As a continuation of our last part from this Women in Gaming series, we wanted to do address something. In addition to the floods of positive support we’ve received over these articles on social media, we’ve also received a number of challenges to our assumption that women have it any harder in tabletop gaming. We want to be clear that we absolutely DO acknowledge (and love!) those safe gaming communities out there. That said,
the mere existence of exceptional gaming groups that are safe and inclusive for women does not justify inaction in the face of the many communities that remain inaccessible and abusive.
And if you don’t think that general trend is exclusive to women, then we’d encourage you to do a little bit more research (these two articles are a great place to start: (For Good Men to See Nothing, Tabletop Gaming Has A White Terrorism Problem). Or, better yet, hear it from our very female team members!
“You only started playing this so guys would pay attention to you.”
“Well this is why we have a girl in the party, just have sex with him and he’ll give us what we need. Go do it.”
“You only know how to make pretty characters that can’t actually do anything in combat.”
“Whoa! Damn, are you on your period or is your character on hers?”
This is just a small fraction of the sexist comments I’ve received throughout my years of playing Dungeons and Dragons. I do want it to be known that I have been in groups free of sexism and in groups that were riddled with it. From these experiences, I learned that sexism in the RPG world is not inherent to the games, it is taught. New players are groomed to hold the same ideals as the person who introduces them to the hobby. They are taught from the perspective of someone they respect and admire for seemingly possessing so much knowledge about the hobby, so of course when their mentor says “this is how you treat women in a game, this is why and how women play, this is really a man’s game,” they listen. And I do not mean that directed towards only men who are learning the game. When we hear it enough, women start to believe it as well. We start believing that this is just how it is in the RPG community and eventually we forget that our treatment is wrong because it’s simply normal.
The stereotype that women only play games to impress men is another thing taught and perpetuated by men who believe that their knowledge of a game somehow entitles them to control over women. I myself have been slapped and accused of only playing RPGs to get male attention. But the truth is, RPGs are not a form of some tasteless Girl Guide article on “how to keep your man interested.” I promise, you will not look in the table of contents of ANY RPG and find a section called “how to get that good nerd dick 101.” Do you want to know why that’s not in there? It’s because that is not the point of playing the game. People play rpg for the simple fact that they are fun. They’re just fun. No woman is devoting that much time and energy and focus into something just to make you acknowledge her. She plays because she wants to. She plays for her, and no one else.
Women in gaming are surrounded by men who harshly judge and critique their playing style to the point where we see so this as just normal, and that’s sad. Why are women under a microscope when we play? Why is it that when we ask a simple question regarding the rules, we’re laughed at and have to endure patronizing mansplaining? Why is gender even an issue here? Why is it assumed that women can’t simply enjoy and RPG without having any ulterior motive?
And then we have the complete opposite end of the spectrum where some men are obsessed with women who play rpgs and they “ooh” and “ahh” over a woman with a shared interest. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be attracted to someone that shares the same passion for a hobby that you do. That’s how my boyfriend and I met and it’s all fine and good. I’m saying that it reaches a point where it is not flattery. It almost makes it impossible for the woman to play because she’s too busy fighting off your advances to fight off the fucking banshee that’s trying to murder her (and yes I am speaking from experience here, and yes the banshee did murder me). And for those of you reading this and thinking “she’s so rude, she should take the attention as a compliment, why is she so ungrateful?” Congratulations, you’re part of the problem.
No one wants to be stared and gawked at while trying to play a game. I can assure you it’s a very uncomfortable situation. I feel obligated here to call out some of those male streamers on Twitch right now who claim they are somehow “helping” by having all-female groups under labels like “GIRLS GONE WILD.” You are not helping, and you’re not trying to. You’re pimping out women for views. I’ve been in both situations where I couldn’t play because I’m a woman and where I could ONLY play because I’m a woman and I honestly don’t know which one is worse. On one hand, you’re unable to participate in your favourite hobby because you are a woman. On the other hand though, you’re asked to join this all-female cast while knowing that it’s NOT because they like your playing style or they think you’re smart or an interesting role-player. It’s because you’re a woman. The point here is that we need to stop acting like a woman playing an rpg is something that should be treated any differently than a man doing the same. We’re all just people trying to roll some dice, and you don’t need a dick for that. I promise.
As a ‘Female Gamer’ I’ve had to face many of the issues being discussed here, but things like that don’t just happen in the RPG world. I mean, you should have seen some of the faces on the local gamers when I walked into Games Workshop for the first time, and some of the comments I got off of the regulars were…disturbing to say the least.
When I tell people about my slowly growing Pop Vinyl collection, one of the most common questions I get asked is, ‘So, you collecting the Disney collections? I mean, you are a girl after all.” And I’ve actually been told not to lie when I explain that my collection is full of Game of Thrones and Marvel characters. When I walk into gaming shops to pick up a new game for my Xbox, I often get asked if the ‘shoot ’em up’ game I’m purchasing is for my boyfriend, rather than me, or I get directed to games such as Disney Infinity and other games aimed at children. I’m often faced with disbelief when trying to explain that, yes, I’m a girl, and yes, this violent shoot ’em up game is for me, and no, I do not have a problem with mindless killing in a game such as this.
When it comes to Tabletop Roleplay though, I have to say, out of all of the ‘nerd’ hobbies, it does seem to be capable of being one of the more inclusive ones. Yes, you get the typical ‘So, you going to play the healer then?’ and ‘Are you sure you want to play a Chaotic Evil Character, you should probably go for Lawful Good’ but at the end of the day, if you’re playing with a competent group of roleplayers, as soon as the game starts, and they see that you can quite easily out-roleplay them with whatever character you’re playing, they’re usually quite happy to drop the pretense and just get on with it.
When it comes to Twitch though, due to our amazing group of moderators, and the wonderful policing work done by them, I’ve lived quite a sheltered Twitch Life. I know full well, however, that girls on other streams aren’t quite so lucky. I’ve seen them get a barrage of abuse, from sexual advances to being downright abused for being a girl trying to play a ‘man’s game,’ and it makes my skin crawl. It just isn’t right. Yes, I have a habit of playing overly sexualised characters, I mean Nancy Locke spent the first season of Cold Harbour running around the Lance Held High in a corset and skin tight leather trousers, but I do this, not only because they’re fun, badass characters to play, but because it breaks the “Girls are pretty and girls play healers and shouldn’t be on the front line killing people while looking fucking amazing doing so” mold that seems to have been formed around the tabletop community.
I’ve learned to deal with the issues that girls face within the gaming community, but I know many who haven’t, many who have been pushed out of local communities, and many who received just a hail of abuse when they arrived that they chose not to join in. I’ve cut close friends from my life because of the abuse they gave the other girls in the community, and I’ve gained new friends by helping them deal with the abuse they get. It’s ridiculous that in the 21st century, when we as a race are beginning to break down the walls of stereotypes and inequality that this kind of abuse is still being dealt out on a daily basis.
To all of those guys out there who have been one of those annoying people in games workshop that drops everything they are doing (literally) when a girl walks into the store, to any guy that has pointed a girl to the kids section in a gaming shop because you don’t think they can handle the gameplay mechanics on the latest Halo game, to all of the guys that have asked the new female roleplayer if they’re playing the healer, stop. Because all you’re really doing is enforcing the stereotypes that us girls are trying so hard to break.