And I returned again to the thought I keep having, that’s been sharpened through conversations with others. The deals I make to game, the ones I never talk about because doing to feels like exposing some core of feminine weakness that will get me banished from doing this thing I love. As a role-player I enjoy a lot of games, from Vampire (both Requiem and Masquerade) to Pathfinder, and many, many things in between. Often these games seem to attract people that want to explore “darker” themes…evil aligned or amoral player characters, murder, and interpersonal conflict in the party all seem to be common.
Gaming culture, especially around games that I would consider mainstream type games (things you can pick up in your local Barnes & Noble for instance), seems to attract and support a culture of boy’s club-ish behavior. Too often the groups who play them, especially if I’m finding that group through my local game store or coffee shop, seem to think that gaming must be taken seriously, and that they only way to take it seriously is to play out the direst of stories, to focus on pain and misery, and to make it clear that values which are often coded as feminine have no place at the table.
I thought about how when I sit down at the gaming table, I keep my mouth shut when everyone else wants to play a party of evil or amoral characters, because to say that I do not prefer that is to admit that I am soft-hearted and therefore unsuitable for gaming with. When I talk about how what I seek from gaming is heroism, moments of personal glory infused with joy, I am accused of not knowing what the purpose of the game is. I am silenced, usually through teasing, until I learn to respect my place.
When I discuss not understanding a point of rules, rather than having a conversation to work it out, I am asked why I don’t just have a boyfriend make my character or calculate my dice pool. When I go to LARP, it is often assumed (and stated) that I am only attending to play dress-up, or because my boyfriend brought me.
I have been told (often though not always by men, the same men who comprise the groups that do not want to play the way I want to play) that what I should do is seek out players who also desire to play these games, to fling glitter about the darkness of a pseudo-medieval fantasy world, or to play the story driven exploits of people who are half mortal, half rescued fairy. And I nod, and I smile, and I take it under advisement and I pretend not to be hurt when they tell me “that’s such a girly way to game.” The unspoken but understood assumption is that their groups are not for such frivolous pursuits, they’re too busy playing vampires who drain every victim dry, or anti-paladins who rely on assassination and pillage to support their dark gods.
And that is what the terrible bargain of gaming as a woman has come to be for me. Not only is my chosen subculture filled with people who make hurtful jokes about getting in the kitchen, or who call what happens to their characters when they meet a boss they weren’t prepared for “rape.” Though those are commonly addressed issues of sexism in gaming, they’re not the only ones I face. I have also made the bargain to not ask for the things I want. To be grateful when they’re handed to me in small crumbs. Because what I want is to “play like a girl” and that has no place at the “serious” gaming table or in “serious” discussions of the hobby. I have chosen, so often, to accept the micro-aggressive assumptions about my motivations in gaming, and to refuse to engage and defend myself from them because the tiny niche I’ve carved out is more valuable to me than the defense would be.
I’ve started to see change, to meet allies who also want to see gaming culture move away from both the overt sexism of anti-woman jokes and the more covert sexism of making games focused on the worst parts of human nature without also making a place for the best. It’s heartening to me to finally have people who understand what it’s like that I can talk to and work with to figure out solutions. But I can still see those deals I’ve made.
So the next time someone looks around my local gaming store, or Friday Night Magic, or even my own gaming table, and asks why there are no/so few women present, maybe I’ll finally have the courage to tell them about the cost this tenuous treaty I have made to carve a space for myself in gaming really has.
- The linked entry is about how to make peace with living in the world, to get by, sometimes you have to choose not to raise your voice and condemn those who have caused you pain, not on purpose, but thoughtlessly and without consideration. And how it’s hard to trust even those who are supposed to be allies and friends not to thoughtlessly cause those pains. ↩