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Gaming as a Girl

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Finaira

Totally a MAD scientist!
Validated User
Because I'm Never Allowed to Forget

When I was a teenager, young, impressionable and naive, my brothers (all three of them) would play tabletop with each other. I had read Lord of the Rings, I was a fantasy novel junkie, I loved the idea of a fantasy RPG. But I wasn't allowed to play because I was a girl. My mom only vaguely approved of my brothers playing these games and had always hoped for a feminine daughter. Letting me play seemed like finally giving up all hope that I would like to wear dresses and do my hair and gossip about boys.

So very early on I was taught that playing RPGs was a guy thing. I might really really want to join in, but it was understood that girls don't do that.

Eventually my brothers sort of caved to my demands when they moved out of the house and started going to university. I never did get to play with them, but they did let me build a character or two. That was the start. The sad, excluding start, or my life as a tabletop gamer.

Then it was grade 11. I was picked to go to this program a big university was running to encourage women to get into the hard sciences. I met my best friend there. We met because I refused to be apologetic about my rural roots, she found that fascinating, then we discovered a mutual love of fantasy. Where she had had the opportunity to play in tabletop games, I had not. So we promised that when I came to the city for my university, we would set up a game and play. I was in heaven. Finally, someone who wanted me to join in.

So we started in the World of Darkness. Werewolf, to be exact. It was fun, we messed around with our ridiculous (and in hindsight) mary-sue, over powered characters. Everything was grand. Then, in my third year, I met another girl in an aquatic biology class who was running a LARP. A werewolf LARP, no less. Well, now was the time and we jumped feet first into LARPing. There were so many people there and we were suddenly surrounded by geeks. I met my spouse during this time. He invited me to his vampire larp (not WoD, exactly). But the lessons I learned there were harsh.

One of the first things he told me was that because I was his girlfriend, everyone was expecting him to play favourites with me. So he was going to have to do the opposite and actually ignore me some of the time just to counter appearances. Some of the other players so obviously believed this that they would approach me with things they wanted rather than asking him directly. Other personal friends of my SO could talk his ear off about game, but me doing so would have been favouritism so I kept my mouth shut.

People would invite my SO to games with the expectation that he'd just drag me along. So I started refusing to go to things where I had not been specifically invited because it incensed me so much that I was considered an appendage to a guy rather than a person in my own right. Often, it was expected that I'd play a character who would support or assist him so I'd make a point of playing characters that had nothing to do with him. I was often frustrated.

Then my spouse decided to run a game in Eberron. The setting was new and looked fun. He hadn't run a tabletop in ages. No one wanted to play the healer role, so I build a favoured soul. It looked fun and I had some great ideas. But since I didn't know how to put together a spell list, I'd ask for help. And the two guys who were players would 'help' me. And by 'help', I mean pick spells that benefited and made their own characters cooler and did me not a lick of good. Later in that campaign while I became steadily less useful outside of 'buff the party, wait until people needed healing' everyone was getting handed things to make them super cool. Our ranger had a god-beast of the land that would rise up and fight with her but only within the area that worshipped it. Our main fighter had a sentient and incredibly powerful spear. Our druid was turning himself in a dragon. My thing that I was offered? A powerful magical artifact. But I had to marry an NPC with the expectation that I would have to have the NPCs kid at some point. I balked. I was already frustrated and angry at having to play second fiddle to everyone else. Now I was expected attach myself to an NPC who had literally just showed up to get my cool thing? Fuck that shit. I didn't need the cool thing. I would rather continue to suck.

I think that surprised my SO. He really hadn't expected me to pass up something that would have made the character cool again. And it's not like he'd expected the character to have a kid right then and there. It was a contract for the future, right? Well the game continued on, me leaving most sessions feeling useless and frustrated until the story-arc ended.

These are the lessons I learned when I was new to gaming. And there are so many more. I've learned that unless I'm constantly trying to get the GMs attention, I will be ignored in favour of guys or other players who will do that. I'm used to the idea that men will come up with brilliant ideas, declare them and then argue with you when you don't like the idea. And sometimes it's easier to be brow-beaten into accepting whatever it is they wanted to do. Guys have offered to help me figure out the system but this almost always turns into 'here I built you a character/ship/sword/cool thing' rather than actually helping you to figure out how you want to build a character/ship/sword/cool thing. Then said guys will look hurt when you tell them that you really aren't interested in that at all.

And it still happens, to this day.

Most guys I game with aren't so bad. Many have either learned or just do not try to shout down women although it still happens at times (especially around rules). But when I game, I still give up arguments when I can see what pattern they are taking. I still make decisions that screw over my fun because it's not worth the interpersonal drama of fighting.

So when you wonder why there are no girls or women around your gaming table, remember what lessons I've had to learn. Remember that women are told that gaming isn't for them. That I've had to fight, to this day, to not have my decisions over ridden by men.
 
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Wurzel

Action biologist!
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I don't have much to say except commiserations for your experiences. Other posters on this board have been instrumental in enlightening me about the things I can do to stop women being denigrated at my tables, and I hope your post is equally helpful to others :)
 

Femme Firebird

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Most guys I game with aren't so bad. Many have either learned or just do not try to shout down women although it still happens at times (especially around rules). But when I game, I still give up arguments when I can see what pattern they are taking. I still make decisions that screw over my fun because it's not worth the interpersonal drama of fighting.

So when you wonder why there are no girls or women around your gaming table, remember what lessons I've had to learn. Remember that women are told that gaming isn't for them. That I've had to fight, to this day, to not have my decisions over ridden by men.
I'm very sorry to hear you had these negative experiences. In other groups, I've noticed similar things, and there was the one guy who is the type of person who gives GMs (and gamers in general) a bad name: abusive toward his girlfriend, thought he was smarter than you, a real ass. We wanted to beat him up, but thankfully Nicole wised up and dumped him.

Still, I wish you could join my current group. You'd totally find the guys there far more accepting; odds are, you'd need to help them with the rules, but if not, then they'd only try to help you figure out the system if they knew enough to do so, or offer to figure it out together. Not do everything for you, but actually help.

Sadly, your experiences are more common than they should be. I'm sorry to hear that the fight continues to this day, but I hope that some day you can find a group wherein you don't have to fight.
 

Mr. Venom

Been here a decade.
Validated User
Having a relationship out of game and the effects that can have on the game's flow is - IME - more to do with metagaming than with gender. It's unfortunate but it happens. To be fair, anyone who expected a pair of gamers in a relationship to behave entirely independently with no regard to their out-of-game ties would probably be fooling themselves.

The idea that you do have to fight to be heard is a symptom of an over-enthusiastic group, but that's hardly gender specific either. Some people are more extroverted than others, happens all over. The important thing is to establish with your GM that you could do with a little more direct attention, and that your being quiet isn't tied to your wishing to evade the limelight. I've had players (especially new players) who've asked for less direct attention in the first few sessions so they can observe a little more and learn the way the game flows without being put on the spot. It's easy to misread a quiet player when you know some players do want to stay back a little, and that doesn't begin to cover having to manage players with big mouths.

It sounds like you've had some bad experiences which I wouldn't presume to argue against, but it's important to realise they aren't inherent to the game necessarily, or to men or women or how they interact in every case. Your dm mismanaged a subplot. Perhaps he thought his out-of-game romance made a romance plot more acceptable, or that even if it was an unrequited love in game it could be dramatic and interesting. He was wrong, as it turns out, but it's hardly malicious.

It sucks - and I agree it sucks - that people fixate on their "cool" ideas. DMs do it, God knows players do it, we all do it. It makes us nerds. It is - properly applied - what makes DMing rewarding sometimes. In a well-ordered group it only happens a little and everyone compromises equally to find some shard space of awesome. Sadly, in the real world it's not usually so egalitarian. On the bright side a good DM will listen to your feelings and try to shift the group's dynamic a little further your way if you feel you're being sidelined. And if they don't, kill 'em and take their stuff.
 

dbm

Registered User
Validated User
I'm genuinely sorry that you have had to experience things like that. There are a lot of emptionally and socially undeveloped guys out there (and some girls too) and there seems to be a disproportionate intersection with the gaming hobby.

I don't know how old you are, or whether you live in a more cosmopolitan or conservative area, but I hope that you know more mature men now, in both gaming and real life. I work in IT, and I can tell you that the kind of dismissive behaviour you have experienced is not limited to gaming (as I am sure you already know) but is present in any sphere considered to be more of a 'boy thing'. I have worked with some brilliant women, and had numerous women bosses (I'm a consultant - I move around) so I know that there are just as many smart women out there as men. Probably more.

Keep true to yourself, the world will come round in time.
 

Finaira

Totally a MAD scientist!
Validated User
I'm very sorry to hear you had these negative experiences. In other groups, I've noticed similar things, and there was the one guy who is the type of person who gives GMs (and gamers in general) a bad name: abusive toward his girlfriend, thought he was smarter than you, a real ass. We wanted to beat him up, but thankfully Nicole wised up and dumped him.
I'm sorry to hear that. Luckily nothing has been quite that bad in my gaming circles.

Still, I wish you could join my current group. You'd totally find the guys there far more accepting; odds are, you'd need to help them with the rules, but if not, then they'd only try to help you figure out the system if they knew enough to do so, or offer to figure it out together. Not do everything for you, but actually help.

Sadly, your experiences are more common than they should be. I'm sorry to hear that the fight continues to this day, but I hope that some day you can find a group wherein you don't have to fight.
It's always little things. My groups are amazing most of the time. My spouse and my core group though? They have my back for telling those people off when I'm being pressured. But I think the issue becomes when it's not obvious that a guy is pressuring me. When someone in a vampire LARP tells me that all the clan operate like this and since I'm a in that clan I *must* accept a given role within the clan. Or when a GM pointedly ignores me because there's a guy who also wants to talk. This isn't always obvious to those who aren't being ignored. It's obvious to me though.
 

Pseudoephedrine

RPG.net's Drug of Choice
Validated User
If gaming with your husband is causing all sorts of interpersonal havoc, probably best to avoid gaming with your husband. IME, this is mainly important when one partner is DM and the other is not because of the power a DM wields. Two PCs who are spouses IRL generally works fine so long as both are mature adults because their power levels are comparable.

Otherwise yeah, it's a shame women are driven out of the hobby by bullshit from other people.

Edit: Also, LARPs can be toxic cesspits of cliquishness. It's worth taking some time to get to know the people running it before joining, or to join as part of a crew of 5-6 people all coming in at once who you know, so that you've got some support.
 
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Levi

Slayer Of Spambots.
Staff member
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Having a relationship out of game and the effects that can have on the game's flow is - IME - more to do with metagaming than with gender. It's unfortunate but it happens. To be fair, anyone who expected a pair of gamers in a relationship to behave entirely independently with no regard to their out-of-game ties would probably be fooling themselves.
I'm the spouse in question, and I can tell you this: That was a stupid way for me to frame and handle the situation, and had plenty to do with me buying in to the "GM's girlfriend" trope.

....

You see: I can learn from my fuckups, and I do.

Finaira wants to give everyone else a chance to learn from those fuckups - both mine and those of others -and present how they shaped her views?

Then I advise folks to listen; I'd have learned more, faster, if I had listened better, sooner.
 

Iralith

Registered User
Validated User
As a man, I have seen a great deal of gender-based awful bullshit in gaming as well, even among theoretically enlightened gamers. Even in myself, to be frank; I struggle against it, and it's important to acknowledge it and be vigilant. Thanks for posting this, Finaira.
 
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