• The Gamer Wife, Part 4

    by  • August 29, 2012 • Essays, People & Events • 18 Comments

    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.

    1. 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.
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    About

    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.

    18 Responses to The Gamer Wife, Part 4

    1. avatar
      August 29, 2012 at 17:17

      Oh, the rules thing. I hear that. I am not a big fan of rules (seriously, as far as rules in game go, I’m a big fan of going “Will ignoring the rule make this cooler and make me have more fun? Okay, then screw the rule.”), but my husband is like this mastermind of them. He remembers the rules, and can easily call them to mind. I’m a little slower, and I honestly do have a lot of trouble with math and sometimes get confused, but I get frustrated when I get pressed down or pushed aside when we’re building characters, or when I have trouble with things. Sometimes people mistake my needing reminders or clarification as me being stupid or not caring enough about game to learn, especially because John is there for people to go to to ask questions and they often expect him to be the one who takes the answers when I ask questions.

      “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.”

      Oh, god yes. That’s exactly it. Well put.

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      • avatar
        Finaira
        August 30, 2012 at 16:14

        I think the base assumption here is that gamers want to believe that everyone else who games cares just as deeply and intently on the minutiae of a given system and that if you don’t, then you are clearly not a “proper” gamer. And since very rules heavy systems tend to leave me a little bit cold, I clearly can’t be there because I enjoy the game. A “proper” gamer would care about all the little rules!

        Totally there with you.

    2. avatar
      Pseudoephedrine
      August 30, 2012 at 01:02

      I’ve been reading the series and enjoying it, but I’m really eager to see the next part, since I’m not a fan of significant others playing together and I’m curious about your thoughts on the matter.

      You’ve mentioned several times that you felt pressured in various ways to serve as an adjunct to your spouse’s gaming even when you didn’t want to. In this column you mention that even the kinds of systems you wanted to play were different. Why did you stick with the same group?

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      • avatar
        mechanteanemone
        August 30, 2012 at 02:13

        “I’m not a fan of significant others playing together…”

        Interesting! For me, the best gaming is always with my husband, as we’re best friends and we generate a lot of ideas from each other. We do have different tastes and we need to be careful and diplomatic in discussing differences, but we have so much fun gaming together!

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        • avatar
          Pseudoephedrine
          August 30, 2012 at 03:43

          I’m glad you two have a good time together. I don’t want to steal Finaira’s thunder, but my concern is that it’s very hard for the people I know who are in serious intimate relationships to sit still while someone else criticises their significant other, even if the criticism is well-meaning, and even if the person being criticised is fine with it. My experience has been that game groups run best when interpersonal issues are dealt with promptly and honestly, before they smolder and explode. Having two people who are in a relationship at the same table can twist that whole process around in various ways. It’s not inevitable, but it becomes a lot more work to manage, and sometimes that work is dumped outside the couple and onto the rest of the group.

          For example, one partner can play the role of gatekeeper for negative feedback about the other, which prevents the people who feel aggrieved from feeling like their problem is being addressed. I had a buddy who was dating a woman who wanted to game with our group but didn’t really care about the norms of play we had established. We took the game very seriously, all knew the rules well, wanted to portray interesting characters, etc. while she wanted a more zany, hack-and-slash, monty-python-joking experience. We clearly communicated what the game was like beforehand, but she didn’t give a shit about any of that, even after it was reiterated. Then, my buddy insisted we couldn’t tell her to go fuck herself like we would someone else who did that, but had to let him bring it up to her in private, which he never did, or did so weakly that she just ignored it. Eventually, she got bored after a few sessions and decided to spend her Saturdays elsewhere. I’ve seen this one a couple of times now.

          Problems in the relationship can lead to problems at the table – I once couldn’t get my group to play for a month because the referee and one of the PCs were in the tail-end of a relationship and couldn’t clearly communicate with one another about how little they wanted to see one another, and so just avoided one another without telling the rest of us what was going on.

          Plus, there’s the case where one half of the couple is a decent, upstanding citizen and the other half is a rotten hunk of shit. Like, due to the people I know from the kind of life I live, I know (and recruit gamers from) a lot of couples where one person is an alcoholic, drug addict, borderline personality disorder-haver, domestic abuser, etc. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a relationship with a person with something like that, but I have (a bunch), and the thing about them is that they want to be all up in your shit all the time, and the other half in those situations can have a lot of trouble saying “No”. Being able to go “Naw, no other-halves allowed” let’s you kick the bum to the curb and keep the good one in a way less likely to provoke drama than “You can only come if you don’t puke at the table, bro”.

          Anyhow, I’ve got other stories like these, and it’s led me to have a soft ban when I ref on inviting your partner to play in the same group.

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          • avatar
            Petra Bootmann
            August 30, 2012 at 11:50

            “Then, my buddy insisted we couldn’t tell her to go fuck herself like we would someone else who did that, but had to let him bring it up to her in private, which he never did, or did so weakly that she just ignored it. ”

            This is just what Finaira said previously: the group addressed plea to her partner not her directly. I’m not surprised it didn’t work.

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          • avatar
            Finaira
            August 30, 2012 at 16:40

            “…my concern is that it’s very hard for the people I know who are in serious intimate relationships to sit still while someone else criticises their significant other, even if the criticism is well-meaning, and even if the person being criticised is fine with it.”

            This, specifically, is an issue within an individual couple. From my observations of both my friends who are couples and my own relationship, this isn’t often the case unless the criticism is unfounded or comes across as malicious. Do couples sometimes get defensive if one of them feels slighted or insulted? Definitely! It’s normal to get offended on behalf of your partner. So…don’t take it personally.

            And yes, problems within relationships do lead to problems at the gaming table. This is true whether the relationship is romantic or platonic, to be honest. There are people who I just can’t game with because I find their opinions to be abhorrent and, if we were at a gaming table together, which is not unreasonable, there would be friction. The important thing is to notice when there are relationship issues (regardless of the nature of the relationship) and ask both parties to sort it out because it’s not fair to everyone else to bring that to the table.

            I don’t think the solution is to avoid inviting partner’s to games. If they have different interests or don’t enjoy the game you are running that’s totally fine. Being reluctant to let them join in at all sounds like a great way of limiting yourself though. Couples are made up of two people. Treat them like individuals who enjoy different things and maybe enjoy this one thing together. When you assume that one is responsible for the other you can end up in these pitfalls. Sure, a new player ought to be aware that they are coming into a new table and things can be pretty inflexible, but asking their partner to “talk” to them about your issues is a bad idea.

            Oh pronouns. How annoying. >.>

            Anyway, it’s time for me to get some tea and stop rambling.

          • avatar
            August 30, 2012 at 19:34

            I’ve been discouraged from joining groups with my husband before, and honestly, it really pissed me off. Sometimes it can reek of anti-female “boys club” mentalities. Other times, it’s just kind of insulting. How can you know whether I’m good to game with without giving me the chance to join in or try it out?

            My husband and I have pretty similar gaming preferences, and do pretty well with letting people give feedback to either of us without the other interfering, so assuming that we’d have relationship problems or that we have conflicting preferences would probably turn us off from a group immediately. It is, as Finaira noted, a solid way to limit who joins your group, and it has a potential to lose great gamers.

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        • avatar
          September 2, 2012 at 18:39

          “we’re best friends and we generate a lot of ideas from each other”

          Agreed! Well said. We game together more often than not, and it’s great. Of course we’re one of a bunch of old gamers with a few established couples – our gaming clique are friends who met through gaming, and we game to catch up with each other, so we tend to turn up to games together. But we’re not joined at the hip.

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      • avatar
        Finaira
        August 30, 2012 at 16:21

        Why do I stick with the same group? To be honest, I don’t. Or, more appropriately, we no longer game with some of the people who were causing problems.

        We still game together for many reasons. First, we game with a small group of close friends and we all understand each other quite well. We all like different things and that’s totally okay because we make sure to hit everything. Because while rules heavy games aren’t my favorite, I can still enjoy them. Especially in a situation where everyone is also having fun. The second reason is that we know each other well enough that the specific system doesn’t matter. And third, because it would take a lot of effort to arrange for a game and then not invite my spouse given that most games occur at our place and not inviting the other person living there is hideously rude.

        • avatar
          Pseudoephedrine
          August 30, 2012 at 23:46

          That’s all pretty reasonable. I can see how if you’re making progress purging or reforming the worst elements it might offer an incentive to stick with a particular group rather than reinvest in a whole new set of relationships. The article leaves the timeframe a bit unclear – it sounds like this was going on for a longer period than a couple of months. Is that the case?

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          • avatar
            Finaira
            August 31, 2012 at 07:21

            Oh yes, this went on for years.

            The biggest part of most of these stories is that while much of this has changed, the problem was that there was social pressure to conform to these standards. To pretend I wasn’t annoyed when I was placed as second fiddle to my spouse.

    3. avatar
      mechanteanemone
      August 30, 2012 at 01:56

      Very interesting. The material in Part 1 felt familiar to me, but not so much with Parts 2-4. I can certainly envision it easily, but my personal experience has been different. I have encountered plenty of sexism and bad manners, but if there were any “table expectations” of me as gamer wife, I think I was completely oblivious. Many years ago, however, my husband and I decided that, except for conventions and clubs, we would only game with people we could be friends with. We’ve become the old gamers who often set the tone for the table (and we don’t have “gamer wife” expectations for gamer women!) so we’ve largely protected ourselves from many of the things you have been socked with.

      In addition, I try to call bullshit when I accidentally end up with people who don’t respect boundaries. For example, when you describe how people seem to believe that couples must have a hive mind: yes, I have seen that attitude, but I usually point out how erroneous it is early on in a campaign. More often, my experiences have dealt with men who automatically disregard anything said by a female player (that makes for serious sparks and short-lived campaigns), or people who interrupt frequently (I try to be polite, but I do point it out firmly: “I’m sorry, Bob, but you interrupted — I wasn’t finished.”)

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      • avatar
        Finaira
        August 30, 2012 at 16:45

        Heh. Sounds great!

        That’s effectively what has happened with our group as well. We started out tolerating some truly awful, if subtle, behaviours from a lot of people and now have winnowed down our gaming group to a handful of people that we enjoy gaming with and have fewer issues with.

        And double plus good on the calling out bad behaviour! That’s, honestly, the hardest part. Especially if you enter an established group who think and behave in a certain way. Which is probably the source of many of my problems, to be honest. I walked into a gaming crowd that carried a certain set of expectations before I even arrived and found myself having to either accept them or push back against them. Some people really didn’t like having their attitudes and assumptions pushed against. I don’t game with those people!

    4. avatar
      September 2, 2012 at 19:26

      FWIW I don’t have patience for complex systems these days. I like RPG theory but if the system isn’t totally transparent then for me it’s a waste of time (since as GM I have to spend effort coaching players in the system as well as running the game). I usually go to my SO for feedback on how the game ‘feels’.

      That’s not because I’m trying to appeal to a lowest common denominator. Some people equate minimalism with casual play, and thereby devalue the investment that minimalist players make towards their games. My goals are to get my players to invest in my game as much as possible, and if they have to invest in system at the same time it tends to get in the way. Possibly that’s a reflection on myself and my players, but it works for me.

      It’s slightly tangential to your post, but I do think the higher barrier to entry created by the need to learn system can lead to marginalising newcomers – something that’s particularly acute when the newcomer is an established player’s spouse per your example. Worst case it creates a sort of tribal environment where the GM delegates the task of mentoring a new player to other players, rather than building a relationship directly with the new player. That’s not my style, though I’m sure it works for some groups - there must be positive examples where that environment is supportive of new players rather than sidelining them.

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    5. avatar
      IceBob
      September 5, 2012 at 17:36

      “Like, everyone knew I was just there for social reasons … 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.”

      This is an issue I’m currently struggling with as a GM. I have a serious suspicion that one of my players, who happens to be female, isn’t actually interested in the games I’m running and is there primarily at the request of her husband. I’ve tried to ask for her feedback directly, but I’m concerned I haven’t been getting an honest response because her replies are self-moderated by her desire not to insult me and her concern over what her husband will think if she admits she isn’t having a good time.

      The thing is, if someone isn’t having a good time with a game I’m running, I really want to know so that I can try to change something so they’ll enjoy it more. If I can’t make the sorts of changes that would make it fun for them, I’d rather not play it when they are around. Instead, we could find an activity everyone would be involved with and have fun with.

      I just don’t know how to handle the situation.

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      • avatar
        September 5, 2012 at 18:32

        Email her or talk to her online, so that you can have a private conversation where she hopefully don’t feel the need to censor herself.

        Or open up a discussion for everyone what everyone would like to see more and less of in the game, and gives you useful critique, and when everyone speaks their mind. In that kind of situation she might be more comfortable speaking up.

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      • avatar
        Finaira
        September 5, 2012 at 19:16

        Elin has the right of it.

        If you think she’s not telling you the truth for fear of social repercussions, take the conversation to somewhere where those ramifications don’t exist. Either by contacting her privately or bringing it up with the group in a way that doesn’t come across as one-sided. ((By which I mean, avoid questions that result in an echo chamber. No one likes to be the lone voice dissenting in an echo chamber.))

        The second thing, and this is important, is that if she continues to insist that she is having a good time and that nothing is wrong, take her at her word. Unless she’s clearly upset or bored, don’t decide how she feels.

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