Be fair warned, this post is more serious than the usual fare you have come to expect from yours truly. But I think one must take on the serious even in a hobby that is all about fun.
I’ve been taking time to consider the issue of gender equality in the hobby of tabletop gaming. Really the issue of gender has become an issue in all of geekdom. I’ll be honest and tell you that, at first, I was shocked to learn just how much gender has become an issue within the gaming hobby. Why am I being so naive? Well, I always viewed gaming as the hobby of inclusiveness. One does not need to provide credentials at the door to get in on a game. They simply need to follow Whedon’s law: Don’t be a dick. And I hadn’t walked a mile in my sisters’ shoes. I never witnessed harassment or discrimination. Of course I see inequality in every day life, but I was ignorant that the problem existed all around my favorite passtime.
As the issue of gender politics announced itself to the gaming community at large, I decided to talk to my sisters in the hobby. I learned of the discrimination and harassment women I know experienced at gaming tables all around. One of the founding members of RoleplayDNA, Veronica Blessing, used to tell me stories of how she wasn’t taken seriously as a gamer simply because she is female. I’m sure there were more stories but Vern, despite her capacity to tell it like it is, never regaled me with more tales of the creep. Even more women told me tales of being propositioned at the game table. I was told of Game Masters who would depict scenes of violence against female PCs, in which the violence was of a sexual nature. Players who would go out of there way to make a woman feel uncomfortable around them.
For the past few years I have tried to listen, I became concerned I was part of the problem. Some may know me to be quite the jokester. I believe humor is a good tool to point out the absurd and to allow people to laugh at something that society may frown at. It takes the issue from the negative side of the ledger and exposes it to the harsh light of truth. Humor is empowering, but without proper context and understanding it can be damaging. There is a time and place for jokes. I had to ask those around me if they felt my jester like nature at the table ever offended anyone. So far, everyone I know seems to understand that my jokes are just that and they understand that they are nothing more than a method to incite laughter. Of course, some may just not want to confront me about it. I hope if they are hesitant to say something this article gives them the open door to inform me and allow a dialog to happen.
In public settings, such as a gaming convention, I tone the jokes down to PG levels and I welcome all to my table. I try to treat each player equally. But I do remember a game at a convention where a younger woman was playing a character whom made brash decisions (well roleplayed for the pregen I had created) and at one point this player apologized to me for her actions. I shrugged it off as everyone was having fun with the trouble and success she was having, and asked why I would be upset. Her response, “Well, I have had GMs and other players who don’t like when girls play aggressive like this.”
I laughed a little. I remember voicing the idea that I could care less, and I just wanted everyone to have fun. Some of you might be applauding right now, in a way that is a sad statement on the state of things. This young woman’s approach to gaming should not relate to who she is as a person (unless she broke Whedon’s law) and can’t be judged on a sliding scale of her identity. And I should not be considered “evolved” for not caring about what her reproductive organs are in relation to a game.
None of what I say makes me feel brave or heroic. If anything I feel like I am saying, “Make sure you breathe air.” Yet we have people who have to take a stand on these issues to show support. Wizards of the Coast spent ink (pixels) to make sure we understood that with an excerpt from their rules just released for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. In a hobby I got involved in because it was so welcoming to a goofy kid such as myself, we are actually having to deal with those who dare to stand at the entrance and try to stop some from getting in to play these games of wonder.
Like the rest of our society these issues exist. Those who stand in the way of progress seem to always be around no matter what we do to correct that. To those who stand at the gate trying to place labels on everyone and decide who gets in, I say this…Get out of the way or leave. We gamers, those who find community by telling stories, do not want or need you here. You disrupt the pure awesome aspects of our hobby every time you succeed in bullying a person out of gaming.
Through my formative years gaming helped me find my tribe. Most of the people I call friends are ones that I found through this silly little ritual of ours. They did not bat an eye at my unusual ideas, instead embraced my oddness and helped me forge them into the games I play today. I became the successful individual I am today because I was given an outlet to express myself. I was allowed to have fun with fellow geeks. Let us always be welcoming to those who will treat others with respect and not rank them based on their gender, race, beliefs, or choice in pastries.
In this odd world let gaming be a shining example of how to treat others. Don’t let the geeky hobbies be a sad mirror of society.