• The Gamer Wife, Part 8

    by  • October 31, 2012 • Essays, People & Events • 6 Comments

    Anyone who knew me in real life would realize that I’m tiny compared to my spouse. He towers over me, over a head taller than I am. It’s incongruous at best. People notice him first when we walk into a room and he is memorable. Also, he towers over almost everyone. But he also towers over me online. He is respected amongst the gamer community, not solely because he’s intelligent, erudite and well-spoken, but also because he has interesting games and does things which make him interesting to other gamers.

    He also has about 10 times the followers that I do on most social media.

    It means that when I started doing game art for him, it got seen. And a lot of it, despite being attributed to me within the books, instead was attributed to him. A few years later and he’s started drawing art in a similar style to mine, though by no means identical. Now a lot of people not only assuredly attributes my art as his, but he gets a lot more credit than I ever did. My art fueled his products and are seen as something he achieved.

    And it’s not like he’s doing it on purpose. But here I am, staring at yet another piece of my art and hearing everyone heap praises on him while he struggles to get them to acknowledge that the art is actually mine. Some listen, and tell him that my art is great (none of them think to actually tell me this), but most don’t seem to listen.

    This is not the only time this has happened.

    Time and again, the things that I do, especially online or in relation to gaming, are given over to his name because he’s far more memorable and recognizable than I am. He holds the cult of personality and I’m the tag along. Hoping that while standing in his shadow, some of the light of appreciation actually reaches me. And it stings. Hoo boy, does it sting sometimes.

    Part of it is that he is more well known than me. Because he has a certain following and because he is recognizable, it means that when he promotes my stuff, there is a much better chance of it getting seen. But the name next to the post is his. And attribution on the internet gets muddled quickly enough as is. In person, it’s because everyone knows that he’s the game designer. The rules monger. The guy who knows how all the mechanics work and can tweak and fix things to his preference. So whenever we are sitting around a table, talking about gaming, he’s still the one people listen to. My opinions, especially later on, have been attributed to him.

    So, a few years back, I made a conscious decision to alienate my name from his online. I don’t post as his spouse. I don’t announce that we’re together. I don’t post a lot on his stuff. Online, you’d be hard pressed to associate us as anything. And I did that so that when I do post, my voice isn’t assumed to be his. That if I have a thought on gaming theory or art or feminism, it isn’t assumed to be his or gained from him. We talk constantly offline about the things we’re posting so it’s not like we aren’t aware of each others opinions. It’s not like we don’t influence each other. But when he expresses an opinion, it’s his. When I express an opinion, I’m at risk of being told that I’m just parroting him or it’s spousal bickering.

    And the weird thing is the reverse. Which of his actions are attributed to me. I mean, obviously, it happens. People who see my art first will point out that his style follows mine. But that’s rare. Instead the comments range around domestic affairs. I’m given credit for a clean apartment despite the fact that he does a sizable chunk of it. Organizing a gathering is usually laid at my feet even when he did the work. I’m given credit for being emotionally supportive when others assume that he needed emotional support.

    The fact that attribution of actions falls along gendered lines is not lost on me. I’ve noticed myself doing it with other friends unless I specifically know better. It’s so engrained in us to assume that women are responsible for all the household work and men are responsible for the production of products that it slips by that we’re not acknowledging the people who actually did the work.

    And while I do think that it’s not fair that people don’t notice that my spouse cleans or washes dishes, I think it’s worse when credit for game design or art or setting is taken from women and given to the men they live with because that’s part of how they make a living. How they are acknowledged socially and culturally.

    Every time my work credit is given to my spouse, I get more discouraged. What’s the point? What’s the point of struggling and creating and making something interesting if no one cares that you did it? What’s the point of educating and holding a reasoned opinion if everyone just assumes you are parroting another person and haven’t actually thought about it?

    Maybe it’s worse because I’m a gamer wife. Because I’m always near my spouse and people just lump the two of us together and it just “happens” to fall out that it’s him that gets acknowledged first. For convenience sake, people assume a couple is a single, autonomous unit, and treat us like copies of each other. Treat us like we are the same person with access to the same free time, abilities and opinions. But then, I wonder why it’s always him who gets the credit for it.

    Habit, I suppose.

    There is one final part to my series. Next week, I’m going to wrap this up with a summary of my posts and some of the experiences I had while writing these.

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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.

    6 Responses to The Gamer Wife, Part 8

    1. avatar
      denzi
      October 31, 2012 at 17:43

      I resemble this post.

      As trmechzero and I have talked about before (separately), he mostly GMs and I mostly play. He is also a much more experienced tabletop gamer than I am. He is more likely to be invited to games, although I *think* this is less of a sexist thing and more that I have made my hatred for the D&D system and for fighting-only games with few puzzles or mysteries or social interactions built into the plot widely known throughout our gaming circles. I am okay with the fewer invites: it means I don’t have to sit there getting more and more frustrated and making other people more and more uncomfortable as I play a style of game I hate.

      I have also co-GMed with trmechzero twice, once running the monsters for a large D&D PvP oneshot and once for a Wayward-form improv, which in our case turned out like the love child between a LARP, laser tag, and a team-building exercise.

      The D&D PvP oneshot wasn’t fun for me, because it was goddamn motherfucking D&D3.5 rules lawyering (other people might call it “good old fashioned PvP wargaming”), and the two groups, through luck, bypassed the majority of the monsters I was meant to play. But this game also was very much viewed as “T’s game” (in fairness, he did all the game design, all the pre-game communication with the players, and was the main GM…but still) and my contributions to it were almost completely ignored. I suspect that anyone who remembers that game may not actually even remember that I was there.

      I am planning on writing a full play report of our Wayward and submitting it to y’all, because I count it as my first time GMing a game, but the short version: this game turned out very differently for me, mostly because I ended up being the GM who ran the helpful NPC who set up the storyline and made tweaks as the game unfolded. T. was a little disappointed that he didn’t really get to run his game (as he had designed at least 2/3 of the plot), but was also really happy to watch me exercise my GM powers. I think the player perceptions of who was involved in GMing this game were much more in line with the actual division of labor.

      But beyond those two explicit assists, I am the silent partner in *most* of trmechzero’s GMing. He bounces ideas for plot off of me. He checks with me for a read on the room and which players are getting frustrated by what plot point or mechanic. I suggest general plot or mechanics, point out reasons why doing X in the next session will make the players more frustrated and why Y might be a better move. I don’t hesitate to tell T. that he’s being unfair and a certain player needs better loot or more playtime (although, as you talked about before, I am always hesitant to call him on being unfair to me. Because the GM’s wife is supposed to be at the bottom of the game pecking order, or it’s nepotism.)

      But all of this work goes totally unacknowledged. I am a GM ghost-editor. And I think the reason for this is all the gamer wife stereotypes: if players knew that I advocate for them during pre- and post-game bull sessions, would they assume I’m the one to ask for things and try to use me to get around T.? Would they assume that I’m suggesting plot for my benefit rather than theirs? Would they be uncomfortable with me playing in a game when I may have a few spoilers? In sum: would they assume I’m blending my roles as player and partner in a bad way? If they knew I had more control in the game than I look like, that I am a silent mod or power user, would they rally against me with the classic “IT’S NOT FAIR!”?

      Because I really would like a little recognition for helping shape T.’s games. I’d like to get a mention on the equivalent of the acknowledgements page. But I’d rather be treated as an equal at the table, and to avoid giving my guy friends and acquaintances an excuse to cause drama and then blame it on me (unfair to our friends? Maybe. I don’t want to find out).

      What sucks the most is feeling like I have to choose one or the other.

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      • avatar
        October 31, 2012 at 22:10

        ALL of this. Wow, yes. Let me first say, I totally get what you are saying here. I have kind of co-GM’d with my husband in the past, just like you’re discussing here – I LOVE doing it, but I do have those same worries. I’m going to copy them here for emphasis.

        ” if players knew that I advocate for them during pre- and post-game bull sessions, would they assume I’m the one to ask for things and try to use me to get around T.? Would they assume that I’m suggesting plot for my benefit rather than theirs? Would they be uncomfortable with me playing in a game when I may have a few spoilers? In sum: would they assume I’m blending my roles as player and partner in a bad way? If they knew I had more control in the game than I look like, that I am a silent mod or power user, would they rally against me with the classic “IT’S NOT FAIR!”?”

        Yep yep yep. All of these worries are mine. Some of John’s games I’ve had a lot of background influence, which is mega-awesome, but at the same time, I have these deep worries like this. Of course, no one would ever come to me as an advocate for them (I am often seen as an adversary… No idea how that works!), but I do worry they’ll think I’m trying to power game or abuse my knowledge. I try desperately not to and I think I do a pretty good job, but if they did think those things it could make life even worse.

        I hear you. I don’t have much more constructive to say, but your comment here just really resonated with me!

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      • avatar
        Finaira
        November 8, 2012 at 00:54

        Yeah, I get a lot of plot ideas bounced off me as well by my spouse. I also get asked, though not frequently, if other players need spotlight or how the game is going quite often.

        I don’t know how the gaming group in general would react if they knew how much I was a GM ghost-editor (I’m stealing that phrase from you, it is awesome) and how many assumptions would be thrown our way. To be fair, my group is pretty amazing so I doubt anyone would care if everyone was having fun anyway, which is nice. But some of the old gaming groups we had? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’d get told that I was interfering or that my contributions were minor and unrequired.

    2. avatar
      October 31, 2012 at 22:11

      (cross-posted from my G+)

      This is a really interesting post for me, for a couple of reasons. First, because during my earlier gaming years up until recently, John overshadowed me in our gaming life. I was mostly cool with it, because he’s awesome and good at things. Sometimes it stung, though. More than that, when there would be objections to content or social stuff (like, content in games, representation, not using slurs), even if John raised the objection, it had to have come from me. After all, John is cool about that stuff. He’s laid back. He doesn’t rock the boat, right? It was me. The emotional stuff was me. I “kept him” from game because I wanted him to spend time with my family (partially true, but he always had a choice). I was the one who wrecked the relationships we had because I was the evil girlfriend/wife/”sociopath” who didn’t value friends over myself or friends over my family. Anything relating to the house or how we lived was me (even if it was John as much as or more than me that wanted a change or wanted to spend time at our house). Those things stuck with me. Some of it was gendered. Much of it is because I’m more abrasive and because while John is quiet, I speak out. But when it came to game stuff, he was always better at presenting his thoughts, and people respected his opinions more. (Many, many people like John better than me socially. I’ve learned and come to grips with that.)

      However, now that I’m kind of, I guess more popular (for lack of a better term) in gaming, I feel this panic that John might feel like Finaira does here. There has been an instance or two where someone thought John’s art was mine (in spite of my pretty extreme lack of drawing talent) because I shared it. I’m terrified of the possibility that his abilities will not be recognized or will not be as public as mine – which isn’t right, because I know how talented he is, how incredibly good with understanding gaming rules he is. In all honesty, John would be as good as or better than me at blogging about gaming, talking to people about games, all of it. Even though he is quiet, when he does speak, it’s very valuable information pretty much every time.

      So, this post kind of set me on an edge. I want to be recognized and I would love to be cool enough and good enough to deserve and get respect, but I don’t ever, ever want that to come at the expense of my husband’s career and exposure.

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    3. avatar
      Michelle Lyons-McFarland
      November 5, 2012 at 17:07

      This is something that’s given me pause. This past year I started a game company along with my husband, Matthew McFarland. While I’ve worked pretty broadly over the industry, including some design on high profile projects, I never managed to brand myself successfully to the public — to a large extent this has to do with the sheer amount of effort involved in doing so, compounded by the additional effort required as a woman to get that sort of recognition. Matt, on the other hand, developed for White Wolf for years and among gamers who play WoD, he’s got some level of rockstar recognition. Now we have a company together and the first game that we put out was his baby. The second was mine (and it just funded, yay!), but I worry that no one will pay attention to that, that the default will be that it’s his design, his writing. I had to stop and think about whether or not misattribution was going to be a problem for us with the game company. It wasn’t enough of a concern to stop me from doing it, but it was something I thought about. In the end, I guess it just feels like it’s par for the course.

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      • avatar
        Finaira
        November 8, 2012 at 00:49

        This is something that really gets to me.

        “In the end, I guess it just feels like it’s par for the course.”

        This is why, I think, it can be so discouraging for a lot of women to break into the industry, as it is. Because it is harder to get recognition and misattribution of a woman’s work is so common that it wears people down. That it becomes easier to just shrug and accept it instead of being recognized.

        It’s certainly a feeling that I’ve struggled with.

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