• The Gamer Wife, A Summary

    by  • November 28, 2012 • Essays, People & Events • 7 Comments

    I’ve been meaning to write up a summary of my experiences as the Gamer Wife for a while now. But between one thing and the next, I’ve never quite had the time or the energy.

    And the reason is fairly simple. I get push back whenever I talk about these things. I also get support, dissent, well-thought out opinions and suggestions. But I do get a lot of mansplaining, as it were. I also generated a bunch of hurt feelings from people close to me. All of these things, both the good and the bad, just are.

    I started this series with a pretty simple introduction, trying to show how women are often reduced to objects of desire or possession that shows how great the guy in the relationship must be to have “obtained” her. If she’s pretty, that’s a plus. If she’s skilled, also good. If she games? You lucky devil you. But the woman is still an attachment to the man.

    I felt that some background on how I entered my current gaming group and met my spouse might help illuminate how the Gamer Wife is different from a Gamer Girl1. How the social shifting ground let me both fit in better and acclimatize to the group. To be accepted is a big thing. To be forced into a given pattern in order to be accepted is quite another.

    A lot of the responses I received here was of the “But this happens to everyone” variety. And yes, it can. But it seems to impact women a lot more than men, in my experience and opinion. Women seem to suffer the social ramifications more while being expected to allow men the same free-reign in most things as if they were single and unattached.

    Then, having addressed social issues, I tried to address directly the impacts on my gaming table. And I was treated differently. I was still seen as the responsibility of my spouse. He had to take care of me. He had to create my fun. I had to get him to game. I had to help keep his game organized. I was required to like the same games and have the same, or a complimentary playstyle to him. I was marginalized because it was assumed, inherently, that my interests in gaming were purely at his behest.

    Which, of course, segues into the most popular post in the series and the reason I started this whole thing in the first place. Favoritism. Or, more commonly, the perception thereof.

    See, the rumor of wives and girlfriends getting all the special crap in games persists. It’s probably the result of a small number of cases, some even presented in the various comment threads the post spawned, but I still hold that these are vastly the minority of events. That most spouses can game together and still be fair to all players. That this perception of favoritism is more harmful to the game experience than much of the other behaviour. And I was complicit in it too. I believed the rumors and the lies. That anything my spouse gave me in game was a special favor. But him giving the same thing to other people was just normal gaming.

    Drama always happens. People argue. People fight. People disagree and feel like any and all forums are appropriate to drag out a debate. But a fight between friends is dealt with in a completely different way than spouses fight. But it’s often blamed on the woman for bringing it up. She’s the emotional one. She’s the person getting visibly upset. A lot of that has to do with gendered expectations. But it’s also why women are expected to be the one at the gaming table to intervene when there is drama between others.

    But after I had addressed these issues, I went on to look at how flirting affected my groups. See, this is a big fear, in-so-far as I can tell. Women bring with them sexual temptation and a suggestion of potential sex in the offering. Just by being present in a space dominated by guys. So when you have naturally flirty people, like me, it can get very awkward, very fast. Sometimes it’s that a guy misinterprets platonic flirting with serious flirting. I’ve found that the gaming crowd, in general, is very bad about assuming that any kind of sexual display, be it flirting, clothing or, sometimes, just being a woman, is invitation to approach the woman and take action based on her “signals”.

    And again, this gets blamed on the women more often than not. She’s overreacting to the guy who hugs her in a way she doesn’t like. She’s the one flirting, she should accept the consequences. It doesn’t matter what you say to some of these people. They will not blame the guy for bad behaviour.

    Finally, I addressed credit and recognition. This was a hard post for me to write because it hurts looking at the number of times and things I’ve done have been credited to my spouse. Which, again, ties back to the first post I made on the issue. I’m an accessory. My accomplishments reflect on how good he has it.

    And that’s really the end of this series.

    1. Yes, I hate this phrase. It’s so often used dismissively by others these days, even if once I would have identified as one without batting an eye.


    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.

    7 Responses to The Gamer Wife, A Summary

    1. avatar
      November 29, 2012 at 16:00

      I’ve seen some of the problems you’ve mentioned, and none of the others. I think that like everything, how one is treated depends on the people involved.

      TheDude and I don’t play RPG games together anymore, and my interests are vastly different from his. We have different ideal situations and preferred group types, but we still manage to operate well in our core group despite our divergences. There are no real issues in the RPG area for me.

      I’ve noticed a much more pronounced difference in treatment through our Magic friends, where the “girlfriend who plays to spend time with her boyfriend” is a stronger perceived phenomena than in many other game types. Mostly I ignore the idiots, but I certainly notice.

      I have appreciated this series because it’s given words and shapes to underlying issues that are hard to tackle or explain well. As I mentioned, I’ve seen some of this behavior, and attempts on my part to discuss or address it fell flat- some due in part to inability to verbalize the exact issues rather than a vague “it’s different” sort of comment. Seeing it well laid out is a great way to have the conversation, and it’s been helpful to see that “I’m not crazy” in regards to some of the issues we share.

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      • avatar
        November 29, 2012 at 17:58

        I’m glad you enjoyed the series.

        A lot of the things here are based on perception. They are based on a million little papercuts. Sometimes it’s a big thing that upsets me for weeks because nothing was done, but more often than not, it’s all the little things. All the subtle ways I’m expected to behave and react.

        Group dynamic matters a lot here. Some groups /are/ better at this than others. Some groups have ingrained habits that make it hard to recognize these issues. And I think a lot of people see these issues every day but don’t have a name to put to them or a way of pointing it out.

        I’m glad that parts of this spoke to you and were helpful.

    2. avatar
      December 4, 2012 at 05:16

      Ok, I just read the whole thing. Articles, comments, and all. I’d like to offer what I think is more of a unisex and anti-social perspective. That is to say, I don’t do face-to-face RPG in medium to large groups over long periods of time. What I have done in the past, is freeform PBEM RPG with no rules. It was more like collaborative writing exercises. There were no products to purchase or rules systems to master.

      You seem to have started out very concerned about other people’s social approval. As that became grating and unsustainable, you modified your behavior, to something that respects your own boundaries more. You became older and wiser. Is there some other explanation for that journey? Is it reasonable to expect large groups of random young people not to cause each other trouble?

      The more rules, regulations, and rewards, the more your players were concerned with social status. Why bother? Why deal with the poisonous mentality of social climbers? Why not just kick them? Some people are into RPG to make good narratives, not to get loot. Find those people, play with them.

      Career issues, profit, and recognition are difficult. It’s not gender specific. Go ask The Beatles about that. Go ask Pink Floyd. Someone’s the front person and people think they’re doing all the work. When the band breaks up, often the front person gets the ongoing cred and the rewards. Sometimes it’s the opposite; that’s why I mentioned Pink Floyd. They kicked Roger Waters to the curb and he had to find out the hard way that he wasn’t, in fact, the heart and soul of the band.

      Creatively, you have to decide what you want, who you’re willing to work with, and on what terms. Friction between creative types is inevitable. That’s fundamentally what creativity is, wanting something new. If you’re composing well together and you’re all satisfied as a group, that’s great. Keep it going while you can. If you’re not getting out of it what you need anymore, be bold enough to recognize that fact and seize the day. You aren’t getting any younger and the world isn’t waiting for you to patiently get your due.

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      • avatar
        December 5, 2012 at 17:07

        I having a truly difficult time parsing what the point of this comment is. I *think* what you are trying to get at is that my experiences have less to do with gender issues and more to do with social issues, and, obviously, I completely disagree. I think social interactions are heavily weighted with gendered expectations and gaming is no exception.

        As for the “career issues, profit, and recognition” not being gender specific, I also heavily disagree. There are loads of studies that continue to point out that women are passed over for higher positions. There were recent articles discussing how men are given the more challenging projects and women the less-visible ones thus making men look more appealing.

        Of course, each group is going to be different. Some groups will be better than others. But failing to recognize that there is a gendered way in which we approach social situations, including gaming, can and has led to women being excluded, marginalized and often harassed. And it the onus should not be on the women to constantly walk out on bad gaming groups. The onus should be on everyone to make each gaming group the best and most welcoming it can be.

      • avatar
        December 5, 2012 at 22:21

        You seem to be under the impression that people always have a choice who they will be interacting with whether in their hobbies, at work, or just in society at large. That’s just flat out wrong. It would be like telling someone that if they don’t like being discriminated against, they should have just been born white, because when it comes down to it we have about that much control on most of our social situations.

        It comes up all the time in the oft repeated advice about bad groups or problem individuals, “find other people to play with”. It is in effect saying, if you don’t like how a game is going or how people treat you, it’s not the job of the other players to recognize that fact that you’re uncomfortable and respect you. It is entirely on you to just find other better people, even if you happen to be in a place where that isn’t an option or you play online and you have no control over who you play with (except to not play the game at all, which is like saying that online games should only be for jerks). Yes, there should be give and take in a game, but telling people that they should just find other people is dismissing legitimate concerns while placing the blame for those concerns entirely on the person that’s unhappy.

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        • avatar
          December 7, 2012 at 00:49

          I plus one’d tr’s comment because one of the things that the “find another group” solution doesn’t do well is dealing with enculturated patterns of behaviour. So a woman who is forced to leave a group for basically being a woman will probably encounter not one, but several or many groups that will also give her shit for being a woman, and each time she leaves a group, all the progress made and time invested in changing people’s minds is thrown away. Sometimes that’s wise, since some people are consciously misogynistic and simply unwilling to listen, but especially when it’s more the result of habits and ignorance than conscious misogyny, it can be much easier and simpler to have a frank, adult discussion about expectations and boundaries, even if that isn’t a comfortable conversation at the time.

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    3. avatar
      December 19, 2012 at 00:38

      Thanks for this series by the way. It led to some good discussions with my partner about gaming and it was really useful.

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