• The Gamer Wife, Part 6

    by  • September 12, 2012 • Essays, People & Events • 3 Comments

    Drama. It happens to everyone.

    We see it between our friends. We see it with our children. We see it in our significant others. Drama is just part of the human experience. We are social creatures who do social things with other people and sometimes, drama happens. It’s rather unavoidable, and despite our best attempts to find the path of least drama, we’ll find some sooner or later.

    No one really likes drama.1 So what happens when drama explodes around the gaming table? How do the roles of the gamer wife come into play?

    There are two situations that I’ll address. The first is what happens when the gamer wife is part of the drama and the second is how the gamer wife is supposed to react to drama happening at the table.

    Maybe I’m having an argument with my spouse about house chores. Maybe we’re having an argument of a more serious nature. No one else at the gaming table cared about who started it, but something triggers that old argument and now we’re bickering. Snipping and sniping at each other across the game table. It’s uncomfortable and everyone is doing their level best to ignore the tension and just get on with game.

    Whenever I’ve been in an argument with my spouse, or unhappy and sarcastic to him about something, I end up feeling completely guilt ridden. There are all these people at the table. They are all looking at me and blaming me. This probably isn’t completely true, but I know that women are seen as the primary source of the tension. I’ve watched people blame the woman for starting an argument that is obviously the continuation of some other argument between the couple.

    Overwhelmingly these public outbursts are blamed on the women, in my experience, even when it’s clearly caused by the men or is a shared blame thing. The long term repercussion might go in favor of either party, but the initial conflagration is usually pinned on the woman.

    In the case of my spouse and I, yes, I tend to get more visibly upset or distressed when something is bothering me. So it’s easy for it to look like it’s my fault when things bubble over because I’m the one who has been more agitated. But in those circumstances where my spouse has been the one who is upset I’m the one who has to calm him down.

    Yes, I know, that’s generally what couples do for each other. When one is upset, the other is expected to calm them. Except then I’m still to blame when this turns into table-side drama. Because I should have bent over backwards to calm him down. So I get to choose between being blamed for starting the fight or blamed for not averting the fight.

    And this is only the visible section at the table. When the bickering continues and the entire group grows weary of the endless fighting, what happens? What happens when the couple have to split up? Obviously, I’m still with my spouse so I can only speak here of what I’ve seen.

    So your friends are fighting. Maybe they’re just friends, maybe they are lovers. That part doesn’t really matter outside of fine details. The important thing is that they are fighting. And it hurts to watch people close to you be in pain. It hurts to have to stand there and choose sides or try to help and become the target for their pain.

    Frequently enough, the gamer wife may be the only woman at the table. I am rarely the only woman so the more familiar situation is where I am the only other woman at the table who isn’t directly involved in the drama. There exists this expectation that women either bring drama and relationship tension to the gaming table where none existed prior2 or that women are supposed to be innately good at solving this tension with their magical social graces. And this is what I want to address here.

    While I was part of the LARP crowd, I watched innumerable break ups, arguments and general social hoopla that bounced around. Bob did something stupid at the party and now Felicity and Gwen are trying to turn everyone against him. Gwen totally slept with Raymond and you can tell they’re going to hook up as soon as Raymond divorces Pat. This kind of thing happened constantly. It was a large group of people and we knew each other and saw each other frequently. The gossip would fly thick and fast.

    Thus, I was expected to keep abreast of it all. Because a social faux pas later and you’ve invited two people who never should be in the same room together. My friends and I would make guest lists of people we were willing to invite to events to minimize the potential drama. We were the stable couples, the reliable women. So we were trusted with much of the group balance to keep the peace. I had to know current events, I had to adjudicate between people who were fighting. I sometimes had to be one telling someone else why they couldn’t come out. All the while being polite and friendly.

    Because the alternative was letting my spouse do that. And he, ah, would not have been delicate about it. Whether or not it was right to use softer language and flattery to uninvite these people is somewhat irrelevant. The men were  only expected to get involved when someone needed to be removed temporarily from the group. Not that men restricted themselves to this. In my experience, the men were just as bad as the women for getting themselves embroiled in drama. But men were not required to be  involved until things got bad wherein women were always expected to be involved.

    But the fall out of these cycles of drama is pretty predictable. First, everyone picks sides. Either with the one or the other and various reasons will fly about. Like any other relationship break-up, there are issues that have absolutely nothing to do with gaming. What does have to do with gaming is who to invite to the next game. More often than not, it’s been the woman who loses out on the gaming group. Whether because of all the stereotypes of women in gaming or because, frequently enough, the guy has more friends and connections in the gaming community. Mostly, it’s been the latter, in my experiences. The guys were the ones who have been around longer, know more of the people, and are familiar with everyone so of course he’s the one who gets to stay.3 The person who is better friends with the GM generally gets to keep the gaming group.

    Of course, this isn’t universally true. There are no universals when it comes to drama. Except this implicit assumption that women are more responsible for the drama, both in starting it and in cleaning it up.

    Speaking of responsibility and drama, next week’s Gamer Wife will focus the unwanted advances, flirting at the table and displays of affection.

    1. I lie. I knew a few people who seemed to love interpersonal drama because they kept seeking it out and rolling around in it like my old beloved dog and those stupid cow pats. It was about as terrible, as well. But you could sometimes settle down with a bag of popcorn and just watch as they made themselves miserable. Because trying to help them with their drama usually just meant getting dragged into it.
    2. See any number of tales of women going to a game only to be hit on extensively.
    3. Giant caveat based on what caused the failed relationship. Sometimes the guy becomes a pariah if what happened was obviously awful and the group all picked the woman’s side.
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    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.

    3 Responses to The Gamer Wife, Part 6

    1. avatar
      IceBob
      September 12, 2012 at 19:58

      Having been on both sides of the ‘couple drama at the table’ situation (participant and observer), I certainly find being the outsider to the conflict more uncomfortable. I’m embarrassed when I bring or participate in the drama, but I’m definitely put off by being the outsider. I often find myself thinking uncharitable thoughts about the others until I remind myself that we’re all human, and, as you said in the article, drama happens to social creatures. After I do that, I let it run its course for a few minutes, then try to get people back into the action (unless the action caused the drama, at which point I try to adjust things if I can to minimize it going forward).

      I’ve certainly been witness to the default blame being laid with the female in the group, though in my (personal, anecdotal) experience, men have been at fault for the greater proportion of the problems. Some of the biggest problems have been caused by: territoriality (there’s a woman in my Man Time!), inflexibility with play style or rules, or failure to listen and take the time to understand whatever issue is at hand.

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      • avatar
        September 13, 2012 at 01:51

        I quite agree. Since we’ve had a lot of shared experiences, I think I can say with good faith that we’re on the same page.

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    2. avatar
      Richter_DL
      September 27, 2012 at 18:47

      Ah, Drama.

      Well, there’s two things to be said first and foremost:

      1. Both men and women are equally capable of drama, though it tends to come in slightly different forms.
      2. Given most group structures, most drama in gaming groups comes from men. Simply because they’re the dominant gender in the hobby.

      Having said that, you’re perfectly right that usually, the person on better terms with the GM (or rather, the group’s center of gravity, which often, but not always, is the GM) usually stays, the other goes. Very occasionally, the drama can be defused and some kind of a truce been reached between the dramatic people – but I’ve seen that happen exactly once in almost 20 years of gaming.

      I agree with IceBob though – the part of observer – and maybe friend of both – is the worst in this. Essentially, you’re either forced to pick sides or distance yourself (and possibly lose) two friends at once. No matter what you do, you end up on the losing end.

      I haven’t seen much blame-the-female by default, myself – the most recent case, she’s being blamed because she caused the drama (left guy A for his best friend and then complains A is a sucky friend because he won’t give B birthday gifts, and such things – she completely lacks any tact, sad as this is), otherwise, it was usually caused by a guy, in most occurrences targeting a guy and hence didn’t involve girls. Once a while back, a guy and a female player had a falling out about … I don’t now really, but since she was running the game at the time, the guy was asked to go. You can lose a player, you cannot lose a GM unless the game is to break down entirely, tough luck. However, in online surroundings, things are different .- you have next to no hanger-on boy/girlfrienmds who want to guard their assets rather than participate, and neither do you have any ruckus about who cooks or does dishes or whatnot. It’s usually about who’s better connected or more important to the game, if one dramaturg has to go.

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