• The Gamer Wife, Part 1

    by  • August 8, 2012 • Essays • 17 Comments

    This is a series of posts on being a gamer wife, what it means, how it has impacted my games and my life. Everything here is coloured heavily by my personal experiences and what I’ve seen in other relationships. So if at all during this series you feel a need to make a personal comment about anyone I’ve described, don’t. You can make comments about me and my reactions, but refrain from calling out others I’ve talked about.

    My spouse, whom I adore, is a game designer. He’s also been playing games forever and has much more experience with gaming and the culture that surrounds gaming than I do. He is, in short, an expert. I am not.

    He is not why I got into gaming. I was into gaming well before I met him and it’s how I met him. This isn’t that story. Instead it’s a story about how being the wife of a well-known gamer has affected me when I sit down to game. It’s about how my interactions with other gamers has been affected by my status as a gamer wife and, in particular, by being his gamer wife. Most importantly, this isn’t about him. It’s about me.

    I’m writing this because I am frequently seen as an accessory. An adornment. Someone that is only worth taking into consideration when it’s valuable to establish a relationship with him. I have an expected role to fill, and don’t we all, but it’s different. Heightened. Changed. Gamers have a lot of expectations of women to begin with. Adding in that I’m supposed to fulfill these duties as both a gamer and a wife, I often find myself frustrated and annoyed at people who ostensibly should know better. This is about how my voice has been minimized and ignored in favor of his. Of how it’s assumed that I agree with everything he says and how I’ve concealed the fact that he’s my spouse specifically so that I could have my own voice.

    But, perhaps, to understand why I need to write these posts, you should understand how the gamer wife is viewed.  This one is my favorite.

    “The best impression he made with me, and I will add probably [his] best asset overall is his lady. And a fine lady she is: for starters, she’s beautiful. She’s smart and she loves games.  But more than that, she’s a gracious host, and can make one hell of a roast.  The fact that he’s managed to obtain her speaks far better of him than being the Don of the Geek Mafia.”

    The first trait is about appearance. The second is wits and hobbies. Following that it’s the ability to cook and host guests. But all of this is phrased in terms of the fact that she is property and a status symbol of her spouse. That she was obtained and something to try to get. While it’s trying to be a flattering portrayal, it’s very insulting.

    This is not a person, this is an accessory. And you should think better of the man here because he had the luck/skill/power/whatever to catch the woman in question.

    And it bothers me and I think it should bother you too.


    So in further posts I’m going to walk over a bunch of ground and invite you to join me. I’m going to cover numerous topics and feel free to request issues that I may not have brought up yet, or details on things you want to hear more about.

    Being reduced to a series of tropes is not fun and I think it needs to change but in order to change it, perhaps we need to look at what is happening in the first place. And see how it affects the life of this one gamer wife.



    I am a casual tabletop gamer and occasional larper who likes to hold forth on gaming in general and draws like a crazy monkey who was given coffee by accident.

    17 Responses to The Gamer Wife, Part 1

    1. avatar
      August 8, 2012 at 17:13

      I am super excited about this. I have experienced the same thing – my husband isn’t a game designer, but he’s an amazing GM and has great knowledge of the systems he plays and runs. From my experience, in some game groups, women are categorized three ways when they are in relationships: before marriage (while dating or engaged), women I have seen in game groups are considered kind of fleeting, like a temporary thing. After marriage, they are treated in the same way that a sports player would have a trophy wife *or* they are treated as “the old battleaxe” kind of wife, the dragging weight, the one who holds everyone back. The transients are often not welcome at game, or if they are (begrudgingly or no), they can be treated in the way one would treat a child – even if they have prior gaming knowledge. The trophy wives people assume to be kind of incompetent, or just like a fixture – and I think that they’re put more on a pedestal the more conventionally attractive they are, treated with slightly more respect but still assumed to be less competent. People like them at game because they think they’ll just sit and be pretty – and it takes a lot to change that assumption. Battleaxes are regarded as mostly competent, but every time they take a move to do something different or challenge common assumptions, or even if they just want to do things on their own, they can get a lot of backlash – bad attitudes, belittling, or claims that they’re just causing trouble or trying to make things difficult. They’re sometimes discouraged from coming to game because they “ruin” the “guys time” – but the trophy wives aren’t often assumed to do so, and the transients sometimes are (dependent, I think, mostly on how much respect they manage to accumulate).

      Now, this is a theory – just from my experience and observations. My current game group is a bit better, but there are still these aspects and assumptions that creep in sometimes, and I think I have even been guilty of it.

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      • avatar
        August 8, 2012 at 20:24

        It’s pretty hard to escape the stereotypes that have been set for us. Eventually in this series I’ll get into what has happened to me on my journeys through being the Gamer Wife.

        I may add a brief detour in the next part about the different stereotypes that you’ve raised here. Because while I experienced one, there are clearly others.

        • avatar
          August 8, 2012 at 20:57

          I really appreciate you taking this on. It’s a tough topic, and one that I worry will get you a lot of backlash, but I think it’s something that needs to be discussed. In part, truly, because I bet a lot of people don’t realize it at all. Thanks!

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    2. avatar
      August 8, 2012 at 18:04

      Have you noticed a difference in reactions from different groups of people? For example, do other women gamers see you as an accessory? What about game creators vs. players? GMs vs. players?

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      • avatar
        August 8, 2012 at 20:26

        Yes, sometimes, and it varies.

        A proper response to this would be a separate post so I’ll add it into my list of things to talk about.

    3. avatar
      August 8, 2012 at 20:25

      I think I might’ve been happy to get that comment you got, to a point, but then there’s that “obtain her” bit that sours the whole thing. Bleh.

      @briecs – I haven’t experienced anything like that in my current gaming group, but, for a pretty good reason. I do the GMing. And I did a lot of it in college, too. That seems to be a fairly good way to establish competency if you have a knack for it. I’m really fortunate enough to never have been told not to show up and game because I’m ruining mens’ fun. At least not to my face!

      The problem I tend to run into in games when my husband runs is being “the GM’s wife” who gets accused of powergaming or getting more in-game favors. It’s true I have easier access to my husband and he knows my wishlist so it’s easier to tell him what I’d like to get out of the game at times, but you do have to deal with people who believe the situation of the wife being a player is also unfair to them.

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      • avatar
        August 8, 2012 at 20:30

        Well, it *is* a compliment. Just not of the woman. It’s purely a compliment for the man. The wife, in this case, is a trophy.

        And I’ve already got a post ready that talks about favoritism because that’s really the source of a lot of these posts. It’s just that when I started writing these, I found I had a lot more to say than I originally thought I had.

        • avatar
          August 8, 2012 at 20:37

          Well, it *is* a compliment. Just not of the woman. It’s purely a compliment for the man. The wife, in this case, is a trophy.

          Yeah, I agree. The last sentence makes that pretty clear – it’s not really about you so much as about how great he is for “winning” you.

          Looking forward to your favoritism post. I’d love to know how to gracefully handle those accusations.

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        • avatar
          August 13, 2012 at 21:50

          It’s not even a compliment of the man, seeing as the “best” asset of the man is someone else! Obviously this comment was made by someone who, knowingly or not, had marginalized both parties. Either that or I don’t know enough context.

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      • avatar
        August 8, 2012 at 20:56

        I have had the accusation of in-game favors as a GM’s wife, too, and that’s mostly annoying – for the same reason’s you listed. It’s also recently been because my husband and I do a lot of world building, and so he has allowed me some supplemental GM work (I am not comfortable running a game yet – I’ve tried like 6 times, but the combat just sours me and I get really confused), but he has always told other players they are welcome to participate in the world building, but few take him up on it.

        The “ruining the men’s fun” thing was awful for a very long time. I used to be in a solidly male game group that was a male game group because they would force out girlfriends, wives, etc. – it was a “guys only” thing, and having women around would just totally ruin it, and they told me so multiple times. I stuck it out because I liked gaming and because my husband wanted me there, but eventually it got to be too much – and that gaming relationship ended brutally. Luckily, it’s not that way now!

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    4. avatar
      August 10, 2012 at 08:42

      Hi Finaira

      Firstly thank you for writing this post. I have been pondering it for a couple of days before responding because it has been a sharp reminder of how lucky I’ve been with gaming groups. Which isn’t to say I haven’t experienced sexism or being treated like a novelty but the prevent culture of the groups I game with don’t tend to tolerate it for very long.

      But I have been aware of the *possibility* of being treated this way and that in turn has (probably negatively) affected my behaviour. I will admit to having looked down my nose at women who’ve deliberately sort to achieve trophy gamer girlfriend/wife status. I am not particularly proud of that and I know it stemmed from a fear that I would be written off as well. Reading this has reminded why I was a little paranoid about it back in the day.

      Everytime someone in my privileged position tries to argue that this sort of thing doesn’t “just happen” I’ll be pointing them straight here (oh! and at the recent PAX “Wife Aggro” debarcle, of course).

      Will you be writing on being treated as the “novelty factor” at all?

      I’ll be looking forward to the rest of the series!

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      • avatar
        August 10, 2012 at 16:49

        Well, at the moment I’m moving the series through how perceptions and responsibilities changes when I became viewed as a gamer wife. After that I plan on addressing individual events or stereotypes that I’ve seen around the issue. I can certainly add in a section to the “novelty factor” specifically as it pertains to the gamer wife trope. I suspect it’ll fall under the umbrella of some of the intended posts.

        As for some gaming groups being better or worse, the interesting thing that I’ve noted is that my gaming group isn’t “bad”. But there are still undercurrents of expectations. It’s a constant low level knowledge that there are things expected of me and it has affected my behaviour. Sometimes with serious push-back, sometimes by ignoring it. Some of these things haven’t actually happened to me but I’ve seen them happening to others. So while I write the series from my perspective, there’s a certain element of amalgam experiences.

        • avatar
          August 10, 2012 at 16:54

          Hi Finiara

          Thanks for commenting back – I can see how the novelty factor might well come under other posts. I can’t wait to see your treatment of it and the rest of the series.

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    5. avatar
      August 13, 2012 at 15:43

      When 1001 Nights 1st ed.was in external playtesting back in 2006, there were people who actually said they were afraid to give feedback or critique, because how could they maybe say bad things about D. Vincent Baker’s wife’s first game? As if they were worried about offending _him_ somehow! It still makes me boggled.

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    6. avatar
      August 17, 2012 at 13:23

      I’ve just realised what this reminds me of. Wedding speeches. I’ve lost count of the number of wedding speeches where the bride is described in terms of an asset belonging to the husband and reflecting on him. It always makes me twitch when I hear it, and your article has very much summed up why.

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    7. avatar
      August 30, 2012 at 00:31

      Oh, Finaira! Quoting Nisarg the self-appointed pundit — a recipe for giving yourself an ulcer! But seriously… I know what you mean as a gamer-married-to-a-gamer, though not a game designer. Happily, I became interested in your writing completely independently of your husband’s, probably because I’m always interested in other female gamers, geeks, etc. and I hang out in those circles.

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