A Frustrated Woman Gamer Speaks…
This is going to be long and rambly. Also, it will be focused mostly on tabletop gaming, as this is really what I love. Which is why it hurts the most, I think, whenever I run into the whole “girls don’t play” attitude, which I ran into numerous times at PAX East. To be fair, I didn’t venture much into the board/card games, RPGs or Minis area. I tried to visit the booths of numerous types of games, but after getting ignored in the majority of video game booths, the minis area and such, it just bummed me out. I had a GREAT time and was so happy that people were interested in our game. THAT is the reason I attended. I was also scoping out other booths for ideas (don’t lie, you do it, too), meeting podcasters & bloggers and talking about our contest. It was when I was out on break or out to lunch, that I became sad. I just didn’t feel like I belonged at PAX as a gamer. As an aside, check out Fat, Ugly or Slutty. This is what women deal with in games, game forums and such. All. The. Time. That being said, 99% of my interactions with fellow gamers are NOT like this. I am not bagging on men for this post, but simply sharing my experiences in gamer culture.
As I mentioned in my post last night, I was engaged by some very smart people on the topic of exclusive vs inclusive in regards to Gen Con vs PAX. It started when I caught a retweet by Chris Hanrahan which said, “PAX goes out of it’s way to be inclusive, whereas much like the rest of our industry, Gencon panders to the base.”.
My response back to that tweet, (copying others in the discussion), was as follows:
As a long time PAX attendee, I would normally agree re: inclusive. Until this year…
I quickly caught up with the conversation and see it was related to this post by Philip J Reed so I wasn’t missing anything. My friend, Chris Pramas, responded to Chris H.’s tweet conversation with, “I love PAX and all, but there is plenty of pandering to their base. It’s just a different base.”. Of course, I replied with, “I agree. I felt like I was at Gen Con the way I was ignored as “girls don’t play games”. So sick of it. “
I think that people who work in games, specifically board & card games, are sometimes astounded that women (or anyone) would be excluded from gaming, as they’re surrounded by family, friends and fans of their games. These people are from all walks of life. They are inclusive and foster an inclusive environment. However, many other not-so-awesome game developers don’t feel the same way. Some are dismissive, some simply ignore us and some are downright hostile.
I received the following questions via these nice folks, so I wanted to talk about my experiences. Whilst my experiences might seem rare, they’re actually not. And haven’t been since the early 1980s when I tried to play D&D for the first time. More on that later The tweets:
- “That’s so lame and upsetting
- “So sorry to hear about that. I hope you weren’t ignored at the @SJGames booth. That would make me very unhappy.” (SJG is always awesome)
- “Any publisher ignoring women because “girls don’t play games” need to wake up. Girls play games!”
- “Deeply curious about this. Times, places, companies responsible.”
- “I mostly saw companies (in tabletop) hungry to demo, so, confused.”
- “I’d also love more details on that, if anything to potentially educate those responsible on their errors.”
- “Step 1: Introduce the “girls don’t play games” people to girls. Step 2: Girls play games!” (Thanks for the giggle)
- Absolutely. My experience with unofficial cons at a con is completely different in re: gender treatment.
- While I may not know you, you are always welcome at my gaming tables at #GenCon. (Yay supporters!)
These comments are from people who make games and demo games for people who make games. I also want to spotlight the companies full of people who treat me as a person when I am at a convention. They have the BEST volunteers and whilst I may not have played a demo (ya know, the old ZOMG TOO MUCH TO SEE AND DO) thing, I will always go back and look at product. I have bought product based on how awesome staff/volunteers are to me and to other women (Women talk, yo).
Outstanding marks go to the following companies who’s booths & events I have attended in the past (Not at PAX EAst).
Green Ronin – You might say, “Wait. You know these people”. But I don’t know ALL of them and they don’t all know me. I don’t need Chris or Nicole to be there to be shown all the games. Even before I worked in games, THESE PEOPLE ALL ROCKED MY SOCKS. Every pre-knowing them experience was wonderful. Always respectful and outgoing. I love not being ignored. No chance of that happening with the Green Ronin crew.
Exile Games – My friend, Tombeaux, had introduced me to Exile long before I met anyone there. I walked up to their booth at Gen Con a while back and everyone was friend, helpful and knowledgeable. Staff & volunteers both. The excitement about what they’re doing is infectious and keeps me walking by just to watch them interact with other people. You can learn a lot from watching these folks on how to treat fans and potential fans.
Privateer Press – I had always wanted to play miniatures, but after /years/ of treatment from another company at conventions and their retail store, I was /tired/ of hearing “Are you shopping for your dad/brother/boyfriend? (when I was young) “Are you shopping for your husband or son?”. Privateer Press staff saw me looking at miniatures and said “LET ME SHOW YOU THIS GAME I LOVE SO MUCH AND YOU WILL LOVE IT TOO”. Every contact with a PP staff member or Press Gang member has been outstanding. They’re very patient and helpful, plus I picked up a lot of painting tips. The volunteer Press Gang folks LOVE this game and they LOVE to show others the game, too. <3 Oh, if you're curious, I'm building a pink/purple/blue Magnus Merc army. I should have 35 points ready for Gen Con.
Steve Jackson Games – I have always felt welcome to the table. I’ve been playing SJGs for years after my first demo of Munchkin. Seriously, these folks and their Men in Black have brought me years of “teh lulz”. Even if they are trying to steal my cookies. They’ve been fantastic when I’ve invited them to conventions and are always full of energy.
Pinnacle Entertainment – I’ve been a HUGE fangirl of Shane and Deadlands for YEARS. Deadlands is my 2nd favourite game setting, hands down. Back in…oh, about 2002..my gaming group decided to run a Deadlands LARP (when no live rules existed) for a small convention in Northern Virginia. They were awesome, answered questions, sent us GREAT swag for prizes. Just generally nice folks. When you’ve fallen in love with a setting and they respond with equal passion, you know it is a match made in gamer heaven. Everyone involved with Pinnacle has been top notch. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a fan girl. They talked to me as a GAMER years before I ever met anyone on the team.
Moosetache Games – I’m sure many people have never heard of them. I was immediately enamored by them last year at Gen Con. I was getting grumpy because no one wanted to talk to me, show me a game, sell me anything. They reached out and said, “Hello, we would love to show you our game, Rowboat. Do you have a few minutes to play?”. Of course, I did. I stuck around and came back a few times, dragging other gamers around to show them the game. I had great conversations with these folks about gaming and how difficult it is for a small outfit to compete with all the big booths.
There are plenty others who have been fantastic. Evil Hat Productions, Cubicle 7, Catalyst Game Labs (CANNOT WAIT FOR LEVIATHANS), Fat Dragon Games. Man, I know I’m leaving people out.
“But wait!”, you say. “You’re not actually talking about what led up to this post.”. You’d be correct. I am a big advocate of positive begets positive and I wanted to highlight that I’ve had HEAPS of positive experiences. But now, I will talk about the negative. If you’re still reading this, I give you props for tolerating my Nyquil-fed blatherings.
So, back in Ye Olden Dayes, when I was in high school, I heard about this game called “Dungeons & Dragons”. I totally wanted to play it. By then whilst everyone was reading boring books, I was reading “Xanth” and “Adept” series by Piers Anthony, the “Saga of the Well World” series by Jack Chalker. Of course, I was facinated by the “Dragon Riders of Pern” series. I was totally in love of the idea of role-playing in fantasy worlds. However, in my bible baptist town, not only was this ZOMG SATANIC, but worse…”Girls don’t play these kinds of games”. I was stunned. The dudes I hung around with in high school never minded me being around before. They treated me the same as they treated each other. No awkwardness or ‘omg girl” type things (Or I was too clueless to see it). So when they wouldn’t let me play, it just reminded me of EVERYTHING ELSE I HAD BEEN TOLD I COULD NOT DO as a girl. In band, I wasn’t allowed to play the drums. It wasn’t seemly for a girl. Flute, Clarinet were my options. I picked up the sax, because it counts as a woodwind instrument. I love the sax but HATED playing it.
I was not allowed to join shop class. I wanted to take wood shop so badly. Instead, my options were Home Ec and Cosmetology. I was used to it by adults, but to be betrayed by my FRIENDS? It was crushing.
By the time 1989 rolled around, I had been through a lot of crap that no one wants to go through. As a survivor, I carried on, determined to try to live my own life by my own rules. This worked out wonderfully in many ways and totally failed in others. I was working on the River Walk at Tony Romas in San Antonio. I was sitting around drinking beer with other “River Rats” (people who worked the restaurants/bars on the River Walk). My friend, Ted, had a D&D 1st Edition Player’s Handbook, DMG (Dungeon Masters Guide) and Unearthed Arcana. *grin* He asked if I wanted to join his group. I found myself parroting everyone I had encountered who told me no. I said, “Girls don’t play these kinds of games”. He blinked and said, “You’re wrong and I’ll prove it”. Turns out, he ran a game which included TWO other women! I fell in love with the Forgotten Realms at that point, hungrily reading up all the wonderful stories written by Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb, Douglas Niles, Troy Denning, Bob Salvatore and more. I’m still trying to run a Maztica game. *sigh*
I subscribed to “Dungeon” and “Dragon” magazine. I read about all kinds of game worlds and companies which existed. I bought a lot of their product. The only negative I could say about my first gaming group is that no one wanted to play outside the Forgotten Realms. Even for Maztica, for which I have mad love. For years, I continued to carry around all my books, finding games where I could and meeting other gamers. I attended a few smaller conventions here and there, getting my first taste of Steve Jackson games by way of a game of Killer. Mostly though, I stuck to my D&D Forgotten Realms. My group had upgraded to 2nd Ed when so much amazing source material came out for FR.
I pretty much got used to the misogynist spewings of many nerds & gamers. Of trying to sit at a table whilst a GM tried to force my characters into a rape scenario. Everyone said girl = priest. If you wanted a mage, it couldn’t be an ass kicking mage (okay, so what mages /were/ kicking ass back then?). I had to be a support class. If I was “allowed” to be any sort of fighter, the DM would try to make her sexy, describing all kinds of sexual situations, sexy armor… You get the picture.
I was in a relationship with a bloke when I moved to the DC Metro area. I joined his game group, but it was a frustrating effort. Whilst nice guys, they were very hack & slash. They didn’t like puzzles, they didn’t like story and no one wanted to run a game. Everyone wanted to play. This is how I discovered Deadlands, and thankfully, the bloke running it was GOOD at it. He had a passion for this setting, so I bought everything Deadlands that I could find. This is the game group who ran the Deadlands LARP and we also ran Delta Green Live. After a while, I became frustrated and stopped playing.
I retreated into playing MMOs. No one could force me into being what I didn’t want to be. I could /ignore anyone who was a jerk. I could find other roleplayers and build communities. So, my first MMO was the beta for The Sims Online. Laugh it up, furball. The beta community was FANTASTIC. Turns out, that I randomly stumbled on to friends I’ve known through renfaires! REAL PEOPLE PLAY ONLINE GAMES! I would have great conversations with people who told me about Star Wars Galaxies beta (shut up, haters). I signed up and got in at the tail end of beta. I played (and still log in from time to time) because of the world, the people and the community. I eventually found the Pirates of the Burning Sea MMO community. Much like SWG, I was the very first player spotlight. I was enamored with online play and was ready to ditch all my books. I simply could not find any good groups.
My life changed in an amazing way. I had a flight and ticket to Gen Con Anaheim. I offered my assistance to the Flying Lab crew in 2006 and volunteered in their booth the entire weekend. I was so excited to actually talk to people who made the games I wanted to play. Instead, I wandered around and no one would talk to me. I was flat out ignored. Looked in the eye and before I could ask a question, they moved on to ask dudes, “Hey, wanna try out this game?”.
The difficult part of this is things like this still happen. Not just at conventions, but at gaming stores. Message boards. You name it. When I moved back to Austin, I showed up for a public board game meetup (on Meetup.com). The guys in the store? FANTASTIC. The people playing? I had a smile, some games in hand and looked to join a game. Instead, I received blank looks or simply ignoring when I tried to ask a question. Now, I know that when people are concentrating in a game, it’s not a good thing to be distracted. However, when you’re talking amongst yourselves and you just /look/ at someone and ignore them? That is something else entirely.
And worse? Two of them were women. Whilst all of what I’ve said is hurtful and sad, there is nothing like how the women who DO get into groups treat other women. All women know that look. They give you the up and down once over and the “Don’t even THINK of trying to drop into OUR domain”. *sigh* We’re supposed to be empowering each other and helping foster the inclusive environment, not projecting insecurities.
So what did I do? I joined Geek Girls of Austin and started my own board game night. I run a very casual games evening at my favourite pub and invite everyone to join. Sure it started with women, but we have men who join us. Men who are not being all creepy and overly touchy. But men who want to play games. The women who show up have always wanted to play games; many play Facebook or console games. They’ve been through what I’ve experienced and no one has ever wanted to teach them to play. They’ve heard, “You are a girl. You would never catch up”. “Our game night is boys only, so we can get away from our wives nagging” “This game is complicated. Have you tried Apples to Apples instead?” (which is a GREAT game). NO one has wanted to teach them to play D&D or show them any other RPGs. Many women I know /own/ games, but have no one to play with. Game stores have pretty much shunned them, or the women have had That Guy show up to “help” them. you know. The one who doesn’t understand personal space. The one who is overly huggy and touchy. STOP THAT GUYS. Hell, STOP THAT GIRLS. Women are just as bad at that overly touchy feely ignoring personal space thing. Just. Stop. It. Now.
So here I am. Standing up for myself. Making fun games happen. Inviting other people to play, regardless of experience. Building a community of inclusive gamers and not tolerating anyone’s misogynist, hateful language or behavior. Games are supposed to be FUN. And dammit, I’m doing to do my best to make sure they are.
And as an aside, we play at 7pm Monday nights at the Draught House. Drop me a line if you want to show so I can save you a seat. It’s $2.75 stout/porters night!
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