Women in gaming (tabletop edition)

Anyone interested in gaming culture this week will know that the biggest stories have been about the treatment of women within the hobby. It seemed to start with trailer for the latest Tomb Raider game, which contained a pretty damned lazy plot point that quite rightly had people up in arms. To be fair, a lot of them were pissed just because it was pretty shoddy writing; why does rape need to be alluded to, to show a women in a weakened state? A total cop-out and very poor short cut in this writer’s opinion.

Around about the same time, it was brought to light just how fucked up a lot of the comments posted on female gamers’ blogs could be. I’m not going to go into the details here, mainly because it’s just down right depressing, but also because people with a lot more interesting things to say on the subject have already said them with more power to their words than I could wring from mine. If you’re interested though, Felicia Day is someone whom I would point you towards.

My take on this is more as a tabletop gamer, console gaming being something I am relatively new to, having picked up a controller for the first time in a decade only a couple of years ago. So, does this same kind of ridiculous thinking pervade my hobby too? Sadly, of course it does. It’s rare – thankfully – but I have seen it with my own eyes.

My main socializing time spent with RPGers is thankfully devoid of such petty mindedness. The society actually has (as far as the hobby is concerned) an above average split of male/female players. It still comes out as close to a 5/1 ratio, but as I say, this is in a predominantly male hobby. With these numbers, with women drastically outnumbered by men, it seems like we do pretty well with the menfolk not treating their opposite number as anything other than respected equals. There are a few reasons for this.

Probably the most important is that there is no anonymity in the society, we meet up in a pub where everyone else can listen to what you have to say by just walking past, so anybody better be prepared to defend their opinion against some very rigorous arguments. Is there a chance that some of the guys I hang out with weekly are misogynistic twats the rest of the week? Of course there is. But when they’re surrounded by other people, everyone is nice as pie. There have been exceptions to this, but those people are swiftly kicked into touch by another reason there is so little sexism in HUGS. One of our longest running members – and most prolific participant on the executive board – is one fearsomely strong lady, in every sense of the word, and she brooks no nonsense on any such matters. She’s also a rugby fan, so kicking people into touch gives her great pleasure. (I’m remembering an instance of extreme racism with an ex-member of the society who was swiftly informed that he was no longer welcome at our weekly meetings, starting immediately. Whenever I think of this person I can’t help but paraphrase the great Garth Ennis, “Why is it the greatest champions of the white race are always the worst examples of it”?)

There is another fantastic side to the feminism story within HUGS, that involves a certain member, who for now shall remain nameless. They turn up fairly regularly in very fetching skirt and corset combinations as a way of highlighting their own opinions on feminism. If I can, I’ll get them to add something in the comments, as I would only be regurgitating their own ethos, instead of letting them speak for themselves.

That rules out HUGS for a lot of gaming based misogyny, but I have still seen it. I’ve been in a game when it’s happened in fact. It is annoyingly easy to let it slide occasionally and put it down to someone’s messed up sense of humour (my own running to the darker side on occasion), but that’s really no excuse. Especially when it’s not even funny, just misinformed, hurtful, outdated and frankly makes one wonder how these people ever formed a lasting relationship.

The comments I’ve overheard are just pathetic. Who the hell still thinks that it’s a given that if a woman wants to play a ranger, she will be all friends of the earth, with a cute little fluffy bunny as a familiar? Sod that, she had a hawk that was bloody useful for scouting and ripping people’s eyes out! I could go on here, but that would do nothing for the argument. No matter how enlightened the group you’re in, I’m sure any RPGers reading this have had similar experiences. Playing Vampire:the Masquerade? “So the girl will be playing a Toreador then”? Fuck off! This happens a bit too much for my liking.

All that considered, is there anything to be done about? Take the lead of our kick ass rugby fan for a start, and just don’t put up with it (like I have done in the past – to my shame). Choose not to hang out with that type of gamer; if they want to make those kind of comments, sod them. If enough people leave them to it, it has to be hoped that eventually a pattern will become noticeable and they’ll do something about it.

Here’s an odd suggestion, but one I’ve tried with some pretty good results in the past (and will be doing again this evening in fact). Make a bunch of pre-gen’ed characters for your game and give them unisex names/handles, with the most androgynous descriptions and backgrounds possible. Whoever picks up the character plays it as they like; so the big brute of a solo could be a six foot African man or woman hacking into people with a machete; the shy retiring medtechie might be a chap or a chapette who keeps away from combat and just tries to help people.

I know, that’s a limited solution, but hey, every little helps.

I would rather my comments on this didn’t end up as a list of shitty things people have experienced during games (but hey, not gonna stop you), but rather some good stuff that’s happened during your own games, or even ideas to try to lessen the impact of sexist twats on the hobby we love.


14 thoughts on “Women in gaming (tabletop edition)

  1. As a member of the illustrious HUGS and owner of perhaps the least appropriate sense of humour (but atleast I share the insults equally between all possible genders, races and creeds). I like the idea of gender neutral pre-gens as I have been ashamed of my gender every time I have seen one of them try to play a female character.

    Just a note on the ranger point I have no idea who was playing her but I can almost guarantee that I am more likely to play the fluffy friend of the earth “girly” character than any of them.

    • Hate to say it, but every nationals I dread watching guys with beards and obvious social anxiety try and play some peppy female character they’ve been handed. It was one of my reasons for trying gender neutral characters.

      • I know exactly what you mean, I don’t think it is impossible for people to play characters of the opposite gender but it doesn’t come easily to the vast majority of people in the hobby.

      • I rotate between male and female characters and I do so successfully. Mind you, I’m a woman. Fortunately for me, no one thinks I am there just for eye candy or just because my boyfriend is playing or something. I’ve noticed that people are very accepting if I play a male character (in a “of course you want to play a male, why wouldn’t you” kind of way) but the jokes come out big time whenever a guy plays a female. Even if they do so in a quite competent manner (not playing tropes and stereotypes). And the gay jokes come out of the box whenever a guy plays an elf too.

        I’ve also had the fun of playing in a group with more women than men (3-2, 1 of the guys was the DM) for about 5 years. It was the most successful campaign I’ve ever been in. The DM was awesome and so were the players. It broke up only because one of the players (not the characters) died and two left the city for school and/or work.

  2. Ah well,

    This kind of thing is bang on, but I break the rules and do terribly stereotypical things sometimes, just because it’s a short cut to stereotypes, but we never, ever, make the PLAYER/CHARACTERS do this.

    On the other hand, as my groups currently is mostly ladies, women, females, (what would everyone prefer?), I was anxious to point out that we’re not going for pin-ups when we talk about women in armour, I want things to make sense. This makes sense, http://womenfighters.tumblr.com/ (Women fighters in reasonable armour, look out for the one who jousts TODAY and wears pretty substantial gear as a result).

    I want equality. I want respect. I’m the skirt wearer, I do it at work, at home, everywhere. Sometimes I am berated, often mocked by people who can’t cope. Women wear trousers, that’s ok it seems, because being a man, or acting like a man is ok, but wearing a skirt is not, apparently, it opens one up for mocking, derision, questioning of one’s sexual preferences, (I’m not gay, not am I a tranvestite, cross-dresser, woofter or any other label or epithet. I do like doing feminine things because it’s cute, for me, but labels, you can keep ’em. Oh and I have no gaydar at all, so I just assume people are just I dunno people until they tell me something, usually because i have made assumption based on my preferences, sorry about that, it’s built into to all of us. It’s ok to be whatever, no matter how complex).

    Yeah I ramble and wander about in my thoughts, live with it.

    Point is, women and men, they’re not the same; equality is vexed and thorny issue, but the bottom line is, if I don’t get respected because I wear skirts, then what does that say about our attitude towards women. In my opinion, which has biases, our society says that being a man is better than being a woman, at the same time as venerating youth and beauty almost exclusively in women, at the same time as holding up impossible ideals, (photoshopped ladies inmagazines), expressing impatience at career women (why isn’t she having a family?), disgust at housewives (why don’t you do something real? As if raising children wasn’t real and stressful, I know I spent the first five years at home with mine), total disgust at house husbands, (Send him out to work what’s he doing at home with the children?). Been there done that.

    Our attitudes are warped, by advertisers and by the government. Women have always had to go out to work, bear children and juggle several lives. men have always had to go out to work, and the pattern of men’s lives has been until recently that they go to work for 40 years and then die. One of my friends, a very keen feminist, said to me, “How can men do this? How do you do it? Go to work every day and come home every day and then retire and die?” Because most men have to. I don’t do this, and I’m constantly broke and struggling for work. Staying at home with the kids has meant a restart of LIFE. Are women in this place? I think they are.

    We play sexist games on the video screen, because we all like pin-ups, I like pin-ups, for the art, for the caricature that all video games are, for the strength and determination that female characters show in video games, (it’s called “last female syndrome, and it means that young men watching horror movies identify closely with the last surviving female, she is their ideal woman in many ways), we do all these things, but ShortyMonster is right, in the real world, the place where we manipulate the controls of the games, play around the tabletop, board or whatever, let’s show some respect for our mates, our colleagues, our friends and our confidants, because women in gaming are there, just like the boys, just for fun.

    • Was listening to a podcast I love today, basically a bunch of guys chewing the shit and doing everything they can to make that if they take the piss out of anyone, they take the piss out of everyone. Strange comment from one of the hosts though who clearly didn’t understand the nature of feminism, and was getting it explained badly to him by a feminist. His general thoughts seemed to be that it was impossible for any man to ever be a real feminist. Worth a listen for the conversation, and because I think they’re generally pretty damned funny.


  3. There’s also the flip side, no less harmful to roleplaying as a hobby, the “there’s a girl in the game I’ll give her a better character, lower target numbers and all of her ideas will work out”. Sadly this has been the attitude of far too many GMs through the years, as though just because a roleplayer is female they need preferential treatment, for a start it’s insulting, but also it’s usually so transparent that it can also breed resentment among the other players in the group.

    I’ve always held that every one of my players has the same opportunities for kick-ass characters, that each person’s ideas will be judged on merit alone and rewarded or ‘rewarded’ accordingly and if any of my players are being excluded or not listened to on any basis then that’s a problem with the group that needs to be dealt with…

    I read this and realise I’ve wandered slightly off-topic, but I’m always appalled whenever I encounter these attitudes that seem to stem from some mythical past where people think that this was acceptable and I seem to stepped onto a soapbox…

      • A GM fawning over the player they want to be (or are) in a relationship with isn’t neccesarily limited to male-female relationships.

        And i have to note that i’ve seen people overcompensate to avoid it, with unfortunate consequences.

        If I absolutely have to name them, I tend to write pregens with surnames and a blank for the first name these days.

  4. In response to the comments made about women’s armor, I once played a human, female, World of Warcraft for maybe 5 levels before escaping back to reality. I noticed that the better the armor got the less it seemed to cover until it looked as though my character should be entering a beach volleyball tournament instead.

    In most cases though I’m not sure I can really comment. In most of the tabletop campaigns I have played I have tended to go for female warriors and rangers purely because they allow me to be a bit more ruthless than I would normally be. If I am going to play in a tabletop game I prefer to be in the thick of the action. However this is not to say that I have never played up to stereotypes. In one notable occasion I played a Southern American tomboy in 1920’s Call of Cthulhu, who preferred to wear a suit to a dress. However in a subsequent rewrite (long story) I ended up as a murdering bunny boiler, who’s last scene involved ‘me’ running downstairs in only a suspender belt and stockings, distracting the guy who was summoning Cthulhu, long enough to get him killed and before he could complete the spell. Apparently this characterisation was enough to win me second place in that years Student Nationals.

    I must note, I have very rarely come across a female character played by a woman who does not use that character to do some things which society frowns on, such as be extremely promiscuous or being the first to start a brawl for example, however I have only had a limited exposure so this cannot be taken as the rule out of hand, just my experience. In quite a few games I have found myself as the only female player and in most cases I have never felt that my characters have been given special treatment or that the rules are any different for me than they are for anyone else.

    When I first started out gaming, I was brought into by my flat mates at uni, 3 of which played, 2 of whom were female. One of those did mainly go because her boyfriend did but the other found the stand at freshers week and thought it would be interesting. I was lucky because it was HUGS and there were already quite a few female players and so there was little surprise or shock at our joining. If you have read ‘The Elfish Gene’ by Mark Barrowcliffe there was possibly a bit of excitement caused, as in some cases gaming societies just don’t have the ratio of male to female players we enjoyed. Though of course it was joked the next year that women members should not man the freshers stand after we received a huge influx of male members that year :-s

  5. Pingback: A Call to Arms for Decent Men | shortymonster

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