I had the opportunity to present this panel at I-CON 2012 with Julia B. Ellingboe, Jenifer Rosenberg and Julie Ann Dawson. The convention was held at Stony Brook University, March 30-April 1. It was tremendously fun, and this panel on Gaming As Women (formerly called Girl Gamers) was PACKED! Several long-time gamers, many college students, even some high school students. I was encouraged by the level of interest and the over-all quality of the questions. The two most vocal audience members had also signed up for my PsiRun game immediately following, and we carried over the conversation on sex and gender into and after the game.
Thanks to James Carpio, who recorded the panel, Darla Magdalene Shockley was able to transcribe the panel, which I’ve edited for readability. Below you’ll find the audio and the text. Enjoy the panel!
[General good vibes, James setting up the recording equipment, and Meguey and Kim discussing the idea of men being on the Gaming As Women panel.]
Host Kim Zettwoch: Hello everybody, welcome to the girl gamers panel. These lovely la–
Meguey Baker: women
Meg: thank you
Kim: Are here to discuss being a girl female woman gamer panel member gamer person.
Meg: Wow, that’s really broad.
Kim: in case you–
Meg: No pun intended
Kim: in case you run out of ideas, I spread it all the way. Would each of you like to introduce yourselves?
Julia Ellingboe: sure.
Kim: And maybe talk about how–
Julie Ann: You know I have to stop sitting here, that’s the problem.
Meg: You get used to going first!
Kim: and maybe talk about perhaps like how many years you’ve been gaming and whatever and your whatever
Julie Ann: Well, my name is Julie Ann Dawson, and I’m the owner of Bards and Sages Publishing, and I was actually introduced to gaming by my ex-boyfriend who knew I was a writer and thought that I would make a good GM, and that was the only reason I was recruited, so I could learn enough about the game so that I could run one, because none of the other guys wanted to run anymore. And I eventually got rid of him but kept the hobby.
Cam, sotto voice: I’m not really here.
Meg, ditto: yeah, we know.
Jenifer: I’m Jenifer Rosenberg, I’ve been gaming since I was nine, so more than twenty years, and I’ve also written in the industry and run games at conventions and in our own group, so…
Meg: I’m Meg Baker, I’ve been playing role-playing games since 1978, so that’s thirty two years or something like that. Since then there’ve been two years I haven’t been actively involved in role-playing games. Both of them involved a cross-country move and finding new community. So role-playing games is a major part of what I do in terms of hobby. I am the sole proprietor of Night Sky Games publication company, and I publish my role-playing games. This is my most recent game [holding up PsiRun] in which you play people with amazing psychic powers and amnesia, and nothing can possibly go wrong with that. So yeah, I write games, I play games, I run games, I publish games, I’m a sex ed teacher, and all that stuff.
Julia: I’m Julia Ellingboe, I am a gaming newbie, I’ve been playing games since 2005. I write role-playing games, I larp, I write larps, I’m a freelance editor and writer. I write short stories I edit stuff, and yeah, I started playing in my mid-thirties. I had an interest in it, I did SCA, I loved to do costuming things, but I just never really played role-playing games until I was — had two kids and was a soccer mom.
Jenifer: I just want to mention I made this panel has a location on 4square.
Meg: So it’s on 4square, quickly now [mimes typing] So what do we want to start with?
[To Kim] Do you have questions or an agenda or–
Kim: I don’t know if you guys have anything to say, and then I was going to bring it to the–ah, floor.
Kim: Or if you have something to start, by all means.
Meg: Alright, I have one thing to start with, which you picked up on. I haven’t been a girl since I was twelve. You know? There are women in gaming, there are women everywhere in gaming, there are women in role-playing games, in video games and you know every kind of — phone games, a good friend of ours is Elizabeth Sampat is big in loop drop in doing all kinds of online games, and it’s women are everywhere. And you know if we could, I just, you know, the girl thing? Anyway.
Julie Ann: No, I actually was going to mention something about that. Last year I was interviewed by a small little e-zine and it was about being a woman in the industry, and I’m like you know it’s great that we have these little discussions about you know girl power, all that stuff, but it’s also, it’s the 21st century, why are we still having this conversation? And the irony for me is, as far, I go to conventions and I have a lot of friends who are gamers, and it’s never been an issue with the actual male gaming community. It always seems like it’s the professional industry that doesn’t know what to do with us.
[Meg writing on the blackboard]
Meg: Website – Gaming as Women. Women gamers from all places throughout gaming, talking about all the things in, you know, [gaming]. If you guys [gesturing to fellow panel members] aren’t cued into that yet, then talk to me, cause it’s a cool thing happening.
Jenifer: So, I guess I’ll just go. When I first started gaming, it was my friend’s older brother had D&D in a box, and so we went and and played at her place. But one of the weird things when I started going to conventions or when I started meeting other gamers, is after playing at my friends brothers I was just in groups with a bunch of other girls, and we didn’t know that there were boys that gamed, and later we go to conventions, and they were like “what, girls game?” and it’s a very bizarre thing because all that time we had two completely separate communities, now on Facebook I see all these guys I went to high school with who are gamers and I never knew. It’s very bizarre. So. We are here.
Kim: I’m the complete opposite. Like up until recently like-[the person] who just walked out- are the only people I’ve ever gamed with. I’ve usually been the only girl. It’s only been guys, like I can never really find girl gamers. Even in the like the Long Island role-players, the meetup, there’s not that many girls that go. Most of them if they do come play 4E, but for the most part there aren’t that many female gamers.
Jenifer: Well and I’ve joined groups like my high school had a gaming club and then there was a gaming club in college and those were all predominantly male, even though I knew a lot of female gamers.
Audience member 1: I have a question for the panel actually. This is just maybe based on opinion, but growing up in California and going to conventions pre-1991, there was two or maybe three stereotypes of gamers. You had the old fat beards that were playing, you had the kind of just nerds that were playing, and then you had the stereotype gamers that were playing, war-gamers and so on and so forth. Once Vampire: The Masquerade was released, we’re talking the next year, the conventions that had those three stereotypes were now just women, all over.
Meg: — Oh my god the women showed up.
Audience member 1: Gaming at the table, game mastering. And my question is do you think it’s a genre change, or an introduction to something that really brought out women to the table?
Julie Ann: I think that the whole Storyteller system that White Wolf came up with was a story teller system, whereas traditional D&D is hack slash kill, and I mean at least I don’t know I don’t want to say that women think completely different even though we think superior…You know, with a group of guys you can get together and just have a hack slash kill dungeon, and I really remember the dungeons under a mountain that were a hundred levels. And you start at first level, and by the time you finish it you’re twentieth. And that’s all you’ve done, that dungeon. Whereas women tend to enjoy more the role-playing aspect of the game and the storyteller system really took the emphasis just off of pure combat and hack slash kill, and made it about character.
Meg: I think also that what white wolf did in Vampire: The Masquerade, is it put it in a whole other — I mean, part of it is the genre — it’s different, you had D&D which had a little bit of a club thing, and White Wolf did a very different marketing approach to that. And you know, San Diego in the 80s, yeah. And I remember that switch because I was there in 89, and switching when things happened, suddenly like whoa there’s a whole bunch of other people who maybe didn’t even know about role-playing before, but they’re like “what is this vampire thing?” You know, so I think that’s part of it, and part of it is just more people stepping forward. Because women have always played, we’ve always played. It’s just having avenues to step forward and say “hey, we’re here.”
Jenifer: I mean, I think some of the design, I mean just going to the comic book shop where they also sold the games. I mean, you know, I played D&D, but most of the covers were very sexist,
Meg: Well, they’re designed for the male gaze.
Jenifer: Yeah, but the vampire cover, it’s just sort of marble with a rose, and I’m like, ok, that’s classy. So I’ll pick it up and flip it through, and it’s just like ok, this looks fun, you actually get to be a character and you know, develop as a person.
Julie Ann: I think the marketing aspect is a huge deal. My day job is in contract packaging. And one of the primary focuses of that, of the marketing aspect is how are people going to respond to displays, how do you position the displays, where do you put them. And it’s one of the things I think the gaming industry has missed, is understanding the female demographic. And if you think about hobby shops, you know, where you go to buy the games. They’re little closets in the mall, they tend to be very cramped together, and the floors tend to be dirty, because everybody brings their own food in there when they sit around the table to eat, and it reminds me of what happened with home depot. A few years ago they were trying to figure out how to get more of the market base. And they did a study, they were trying to figure out what can they do to get more customers in the store
Meg: — make it more inviting
Julie Ann: and what they found was that the men were doing most of the shopping, it was the women who were instigating the projects.
Meg: — mmhm.
Julie Ann: wife would say “honey we’re going to redo the kitchen.” So then they started asking women, so what would bring you into the store. this was the rise of the pink tools, that we all started seeing, which did nothing to increase women getting involved. What they found out is we didn’t want pink tools, we didn’t want flowery aprons, we wanted wider aisles.
Meg: — and lighting.
Julie Ann: we wanted more lighting. We wanted to walk in and not have sawdust all over the place, because, you know, women have their strollers, and they’re bringing their kids, they don’t want sawdust all over the place. Miraculously, they did those things, and their market share went up 20%. And I think that’s something that the industry needs to realize, is that we’re not like these aliens that have these weird thought processes. I just don’t want to walk into a hobby shop where the aisles are this close together and we’re all like this. [Mimes being crammed together]
Julia: It seems like Vampire was actually marketed towards women. I don’t know if it was — when you read it as a woman, it seems like “Wow, I’d really like this,” whether or not it’s a game about vampires, but there’s, for one thing, the art is, like you said, the cover isn’t like big beefy man, and you know no mention of a woman, or a scantily clad woman, and yeah, there are scantily clad women in Vampire, but there are also like, there aren’t like the giant beefcake men. No they’re not, yeah. And it’s also the story, at least with vampires there’s different types and I always wondered if it was even that you could have stories other than slash slash kill kill, you could have some sort of toxic romance which sort of feels like it’s a negative stereotype of women, where we’re looking for the bad boy, but ok, you’re playing vampires so it’s going to work out anyway. You just play with that fantasy. But it always seemed to me when I read vampire that it’s really marketed towards women. It’s marketed towards a very niche community as well, but also women.
Jenifer: I think it’s one of the first games, when reading through, where you actually saw female pronouns being used, in terms of character creation. [Agreement from other panel members]
Meg: Yeah, questions.
Audience member 2: Do you think that vampire kind of empowers the different characters, that it really got women gaming? Because the other games don’t really empower women as characters.
Meg: I think that the way that the characters — with the female pronouns, and with the art that supported female characters that looked a little more realistic — it created an easier entry point. And, you know, I can totally rock a badass woman D&D character. But, in terms of entering into playing, there’s gotta be some way. You know, there’s gotta be something. And I feel like one of the things that’s happening now, with the internet, and the amount of ability to publish, that we’re right on the edge of seeing things that we haven’t seen a lot of in role-playing before. Where suddenly it’s like oh, there’s going to be women characters. And a lot more people of color, there’s going to be a lot more people with different levels of ability, there’s going to be a lot more shapes and sizes, because we’re recognizing that like, the people who were writing, and the people who were in control of what was being written, like TSR was a bunch of white dudes, you know? And as that is less and less the people that are making it, it’s going to be more people that look more like this room, you know, cause why not? Other questions? I wanna hear from you; I want to hear that we [gesturing to panel] have to say, but…
Julia: Meg loves this topic.
Meg, pounding the table: I love this subject!
Julie Ann: So the other thing was, you had very strong NPCs. You had a Lucida, you had a Gloria Ash – who were both sexual, but also very strong and —
Audience member 3: Not really a question, I just wanted to add a comment. My own experience growing up. I had a lot of friends who wanted to join my gaming group. I was playing D&D, you open up the Player’s Handbook, and they immediately throw it at me.
Audience 3: There were, like strength caps. If you were a woman you could not have the maximum strength. And meanwhile these were women who could throw me across the room.
Audience 3: We basically house-ruled it away. We tried to open it up to getting more people in, cause I had a group of three people that played. We wanted to have more people. Women cycled through our group but they eventually left. And it was the male pronouns, the characterizations. The books didn’t have the strong female characterizations. If you read fiction there was some, but not in the game, and I ended up keeping someone in our group by basically taking the focus away from hack slash kill to relationships. The woman stayed in the game the longest actually played my character’s girlfriend, and when my character died, she did a heroic sacrifice, and we both made new characters and started the whole process over again, and it was just fun. The other guys in the group were like “What’s going on?”
Meg: What’s going on is like really amazing story!
Audience 3: We both went to Storyteller when it came out, for that reason, because we could actually do the characterizations.
Meg: Yeah, yeah.
Kim: I also have to say, like around the same time is like vampire and stuff was around the same time as the Dragonlance Chronicles, and the hero, I mean, there were heroes, but one of the major heroes was a female, Lerona, she basically saved it, [Meg interjects “She kicks!”] and it was great seeing–you read the books, and then you played this setting, she went from like basically like the sheepish child of a female, and grew into this strong woman that became a leader. I feel like if you read that or played through the campaign, gave a chance to have a woman be more of a–like, she was a small person, and she wasn’t anything brutish, like huge person or whatever, I think that sort of helped to bring more female players into the setting, because it gave a woman a chance to be someone of strength.
Julie Ann: You know, one of the things that I found very interesting when I first published Denire campaign setting, cause it is a matriarchal society, was the male reaction to it, because you’re accustomed to the leader of the town’s always going to be a king, or a governor, and all of a sudden they end up in this world, and all the people in charge are women, and it’s not, you know, the Drow that are going around killing everyone, but it took a normal society and flipped it. And the way they had to completely re-adapt the way they were thinking about how they were doing thing, was very fun to watch.
Jenifer: I remember early to mid nineties there were a lot of games that came out that were even if they weren’t necessarily marketed directly towards women, they were based on things I was interested in. There was a Tankgirl role-playing game which I picked up immediately, I had the Elfquest game,
Meg: ElfQuest! Oh, but you know, the Chaosium System is SO WRONG for that game!
Jenifer: I know, but I still, I got the game immediately, I’m like ElfQuest! Whew!
Meg: Yes! OF COURSE! Sorry, go on.
Jenifer: No I mean, so you had this little explosion of things that were just connected to interests and it just goes on. I mean, when Big Eyes Small Mouth had the Fushiki Yuugi, I was like “Oh yeah!” So you know, it’s things that I’m already interested in, and you could start to pick them up. That really expanded more to a female audience.
Meg: I think it also expands the male audience.
Meg: Because you know, by keeping in this little hack and slash box, it denies the part like, guys fall in love, you know? There are so many more stories, and one of the things is that looking at the origins of D&D, coming out of tabletop miniature war-gaming, where it’s a very different–it’s not about telling stories. That came as a developing process. And now we’re going, oh right, I get it, you know? We’re all people, and we have lives that are interesting, and what’s interesting about being alive, and like oh, I’m going to meet people, I’m going to like them, I’m going to not like them, maybe I’ll fall in love with them, maybe there’ll be torrid romance that’s over in a weekend, and, you know, whatever. But by opening it up in that way, it opens up the stories for everybody.
Audience member 1: Sorry, I have another question though. This year, 2012, the author Jean Wells passed away. And she was really one of the pioneers of D&D, of women in D&D. With that said though, I’m just wondering, who else would you say were pioneers in the field, of women designing and writing role-playing games?
Julia: Uh, Brenda Brathwaite?
Meg: And that’s, this is the part where it’s sad. Do you have any other names to add?
Julie Ann: Margaret Weis
Meg: Margaret Weis, Brenda Brathwaite…
Julia: Uh, anybody?
Meg: Crickets, crickets… anybody else… Women designers of note.
Kim: Meg Baker.
Meg: Well, thank you. See, right now we can…
Audience 3: I’m friends with freelance Jess Hartley.
Meg: Yeah! See, now we can begin to, but in terms of people we have of that generation? Not so much. Now we’ve got Julia, and me, and Elizabeth and Emily and you folks [indicates other panel members and audience folks], and the visibility is coming. So, questions?
Kim: It’s more of a statement, or an opinion, actually. I also think that unfortunately society is still male dominated, and I don’t want to say male chauvinistic, but in a sense it still is, so with places like Indie Press, that you’re able to self-publish and promote your stuff, it gives you ore of a chance that you may not get a break-in in such a male-dominated industry, so that’s why we see ore females more in the eye than they used to be.
Audience member 4: Well, I have some opinions on that. You see, I think that way back when it first started, the psychology behind it was that all those people that originally were the core people, were people that never got to be the bullies in their lives, they never got to feel strong, they never thought that they could? They were for instance really got upset by those, and so when those gamers started coming around, the white guys that first started writing everything, they couldn’t make sports because of physical, you know, asthma, they were ignored by most girls that were in their life, so of course they simulated this little group that as a majority went off into this unfortunately male chauvinistic world, but it’s because they couldn’t be male chauvinist anywhere else, because they didn’t have the right things, the physical attribute, where girls even today couldn’t look at them in the proper way, and say “Why are you acting that? You’re not very good looking on top of it, and now you’re going to be a jerk?” Whereas in a game world, if you have the whole whatever whatever whatever character, you can turn around and start laughing at a girl trying to play, because it’s now etched that that person finally gets to be strong and that’s unfortunate, and it’s kind of a bad thing, but you can kind of understand why it started off that way because a lot of good ideas sometimes go off on a tangent when the originators were people that were psychologically feeling in-superior.
Jenifer: So do you think that’s why, because I’ve had..Almost every woman I’ve met who has started gaming and then stopped, stopped because the male player characters raped her female character.
A shocked audience member: Oh my god.
Audience 4: Think about it, it’s the psychological dominance thing that you see in–
Meg: Yeah, but you know, it’s also–
[Meg and Jenifer exchange looks and decide not to go]
Audience 1: I play xbox live a lot, and so I talk to people, and it’s not a lot of times that I see a girl or a woman in the action without at least one guy who think they have the right to just like tell them to go back to the kitchen or whatever, and it’s a really sad story, and it can happen.
Julia: Well, why do you think that is? I’m curious because I don’t really play video games, to be honest with you I didn’t really start playing role-playing games until I was older, is that I’m not fantasy fiction, I’m sorry, I don’t know where I am, but it’s not a thing for me. I just —
Audience 4: I think it could be a power thing like he was talking about. I mean it’s something like in ???, if you’re like 15 prestige and then you see someone who like is rank 1, you’re like eh, you suck.
Julie Ann: You have to not read too much into that, though, because you are talking about the internet.
Meg: Yeah, the internet makes everybody assholes.
Julia: Yeah, but I think the internet brings out things, because you have this veil of anonymity, you can say whatever you want, you don’t have to filter you can let go of your filter.
Audience 4: I was thinking about the fact that before the internet even became popular, I’m 24 years old and when I started gaming, I was probably around ten eleven or twelve, and you could come back, and I was one of the people that fortunately had like parents that taught me like that equality should be something that should be shared no matter what medium you’re in, but there are going to be other people that like think about it. There are guys out there that they say that-again, I hate to bring this up in such a place because somebody’s going to hiss, in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole group hissed-
Meg: We can just hiss already.
Audience 4: the type of people, “Oh, I hate those girls, I hate them, they’re so slutty,” meanwhile, if you talk to any one of those guys, every single one of them, they say “Oh, but I wouldn’t mind sleeping with one of them.
Meg: No, what the fuck. Good luck, buddy, good luck.
Audience 4: You know what, they’re not going to accept the majority of those guys, because they’re not the kind of guy they’re going to go after, so the one outlet that they had was gaming.
Meg: Yeah, I think that’s a good point and I want to get to it, but I also wanna–
Audience 1, to Audience 4: Like the online gaming thing, it could be like the guys who, are probably like the same guys who are always saying “Oh, you should do this, it’d be gay” or something, I think they’re acting like they would in front of their buddies, because they think hmm ???
Julia: Yeah, they wouldn’t say those things to their mother. Or sister.And a lot of them wouldn’t want to be treated like that, they wouldn’t want their sister or mother to be treated like that.
Audience 1: I currently play online computer games with several of my guy friends, and usually after we play them, after a time, we used to get female friends as well, and they’re good in the game, but the problem is, for some reason whenever a female comes into play, the men or friendship or whatever, it tends to get skewed, and
Audience 1: And this causes drama between the whole group. And it’s just that, I guess females, I’m trying to say is, for some reason just females just overall, it kind of skews a bit, but for some reason there’s always that one person that always falls for her.
[building laughter from panel]
Meg: I’m sorry, I have to…
Julia: hold on, please–
Kim: He looks scared.
Audience 4, to Audience 1: Like, I understand where you’re coming from, but that viewpoint is so a decade or two ago–
Meg: Ok, hold up, y’all can figure that out later.
Julia: I wanna speak to your comment, because I think you’re bringing up an interesting social aspect that, there are female communities, and there are things that women traditionally do and sit around and talk about what crappy things men do, and there are male communities, and I don’t necessarily think that’s wrong? I think, you know, I just wouldn’t, when you then have a woman entering what the people in that group have, whether or not they’ve said it outright, this is our club, this is the he-man woman-haters club, and here comes this woman and at first it’s sort of like “Oh, ok,” and they’re going to try, they’re going to to be nice, but they’re going to remember that there was this unspoken thing, that when they decided to form this group it was all guys. Then you’ve added a different dynamic, which socially is not always supported.
Audience 5: That’s a big thing there.
Julia: And so it changes the dynamic and there’s this part where you have to sort of figure out how do I relate to this, how do I put my filter on so I don’t say something that makes me come off as a sexist asshole.
Meg: And part of that is directly into what you were saying earlier about opening up stories. Because you have a potential when you’re in that situation, because the same thing happens when it’s a group of women, you know, and suddenly like oh, like we’re all playing, and we’re like 18, 20, years old, and we’re playing, and like one of our guy friends is like “hey, can I join your group,” there’s gonna be weirdness. It’s just gonna happen. I think that [Julia has] a really strong point. And just, opening up the stories. You’ve got a potential there, with your guys, right? A woman’s coming into your online thing, like, you now have the potential for so many more stories, you know? Wow.
Julia: I just wanna say, I play with all women right now, and I’ve noticed there’ve been times when our stories are things that honestly I’m not sure we had, even if we had like, a man that we were all friends with, one of our spouses, or boyfriends, or just good male friends, brother, whatever, came in, I think it would quite frankly skew the story. And we’re not all playing women all the time, we’re playing men and women, but there’s–we’ve developed–it felt to me like when this group started we were able to develop some intimacy very quickly, and I think it was honestly because it was a bunch of women. And so we kinda went there with a lot of our games and our stories. So I just wanna say that I hear what you’re saying about this dynamic when you have a woman that comes in, and it changes the dynamic, and I don’t want to say that’s good, and I don’t want to say that’s bad, I just want to point out that I think socially as people we are used to that kind of dynamic, and when it changes, then the drama and the craziness happens.
Jenifer: We have a question back here.
Audience 6: Actually it’s gonna be a comment. It could be, depending on how communicative, so when you mix them together, communicating with let’s say, a group of all men with one female, she’s going to try to communicate in her way, but that’s the group, and they don’t really communicate that way, because you know, everyone communicates differently, and they don’t really know how to communicate with each other.
Jenifer: I think that’s on an individual basis, not gender basis.
Meg: Ok, so something else I’ve done for years is teach sex ed, to all kinds of ages, and so there’s a couple of points I want to make from that, and that’s perfect, like 90% of a sexual relationship is communication. You know, most of the classes I teach are about communication, and that’s huge. And when you wind up in a gaming situation where you’re already a couple steps removed from really clear communication, where you’re like, I’ve got a character, and I’m filtering things, and maybe there’s a world, and I’m doing this…Getting to the point where you’re communicating clearly is really tricky. So going into the setup, like when you have a group that’s one sex, and to figure it out, ok, there’s a person coming in who’s the opposite sex, and how’s that going to–what are we going to do with that? How do you want to deal with that? Because we know these things are going to come up. And if you can be mindful enough to think about it ahead of time, it won’t bite you as hard when it happens. And that’s a huge thing. I don’t totally, like the whole thing about men and women communicating differently, I’m still out on that.
Julia: I think we’re taught to communicate differently.
Meg: Yeah, I think we are.
Julia: I think that’s the part, is that genetically no? But I think culturally and socially men are told to stand up and talk loud, and women are–
Meg: Told to be quiet and nice.
Julia: You know, nowadays, it’s we really have to teach women how to say no. As a mother of daughters, I find that’s very–I lie, I find that actually not hard at all because I… not only will they say no, but will say no like that [flashes a common hand sign]. But I think I lucked out. I think she learned from me, you know, that you can speak how you want to, but I do think that we are taught to communicate differently traditionally, and I think that’s also changing.
Meg: We had a question in the back?
Audience 7: In my gaming circles, it’s always a little less taboo, and I think this goes for society in general, just the gender roles, for a female to try out playing a male character, like I’ve had guy friends who’ve played a female character. I just wondered if any of you have ever played male characters in your games?
[Meg laughing as Julia bounces in her seat]
Julia: Can I? Can? I’m just going to jump right in. So when I first started playing role-playing games, I, no, I didn’t play male characters very much, and then I started to and then I went through this whole period where I only played female characters, and then I decided yeah, I’ll try playing a male character. I played a male character who used to be a woman.
Meg: It was great, it was so cool.
Julia: Yeah. Now I do feel much more comfortable. And I’ve, on the flip side of that, I’ve seen men play female characters really well, and we were earlier talking about a player that we’ve encountered who will play a female character, and I think many of us will play characters and recycle them and put them in different situations, so you almost play the same character over and over again, and that’s totally ok. But his characters are always like these kind of ugly lesbians. Like, it’s–
Meg: It’s a thing he’s dealing with. Whatever, like, ok, props for trying, but dude, you’re– Yeah.
Julia: Yeah, and sometimes those characters are fun to play with, sometimes you just wanna leave the room.
Meg: And, but, yeah, um, go ahead–
Julia: No, I was just saying yeah.
Meg: I’m going to–because that’s a great question, I’m going to go down the line on that.
Jenifer: I prefer to play female characters. Just how I am. We definitely have in our group, we’ve got one very, very petite woman, I mean she can wear the same size shoes as my 8-year-old. Petite woman. And she likes to sometimes play like the strong guys, and we’ve got this one guy who’s, you know, over 6 feet tall, and he’s a big guy, and he had a great time playing a 16-year-old girl, but nobody did anything weird with it, they just got into their characters, and you know tried to think, how would I think if I were in this situation, and I were this person.
Meg: Playing a whole person.
Julie Ann: I normally get stuck GMing, so I don’t often have a chance to actually play a character, but obviously as a GM, I’m–
Jenifer: You’re playing everybody.
Julie Ann: -doing male, female, alien, you know, trained animals. We do have one gentleman in our game group who often will play a female character, just because it’s something different, and right now we have a young man who’s trying to play a female character, but again, it’s- he decided to play a lesbian, and it’s very funny to watch him, because it’s very clear– he’s 19 years old, he has these very strange ideas of how women think.
Julie Ann: And it’s 50 years after a nuclear war, so it’s a relatively modern game setting, and watching it, I’m just like “Really? Seriously?” And I’m just dumbfounded that’s how he thinks that the female mind works, and it’s funny, and I let him suffer with his, you know, decisions, so.
Meg: This morning I played in the Marvel Universe role-playing game. I played Beast, it was awesome. I play whatever the character is. You know, play the whole character. Doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman or someone else who’s very different than me, anyway. I wanna play the whole character. And playing Beast is– that was fun. I would do that again, I would do that again this afternoon.
Julia: I played Emma Frost.
Meg: She rocked.
Meg: Other questions? He’s heading out. Oh he got a phone call. Anything else?
Jenifer: You know, as someone who’s run games at a convention, it’s very strange to see how as a female game-master you’re treated by others, and I know you were mentioning this in a panel earlier today, and I had this problem where I was running some games at GenCon, and I went, and I showed up, you know wearing the t-shirt for the game company, I had my satchel that had the logo on it, and I sit down, and the guys are like “Oh, are you here to play this thing?” and I was about to tell them I was running it, and they were like “Well, you know, the game-master hasn’t shown up yet,” and I said “I’m the game-master,” and they’re like “No, it’s supposed to be a guy,” and I’m like “No.”
Meg: Are you kidding me? That totally– Wow. Love it.
Julie Ann: And that’s where you say “You’ve all just lost a thousand experience,” and yeah.
Jenifer: Yeah. And it was just a very strange situation, because this group of three guys, and I had one other guy who was great, but this group of three guys was hostile throughout the entire thing, they just-they’re like, “Well, how are you gonna know how this game works?” and I’m like “I’m one of the writers,” and you know, they just- And I had, working at a booth, selling games, I had guys come up, and they would talk to my chest, and they’d say “is there anybody here who can tell me about the game system?” and I said “I can tell you about the system,” and they would not talk to me, and they’d go talk to, you know, one of the guys at the booth, inevitably one of the volunteers that I was in charge of. Because I was one of the writers. But there’s just this stigma that women aren’t gonna know anything about gaming.
Julie Ann: There’s this situation that I brought up at the last panel, was the first game that I ever ran at a convention, and it was when I was rolling out the Naier??? setting, and one guy showed up late, and the first words out of his mouth were “Oh, a chick’s running this game.” And I knew he was going to be a problem, but I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had much of that at conventions, and I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the aura of fear that people tell me I radiate.
Julie Ann: I’ve been told people fear me for some reason, I’m not sure.
Julia: I’ve had only one weird experience where I was at GenCon, and someone came up and he had a game store and he was– he stood next to me and acted as if I wasn’t there.
Meg: Yeah, that’s…weird.
Julia: And it was just this, and he was talking to the person I was standing next to, who really didn’t care about what he was talking about, and I was actually sort of interested, until he totally ignored me. And it was an odd feeling, and then I realized, well you just lost my business, so that’s ok, we’re even. But running games I haven’t really had that experience, but I do often run my games, and people already expect to be frightened.
Kim: Running games for guys, I’m ok with, because typically they call me an elitist, because I only really play with my friends, and people I like. It’s really, yeah, I’m not at all, it’s ridiculous–
Meg: Who here plays with people they hate? [raises hand – looks at other hands go up]
Meg: Why do you play with people you hate?
Audience 3: I go to conventions and they happen to be there.
Meg: Ok, I get that.
Audience 6: Just so you can beat them and rub it in their face.
Audience 8: No, sometimes I just do it to prove something.
Audience 9: Sometimes they are attached or the significant other of someone you want in the game.
Meg: Cool thanks.
Kim: You guys probably aren’t familiar with it, but there’s actually a meetup in Long Island, the Long Island Roleplayers, and there’s– one of the people, and typically the guys in the games are my guys, who are like my friends, so I don’t really go run for anyone else, and so they already know that if you annoy– like I’m really nice, really really nice, up to a point. They call me “rage cage,” that’s my nickname, because it’s true. I will lash out. But however, I’m the assistant organizer, and typically when I’m brought with the organizer to anything, unless the people kind of know me, it is– I have the same exact problem, it’s kind of like I guess it’s almost like they consider me his secretary. And I’m like, do I look like a secretary?
Kim: But I do have the same thing.
Meg: Ok who’s got questions. Scarecrow, and then you.
Audience 4: I always think sort of differently on that, because nine times out of ten, it all really depends on the person or the group. Yes you’re going to run into a lot of those guys who are just going to be real idiots about it, but sometimes there are just those guys who are just because they are socially awkward, they never talk to anyone who is a woman, they don’t want to look at you, because they’re like “oh god, what do I do, she’s pretty, she smells nice, oh god.”
Audience 4: And then you end up sitting there, and they don’t realize that you’re probably– if you’re not as good, you’re probably better than most of your guy friends at whatever it is they’re running, and that if they would have just taken the time to stop being afraid–
Meg: This ties into his point, I wanna get back to that, then I wanna get your question.
Audience 10: My favorite game-master, storyteller, a female friend of mine, and she’s just been the storyteller all this time. When we go to conventions, because she lives in Buffalo, and I go up there to visit, any game that she runs, everyone knows I used to play in her game, or they talk to her husband, “Is she really a good game-master?” I’m like “She’s one of the best.” I mean please. She advertises looking for new players all the time. It’s like, it’s an honor to play in her games. She’s got one of the most creative minds. I have been lost for like 8, 10 hours in a scene, like “Oh my god, it’s ten o’clock at night, we’ve been running since early afternoon.” But they’ll still come to me, like, “Are you sure?”
Meg: I want to touch back to the point you made earlier, about that sense of “Oh crap, the woman showed up. Now things are going to get weird.” And it’s the– there’s a thing there that happens. Communication is different. I have teenage sons, and you know, the way that my sons think, and the way that your daughters think there’s some difference going on. And from my other side background, there’s this thing that happens when I ask groups of men, of boys or men, what’s the one question you want to know. What answer do you want from women? And I ask groups of girls or women, what’s the one answer, what do you want to be a fly on the wall and hear a bunch of guys talk about? Over and over again, what the guys come up with is “What do you want from us?” and over and over, what the women come up with is “How do you manage that stuff in your pants? Like doesn’t that get uncomfortable?” It’s so funny. Because the guys are like, it’s a deep philosophical question, and it’s really true, and it comes from a real place of– I don’t know, I don’t have the social cues. We get masses of magazines, and media, and all this stuff about how to do your hair, and how to do your nails, and how to walk, and how to sigh, and how to da da da da da, and the guys are like “Man up.” You know, hello. So that thing is really real, where guys, I feel for you, because there’s this thing which comes at me over and over in this position, and it’s a really good deep philosophical question – what do you want. And you know, it’s fascinating.
Kim: I have a question. It kinda stems on that. Being the whole like “bros” thing, you know, if you go into the “bros” group, you obviously, I can tell you’re all very strong women, is your philosophy like you know that you’re going into a “bros” territory, obviously you’re women, so you’re not going to– are you going to stand tall with your womanness, or are you going to understand that you’re now coming into something that they have already established, kind of like if you had females and you’re playing, um, you already know kind of the game that was going on prior to that, you know, situation. Would you go into it being like “Hey guys, I’m a woman but I can be one of the guys too. Like you don’t have to change” or do you go in there womanly and make sure that it is changed?
Meg: Hmm, that’s really good. [Looks at Julie Ann to start]
Julie Ann: Actually, the game group that I met my fiance in, that’s exactly what happened, I answered one of the online game ads looking for gamers, and walked into a group of four guys who’d been gaming together for ten years. And I was like this woman who showed up. And unfortunately I hadn’t thought about it at the time, because I’ve always kind of worked in male industries, I’ve worked in sales, I’m in manufacturing now. So it never occurred to me. I wanted to say I walked in, and I say I’m Julia this is who I am, and blah blah blah. I arrived right after work, because that’s when it was, and I was dressed for the office. I was in a dress, and all this nonsense, and I walk in, and I just saw all their mouths drop. And I was a lot thinner then, too, this was a long time ago. So I could pull off the dresses. And it was like “Ok, this is going to be a problem here.” But uh, I adapted to the situation because I read their cues, and you know, was able to act accordingly, because I had to figure out if it felt like they were getting uncomfortable with something I would make the durn give.
So that they would know that they don’t have to–
You know, I’m a big girl, I’ve heard these words before, it’s alright.
Jenifer: Really, my game group is almost equal, male and female. But at times when I came into a group as the only girl, or one of the only girls, because, the only time I did that was when I was in my teens, I mean it was bizarre, because I would just try and find the character that matched what I wanted to play, and sometimes that would disrupt things and sometimes it wouldn’t, it just depended. Like when I wanted to play a reporter in cyberpunk, that was fine, nobody cared. But, you know, when I wanted to play a toreador in Vampire, everyone was like “Oh, god,” so–
Julie Ann: I would’ve said “Oh god” to you too, so.
Meg: The only time I’ve walked away from a game is when I went to– I was 19, and I went home with my future husband, and played with his gaming group from high school. So it was Vincent and these three other guys– two other guys who had been gaming together for awhile. And we were playing Call of Cthulhu, and I was playing an investigative reporter. And so we set it up, he does the lead-up thing, and there’s this thing that happens, it’s like the first time where it’s going to get like “ooh spooky things!” and the GM’s like “Alright, what do you do, what do you do, what do you do,” and he turns to me and is like “Ok, so you probably just scream right?” And I’m like “Oh, you’re going to play my character for me? Cool, bye.” Because, it’s bullshit, you know? I made a character, and I have– you know, dude, whatever. I run a lot at conventions, and I don’t screen ahead of time, so all the time it’s like, alright, this is who’s here. You know? And if they’re going to walk away–I’ve never had anybody walk away. If it was like somebody’s role-playing group, saying “Hey, you wanna come run your game for my group, it’s all guys,” it’s like, “Yeah, it’s totally cool.” You know, and I’m not going to push my way into anything. I don’t think I’m in that place where that’s a problem. Because either I’m going to just be like “You’re doing your thing, Fine, whoa. Bye.” I’ve got so many other people I could play with!! [pounding the table and grinning] Oh my god. You know, yeah.
Julia: I think I have the advantage of starting to play games when my identity had fully developed into a woman, so I show up, I’m me, I wear lots of makeup, I wear heels, I’m kind of girly, if you want to call it that. And so I’m not one of the guys. My husband doesn’t play games. I go solo when I go to conventions generally. So I go in with a very solid identity as a woman, and so I’m comfortable with it, so it doesn’t like “Hi, I’m a woman, I’ve come to play your game!” it’s just like “I’m here to play a game, and hi and oh, looks like you’re a guy, looks like you’re a guy, that’s cool, that’s neat,” and you know, it’s the gender piece isn’t a huge thing for me, it never really was, I wasn’t nine or ten as a girl sitting with guys who were still trying to figure out all their body parts, and I already figured that out, and I play with people who have already figured that out.
Audience 11: Um, what are your favorite games to play, maybe you already mentioned your–
Meg: No. Yeah I love that question. You wanna start Julia?
Julia: Let’s see, right now I am really really loving Maid–
Meg: You wanna do an elevator pitch for us?
Julia: Tomorrow I’m running Maid, at 12:30. Yes, I’m running the black belt scenario of Maid. SO I like Maid–
Meg: Dude, you want to be in this game, I am telling you.
Julia: I think I have a Grell Sutcliff who’s going to dress as Grell Sutclif! So, I like that, I like Apocalypse World, is a really big favorite of mine. I like short one-shot games, and I’ve been playing a lot of LARPs lately. I did a Vampire LARP for a long time until it imploded, which I take is actually a thing. So I have this philosophy because I’ve only been playing for a few years, that you put it in front of me, and I will try it at least once. I’ve played D&D red box twice. So I’ll play anything. Fiasco, I love Fiasco. Let’s see, if it’s dark and creepy and does not have elves and orcs, I’ll probably get it.
Audience 10: What’s wrong with elves?
Julia: Nothing is wrong with elves, it’s just not my thing. I mean, and one of these days I totally will, like I said, I have played D&D, and I liked it, I had a good time. I was the battle person.
Meg: Ok, well, at the moment, like this second my favorite role-playing game is Marvel, because I just played Beast, and it was awesome. I love Apocalypse World. Ah, yeah, this, here. This is a great game, I loved it. Ok, this is the game I wrote [holds up PsiRun] about superheroes, kinda, which I also loved, it’s a one-shot, it’s fantastic.
Kim: She’s actually running it.
Meg: I’m running it in a little while, yeah. Six people tops, so. And Apocalypse World is great. Marvel is really good, I’m really digging that. I have such a deep, deep fondness for Cyberpunk, the role-playing game Cyberpunk. Because oh my god I had some good times with that. I ran Ars Magica for like ten frickin years, I played online in the Elfquest mush for at least eight years. Yeah, it’s all good.
Jenifer: I like anything where I can have a really well-developed character and really just explore all kinds of things that I just don’t get to explore in regular life. I think the game that I’ve had the most fun really just exploring a character with would be the Amber role-playing game. But I like to try them all.
Julie Ann: A lot of D&D, 3.5 I just refused to convert to 4th edition, for various reasons. old World of Darkness, not a big fan of the new World of Darkness. I don’t think the vampires are as cool as Lucida and Theo and them. Obviously my own Carnival role-playing system, I run a lot. Like I said unfortunately, I normally end up DMing, so I don’t get to actually play characters, but I get to play everyone else.
Kim: So…let’s thank everybody.