Now that you’ve seen the background to how opinions and behaviour changed when I became a Gamer Wife, I will touch on how the gaming table changed. In response to a number of comments I’ve seen, these are primarily the bad experiences. The negative things that I’ve observed over a decade of gaming. The small things that in groups that are worse could easily have changed my willingness to game.
Any given gaming table is going to have to deal with a certain amount of uneasiness and unintended toe-stepping when a new player arrives at the table. If a lone woman sits down with a group that has never gamed with women, I’d expect a certain amount of push-back to her presence. A certain amount of sexist bullshit being leveled in her direction purely because of gender. I never did have to deal with that. My first gaming group was 3 women and 2 men. I’ve only very recently been the only woman at a gaming table and that group has been great.
I’m not going to be talking about that, exactly. Instead I’d prefer to focus in on what happened when I got to the game table in tow (or towing) my spouse.
The first thing is that since we are a couple, it was expected that we’d build characters together who would work well together. That the concepts would mesh well. This wasn’t always the case because people are different and want different things. And sometimes those things were vastly different. My spouse is far far better at dealing with rules heavy systems. He loves them. I sometimes love them but am personally in favor of rules light systems.
Now, since my spouse is more fond of complex systems, he’s also better at them. Better at remembering tables, combinations of skills, weapon talents, and pretty much anything needed for those systems. So if I am looking for something specific, I’ll just ask him and work from what he’s told me as a starting point. I don’t often blindly follow his suggestions unless they really do align with what interests me. This was just delegation of tasks to the person best suited to deal with them, right? 1
Well, it meant that the assumption at the table was that I didn’t understand the system at all or poorly at best. That he was there to hand hold me through issues that came up with rules foibles. That if I had a question, they’d address the response to him. I fell right into the stereotype of the girlfriend who just didn’t “get” complex rpgs. Thus he was responsible for me and my character being awesome. It also meant that others around the table would happily “help” me, especially if this meant making a character that made them better. Since I deferred to my spouse, I clearly would defer to their expert knowledge as well. Because I mustn’t know the rules, right?
A tangential, but related problem, is that he was also expected to keep me entertained. Like, everyone knew I was just there for social reasons and that if I wasn’t having fun, he should really take care of that. Now, this one met with some really bizarre issues because I am not likely to sit there quietly and be bored without at least trying to engage the game. If it’s clear that I’m being ignored, then I’m going to ignore your game right back, thank you very much. It had the odd effect that some GMs basically ignored me because I was clearly capable of bringing my own fun to the table and didn’t need any special favor or I was someone they could ignore because I wasn’t there for real reasons anyway. Which of course led me to believe that since I wasn’t getting much GM time, I didn’t need to be interested.
On the topic of being interested, there was also the perennial problem of if I wasn’t interested in going to a game and he was, it was treated almost like there was some kind of dirty secret. Like we weren’t allowed to like different things. There was definitely a pressure to attend games together even if we weren’t going to be playing together or doing anything related to each other.
So while I might have been very interested in your game, it often became rapidly obvious that I wasn’t the one you expected to play with. Again, it was believed that if I wasn’t going to be hyper-aggressive and constantly assert myself, then I was supposed to be the meek accessory. Like there were only two default positions I could assume at the table.
Whenever I read stories about the trophy wife, or the token woman at the table, I flinch. I flinch because I know how the minor versions of the attitudes I saw could easily blow up into big deals. How different people will react differently to the dismissive attitudes that women at gaming tables frequently receive. Some will push back and maybe they’ll be labelled bitches or one of the guys. Some will patiently work to change attitudes. Some will give up because while interest was there, it quickly wanes when they get ignored.
No one likes to be pushed to the side and forgotten. The gamer wife’s responsibility of being permissive of her spouse’s gaming habits also tends to translate into putting her own desires behind his. She’s supposed to help make his game even more awesome. And not having fun, or dragging the game down, or fighting for spotlight time are often phrased in such aggressively negative terms that it’s unsurprising when the gamer wife fades into the accessory.
We’re supposed to be enablers and have fun doing it.
Sure, that can be fun sometimes. But it’s also tiring.
Of course, these attitudes only compounded with the bigger issue of significant others gaming together. The assumption of favoritism and preferential treatment runs rampantly throughout the gaming hobby and I’ll address that sticky issue in the next installment.
- For example, in Rogue Trader, I couldn’t care less which gun my character has. I care if I do cool things with it. If he tells me that my archeotech laspistols are numerically worse than my bolt pistol, that’s fine! I’ll take a bolt pistol and go do awesome things now. ↩