I want you to imagine that sometime between your 8th and 15th birthdays, your skin gradually gained a blue sheen – nothing so dramatic as waking up one day and discovering that you’d gone full out smurf. Just… your sixth grade picture shows the same skin tone you always shared with all of your siblings. By your eighth grade picture, you’ve got some serious Avatar action happening there.
If you’re the only blue-skinned person in your world, it’s blazingly obvious to you, at least some of the time. Maybe it doesn’t affect how often you’re called on or what programs you qualify for. Maybe blue people don’t play football. So, when you tryout, coach suggests that you should try tennis. Maybe blue people don’t swim, so coach suggests you play soccer.
Maybe blue people should take home economics instead of shop, or typing instead of physics. Or maybe blue people really ought to be on the college prep track, and you shouldn’t be wasting your potential on taking votech to become a mechanic.
Blue is a back-beat to your life. People catcall when you walk down the street. Give you unsolicited fashion advice, to “compliment that lovely tone.” Explain to you why being blue and doing X makes you exemplary, special, an icon. a freak.
You walk into a gaming store to pick up the newly released land raider model for your 40K army. Silence falls – blue people don’t play wargames.
You show up to a convention and some jerk pinches you to see “if it’s real.”
When you mention that you’re a hobbyist, you get grilled – it’s impossible for a blue person to be a true fan, so you find yourself driven to defend your fandom against attack by a perfect stranger. possibly online, but just as likely in person.
You stop to pick up your comics from your local store, and a whisper ripples through the room. “Look. A Blue Person!”
Maybe you’re young and forgiving and amused. You grew up with media portrayals of Erin Brochovich, Thelma and Louise, Sarah Connor. You had Clarissa explaining it all, Daria bitching about it. Claire Danes on My So Called Life showing you that women characters could be complex …. wait.
How’d we go from blue people to women?
Go back and substitute “woman” for every “blue” reference above. If you’re a girl in gaming, you were already doing it as you read, I’d bet. And as much as it amused me when I was younger, as much as it seemed innocuous and possibly even slightly charming and harmless to be the block-buster, the one who defied gender norms, who built warhammer armies despite the press to the contrary, It has gotten more tiresome as I’ve gotten older. I have come to understand the implications of those silences, and I reject those implications.
A biological reality happened sometime before I hit high school, and gradually, I became “different.” “other”. not the same.
I was the sort of young woman who embraced her dissonance with the world around her – I was different on so many levels. So, silence when I flitted into a gaming store didn’t set me apart any more than I already was. Being outside, being other was a blessing, because one more way of being other didn’t push me away.
What I learned from #1reasonwhy is that there are too many reasons, so many moments that we get the message that we are other, that our outward appearance and our fundamental self is just too obvious, too distracting, too different. That we do not belong. And not everybody walks around it the way I did.
The more I see, the more important it is to me that we collectively create space where differences are celebrated, and “other” is welcome, included, encouraged. Conventions are – for me – sacred, safe space where young people learn to operate in a world where they tell vibrant stories, compete with worthy foes, form connections that are ethereal and shimmering – like summer camp for grownups. Magical times outside of reality and space, where souls are refilled with belonging and camaraderie and joy.
The conversation about how to include women and to welcome them to the table, at every stage of the game design process is the most important thing happening in my world right now. I want women (and all potential designers!) to stride into Metatopia, our game design festival, with arms full of ideas, prototypes and manuscripts. I want the silence that says “This isn’t your space” to be banished from our entire community.
It would be a shame if the momentum from #1reasonwhy were lost. So, my goal for the rest of this year is to reach out to as many women who game – who are “in” gaming, who shape and form and influence and buy and share and love games. I want to know their stories, to hear their reasons. and to invite them to join us at the table.