Favoritism and preferential treatment is a sticky topic. The fear and worry that surrounds this idea is deeply held and there are a million anecdotes that we’ve heard about it, especially in context of a Gamer Wife.
Everyone’s heard a story or three about some guy who brings his girlfriend to the table and dotes on her constantly. Or the GM whose wife gets all the best loot and the best stories while everyone else just sits around bored. In fact, I’ve heard those stories so many times that I felt compelled to write this series of posts.
Why, you ask?
Because out of all these stories, I’ve yet to observe this massive bias. But wow have I heard a million accusations of it.
Let me start by telling you a story of the second larp I ever joined. I had just started dating my spouse. I wasn’t an experienced larper. He’d honestly started trying to date me by inviting me over to make a character for his larp and then going for a movie. Turns out, that worked. Sure, the character we’d built for me was given a few things that weren’t normal for most players. He did that partially to make sure I’d have a character that would interest me enough that I’d come to his game and he could keep flirting with me, but also because he wanted to introduce a new element into the game and I was willing to do something different.
The immediate perception of everyone else in the game had was that he was playing favorites. One player even told me that, in nicer words, and implied that I should be ashamed of taking advantage of my position as his new girlfriend. Other players would come to me to beg favors of my spouse. Or befriend my character because they believed that I would always win and get good things and thus by associating with me, they’d be treated favorably as well.
In short, I faced a hostile environment because of course he was playing favorites with me. You know what he told me after the first game? He told me that since everyone was going to believe that he was playing favorites with me, he wouldn’t help me out with most things. He wouldn’t talk to me about character or downtime actions at home. He cut me off from most of his help because he didn’t want to anger the rest of the player base. I was kicked to the curb, in terms of GM time, in favor of the regular players. I was told that he had to favor me less than a normal player purely because everyone knew about the GM’s girlfriend trope.
So I spent my second larp partially frustrated at the lack of attention I was getting and partially resigned. Because I, too, believed that it was important I not hog the GM time. Because favoritism is bad, m’kay? And asking for time or attention, especially at game, was bad and I completely internalized that notion.
This also happened in tabletops, in those early days. I’d get worse loot, fewer opportunities, less interesting plots because he thought that giving me good things would be showing me extra favor. I grew more and more unhappy with my gaming experiences and, because the GM’s girlfriend thing was clearly a thing (I’d heard so many stories! It must be!), I thought that it had to be my fault somehow. The gamer wife had to be ignored to combat the evil stereotype.
Well, that is until my unhappiness resulted in me finally getting angry enough to confront him about it. Sure, he felt bad. He’d also felt it necessary. Eventually things evened out. He backed away from some of the more shunning behaviour and I learned to be more forceful when I noticed I was being ignored.
Of course, as I insinuated earlier, I’ve seen this same thing play out for others. I’ve seen one significant other show considerable disfavor to another because they didn’t want to dote on them. I’ve heard countless accusations of “Oh, of course they’re getting the good stuff. They’re sleeping with the GM”. Most of these weren’t meant as major insults but just statements of fact. I’m sure there are plenty of GMs out there who are bending over backwards for their significant other and ruining play for everyone else. But, from what I’ve seen, it’s not actually happening. It’s just a perception of what’s happening. I’m sure this post will get a pile of people telling me that they’ve seen the favoritism and yes, I’m sure that it does happen. However, I suspect that it’s a case of a small handful of stories ruining it for everyone else. These kinds of stories sound true and that’s often enough to convince us that it must be happening all the time. Not just that, but we often see small favors paid to a spouse which just makes the bigger version seem that much more believable.
The belief is held so strongly that I was being given better and cooler things in play that I had to be treated as a second class citizen just to appear “fair”. And it keeps happening to other women because people are so afraid to be seen as playing favorites. They hear the rumors and the whispers too.
Yes, I do get more time around my spouse. He’s my spouse. That’s normally how that one works out. But I’m not always pestering him about game. I’m not spending my days and nights asking rule questions or getting my downtime to turn out just right. Chances are good that we’re doing things that have nothing to do with game when game is over.
So the next time you see your spouse at the table and worry about if you really ought to give them the plot hook rather than the person next to them, think. When was the last time to you gave them anything? Are you actually favoring them? Because if the answer is no, then stop acting like it.
But what do you do when all the tension around expectations and stereotypes blows up? Next week I will address break-ups and relationship drama as it relates to the gamer wife ideal.