are unavoidable, and we can't change wider social norms either. The game doesn't and probably shouldn't separate men and women. However, we can try to make playing more fun for all newer players, to balance the discouragement of constantly losing. One example of this is to run battle-games with goals that any player can score, which lets people feel they're accomplishing something even if they don't win a single fight all day. Also, I think most newer players have more fun when others are friendly and sporting, rather than angry and fixated on winning. Anyone can help this happen with a cheerful attitude and friendly comments to people newer than they are, like ?Nice work!? or ?Did you have fun today??

Achievement

Some women stay interested through the first few awards. These top women eventually earn 4th Warrior, but none earn higher (with one exception from the 1990s). Most men also stop at 4th Warrior or below, but some do continue. I argue that many women currently don't participate in the most useful training opportunities within the game and suggest ways to offer more resources.

Earning 5th Warrior requires third place in a kingdom-level tournament. Women do enter Iron Mountains tournaments, but rarely place. Since 2012, I found records for 16 Iron Mountains tournaments. In three, women took 7th or 8th place.

Date

Winner

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Apr 2012

Geryon

Eggman

Zumat

Rafeki

Not reported

Dec 2013

Eggman

Agustus

Aagard

Duhtch

Not reported

Mar 2014

Agustus

Eggman

Grix

Not reported

Apr 2014

Agustus

Kord

Kain

Not reported

Aug 2014

Eggman

Riddick

Grix

Kain

Grendel, Maldread

 

Sneetch

Mihr, Batdorf, Quorpeck

Nov 2014

Agustus

Eggman

Aagard, Duhtch

 

Grix

Konodo, Sneetch

 

Ormar, Cammon

Apr 2015

Eggman

Agustus

Duhtch

Kain

Bruin, Glen

 

Vulcan, Lokin, Faust

 

May 2015

Eggman

Agustus

Grix

Sneetch

Maldread

Goatbird, Norodicus

 

Bruin, Azrael, Batdorf, Hilden

Aug 2015

Eggman

Agustus

Clouder

Grix

Sneetch

Folcwine

Azrael, Zane, Mihr, Turtle

 

Nov 2015

Agustus

Sneetch

Tato, Folcwine

 

Jekyl, Grix

 

Not reported

May 2016

Agustus

Jekyl

Sneetch

Duhtch

Rafeki

Batdorf

Bruin, Darien, Bow, Shim

 

Sep 2016

Jekyl

Kain

Grix, Duhtch

Agustus

Fitz, Mall

 

Zane

Konda

Nov 2016

Eggman

Duhtch

Kain

Grix

Money

Not reported

Mar 2017

Grix

Agustus, Geryon

 

Duhtch, Kord

 

Not reported

Apr 2017

Agustus

Atog, Kain

 

Riddick

Grix, Nip

 

Zane

Vulcan, Baca, Jet, Nyf

Aug 2017

Agustus

Sneetch, Grix

 

Kain

 

Arthur, Zane

 

Nip, Sunshine

 

We should ask how it is that some men place in tournaments, but most men and all women don't. The obvious answer is that winners fight better than everyone else. Since nobody learns without training, we should ask whether they also train more than others. Unfortunately, the ORK isn't good at tracking how hard someone works on their fighting. The one relevant measure is the number of attendances a player has in a year. If we check attendance in the first 4 years (typical time to earn a 5th Warrior) the graphic below shows that attendance of men who go on to higher levels is indistinguishable from men who don't and from women. Women show up to park days as often as future-high-level men, but clearly don't get the same results. This observation suggests that we should focus on details of how people participate.

Text Box: Women have the same attendance as men in the first 4 years of playing.

Some Amtgard activities seem more useful for training than others. Someone who doesn't fight at all isn't learning much. Someone who plays battle games is learning a little, but while battle games are the core of a park day, they're in no way designed to teach technique. Ditching is the other main activity on most park days, and is better than battle games for learning. After the day, players will sometimes hang around and spar, and these small groups may let others join them. This can be a good place to learn.

In my limited observation, women don't participate in all these activities equally. I see a number of women who enjoy playing battlegames, but few women ditch for long. Even fewer attempt to join the small groups, which are usually higher-level men. Like most collections of enthusiasts, these groups don't appear inviting to ?outsiders?, although they may allow people who take the initiative of approaching them to join in. Meanwhile, most men play battlegames and ditch; the best fighters also hang around and form the small groups. Anecdotally, many women don't participate in the most useful training activities.

I can suggest a few plausible explanations. Cultural conditioning, the park atmosphere, and the discouragement of starting out at a disadvantage are still relevant. Many women may not enjoy fighting enough to compensate for all these things and draw them on to the ditch field or into small groups--I believe many men wouldn't either in the same situation. I've also experienced the worry of feeling stupid, or worrying that others will judge you for pushing yourself forward and being a bad fighter. In my experience, encouragement to join in does help, especially when it's not overdone.

Further, these activities are less useful to players who are not already winning, which includes most newer women. In ditching; the weakest players lose almost every fight and spend much of the time standing out, while the people who beat them get at least one more fight. This can easily result in the weaker players getting half the amount of practice or less. In hold the field, a favorite small group game, the strongest player fights far more than anyone else. Ditching or hold the field are fun, but they are not beginner-friendly. This could be corrected by spending some time on egalitarian games like winners-losers or paired sparring, where people get equal time practicing regardless of skill.

Women may also get less useful mentoring. Anecdotally, I think women get lots of fighting advice from men who want to flirt or hang around the ?new girl.? It's often poor advice or badly explained. Sadly, this seems to make experienced players reluctant to single out women at their park for advice, because they fear awkwardness and don't want to come across as clueless. Another reason experienced players might not teach fighters who are women is if they focus on two or three players they see as promising. Of course this is their right. However, if the experienced players define ?promising? as ?fights well for their time in the game,? this will probably exclude practically all the newer women (recall the earlier discussion of physical disadvantages). On average, I think most women get less useful help than men do--especially those men who continue to be higher level fighters.

Solutions here are tricky. We can assume that the higher-level fighters won't change--anyone who's open to working with women is probably doing so already, and women are likely better off avoiding the others. A long-term solution would be to have more higher level fighters who are women and can mentor new women more easily. The Snapdragons (a feminist-oriented fighting company led by a woman) is one example of this in the Iron Mountains. Until that becomes more widespread, we can also continue to share resources about fighting to everyone. That way nobody gets singled out, but any weaker player who's interested in learning has a better chance. This could include park leadership sharing videos and resources, or running open workshops or fighter practices. In sharing these resources, we should emphasize that they are for everybody and anyone is welcome regardless of skill, to counter worries of not being good enough to try.

Conclusion

We saw from ORK records that the Iron Mountains struggles to recruit players who are women, interest women in fighting, and encourage them to persist. Some women still persist, but none of them break into the upper half of the award ladder. We learned that women do stay in the game long enough and show up to park days enough that we would expect them to earn more awards, but instead many of them lose interest in fighting or never start.

Unfortunately there is no single cause. It begins with cultural conditioning that discourages women from combat sports, and physical disadvantages of new women versus men. It continues with the fact that our sport is dominated by men. All these things mean that women would reasonably need a little more encouragement and support in getting started than men do. Instead, Amtgard culture often discourages them. Practice and learning could compensate somewhat for physical disadvantages, but women often avoid the existing chances to practice, like ditching or small group sparring. Those things are less fun for the weakest players on the field; being the only woman or one of a tiny handful can feel awkward; and it takes extra interest for someone to participate in those conditions. Also, these chances to practice and most mentoring are biased toward teaching players who are already succeeding. This excludes many newer men and practically all newer women. Where the top women might need a little more help, they often get less.

Since there's no one cause, there's no clear cut solution. Most promising ideas involve improving the game for everyone. Changing the culture isn't about silencing all men; most men don't agree with our most sexist players either, and everyone has more fun when people are cheerful and friendly on the field. Giving new women more resources can be done by offering resources to all new and weaker players. Emphasizing that these resources and activities are open to everyone regardless of skill level should help women feel less awkward joining in, without singling them out. Experienced players aren't obligated to teach, but those who mentor more than a tiny chosen handful are extremely valuable to this effort.

I hope that as these improvements continue, more Iron Mountains women will take the field, join ditch lines, and enter tournaments. These women will make our game look more friendly to other women. Perhaps in the next twenty years, one of them will place high or even win an Iron Mountains kingdom-level tournament. In any case, more of our potential fighters will be engaged and having fun. We should all want that to happen.

[ discuss on forums ]

LINKS

Amtgard.com

AmtgardInc.com

The Amtgard O.R.K. 3.0

AmtWiki

Amtgard Event Calendar

SKBC

Warlord Sports

Online Games Database

Amtgard Leadership and Service Archive

Amtgard 7 Expansion Group