Being A Girl Gamer

I’m going to share an article I wrote for work here. It is an article about my being a girl and a gamer, and is quite positive in tone because I have witnessed a lot of real progress and inclusion in my local gaming area. However, there were a few comments on the article that I couldn’t respond to openly, because it was written for work, which put a bit of a downer on the whole thing. So I figured I’d share it here, where I can be completely honest in my replies.

Be warned!

I’m a gamer. I love all kinds of games; I’m addicted to puzzle games on my phone, I love gathering around a good board game with friends, I adore tabletop RPGs and Live Action Roleplay, and I’m a huge fan of the Fallout series and Elder Scrolls Online (to name only a couple) on my PC (I never really got on with joypads). I’m a casual player of Magic: the Gathering and I’ve got a dusty Warhammer Fantasy army (Wood Elves) crying out to be played with in my games room. And I’m lucky enough to work for an awesome gaming retailer, where I get to see loads of great games on a daily basis!

I’m also a girl.

The subject of girls in the gaming hobby can be a sensitive one, and boy have I heard some horror stories and sexism and elitism and abuse. I’ve been subject to a few cases myself. But upon reflection, I feel pretty fortunate about my experiences as a girl gamer. I’m going to try and give you an account of my experiences as a person of the female persuasion in the tabletop gaming industry.

The Rise of Awareness

Since Gamergate and all the horrible behaviour (on and offline) that went with it, girls in gaming have been a hot button topic. I quite regularly see articles on the subject, calling for more acceptance of us ladies in the hobby. But you know what? I’ve seen a fair few articles celebrating an increased display of awareness too. For example, this one from Kotaku at the end of last year demonstrates how Dungeons and Dragons are steering away from targeting mainly young, straight men with those illustrations of nubile young female elves in skimpy armour — not by removing them, but by including buff, scantily clad male elves too! Not just elves, either — check out the torso on this Yuan-Ti Pit Master!

While you might scoff at the idea of a bunch of nerds of any gender or sexuality ogling pictures of fantasy creatures, personally I love this step. It feels like real inclusivity — taking a step to welcome girls and gay men into the game not by taking away something that was there in order to to make it more ‘politically correct’, but by adding to it so that everyone can enjoy it. The quote in the article from D&D Senior Manager Mike Mearls — which I adore, by the way — is “We’re equal opportunity cheesecake merchants”.

For a more recent example, take a look at Tabletop Gaming’s article on diversity in board games, looking at how the creators of Arkham Horror and Pandemic have made concerted and noticeable efforts in their recent releases to be more inclusive of all genders and races.

Moving away from the games companies and looking at the gamers, there’s this thread from a couple of years ago on the ever-brilliant Board Game Geek forums. Started by Dennis Bennett, it asks people to submit their favourite board game images of female characters, and there are loads of great ones! Games like Love Letter, Netrunner, Magic: the Gathering, Legends of Andor, Dead of Winter, Star Wars: Imperial Assault, Shadows of Brimstone, Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Colt Express, Viticulture, Scythe, and many more! A more recent thread questions whether the appearance of more ‘girly’ board games is a good or bad thing in terms of sexism and gender stereotypes. I’m not even going to try and address that question, but my personal opinion would be that a wider range of games is always a good thing — they can’t all be zombie apocalypse and Cthulhu Mythos games! And hey, I’m sure there are guys out there who like Patchwork (the example given in the starting post) too! And if that’s not enough for you, there’s a whole sub-forum dedicated to the ladies of gaming!

I’m sure you can find plenty more examples with a quick Google search — my point is, it’s something people are thinking about more these days, and that’s great. Maybe soon we can get to a point where we don’t need to think about it!

My Girl Gamer Experience

My first experience with gaming was, unfortunately, a negative one. I heard some male friends talking about a live action roleplay game they were planning and I asked them what it was; their response was to look me up and down and tell me it ‘wouldn’t be my sort of thing’. This annoyed me — a lot — and I made it my business to go home and find out for myself if I would like it. A week later and some searches through the local bookshops later, I went back to those male friends with the rulebook under my arm and flat-out asked to be included. Taken aback, they agreed, and I got to be their first female player. The game, if you’re wondering, was White Wolf’s Vampire: the Masquerade.

That game fuelled my love of RPGs in all forms, and I quickly got into tabletop RPGs (Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu remain my firm favourites), then into Warhammer, then Magic: the Gathering, and finally board games! My friend group — no longer the same group that scoffed at me for being interested in LRPGs, incidentally — are a great bunch who nearly all game in some capacity, and our regular gaming group is actually around a 50/50 gender split.

A few years back I ran my own little gaming store, and experienced firsthand some very varied reactions from my (mostly male) customer base. I was gawked at; I was overlooked by customers with questions who assumed that one of the men in the store must be the one working here (even when I was sitting behind the counter or wearing the store shirt); certain male customers refused or were unable to look me in the eye or even talk to me; certain other male customers were ridiculously condescending; and I got asked out a lot. Most of the time I was the only girl in the place. But on the whole, the community of gamers I came to know working there were friendly, open and supportive, and I made a fair few friends.

Now, having given up the store, I work for a larger local business who have had astonishing success building up their webstore. I am still the only girl in the place (except when the accountant comes in on Mondays), but I am rarely made aware of it. (I’m often made aware of how short I am, however, especially when I need to get something on the high shelves in the warehouse!)

The next stage in Chaos Card’s adventure is about to begin, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it — the bricks and mortar store! Even better is that our store team will be exactly half women and half men! I’m sure some of the problems I experienced in my own store will pop up again, but far from being discouraged by them, I’m looking forward to challenging and defying them. We want to make the store a welcoming, friendly environment for everyone — regardless of gender, sexuality, race, religion, or subculture. If you’re a gamer (or are interested in becoming one), you’re welcome!

And that’s what it needs to boil down to in the end, really: If you’re a gamer, you’re welcome.

If you’re a girl and want to get into the gaming industry, there are plenty of role models out there for you to look at (better ones than me, I mean!). For starters, check out this article from Geek and Sundry!

(Note: It’s also worth me pointing out how much trouble I had looking for a suitable image for this article that wasn’t a girl posing in her underwear with a console controller or a D&D book — so much trouble I gave up, in fact. Make of that what you will.)

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