I live near Portland, where we have a TON of local gaming stores. And nearly none of them know about it, and we’re nearly halfway through it already.
Here is why I “make a big deal” about being a Woman in Gaming. Yes, I believe that it *should* be No Big Deal that there are women in gaming. And I’m glad to see more and more people trying to normalize the idea that professionals in the industry are just…professionals. I love the ideal of that.
But we’re not *there* yet.
We’re on the way, but we’re not there. The new generations of gamers growing up now do not – and, I dare say, cannot – know the world in which I and my age-mates grew up. And that is okay! They are the ones who will (hopefully) be taking the next steps in helping to normalize women, non-binary people, and people of color in our gaming circles. I cheer them on and boost them up as I am able. Until I see a better solution, I will be here to raise high and cheer non-majority gamers. Because we – YOU too! – are important, and our stories are valid. <3
Here is my story, and why I feel so strongly about this.
I have been in the worlds of make-believe all my life. My first exposure to around-the-table gaming was at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. I was 12 years old, and my best friend and I went with her mom.
We were given a "demo" of live play. Wherein we were taught that charisma made us pretty, so we needed that.
She was a Ranger. I was a Fighter/Thief. But we both needed charisma. To be pretty.
After being taught these “basics,” we were then invited into the main group. A giant game, spanning four tables' worth of PCs, set in a square. My friend and I never got to actually play, though; across the table, someone’s male character was suddenly sex-changed due to a magic spell. And then, the newly-female character was magically charmed into making out with another female PC.
Our turn never came around. And that was D&D, as it was introduced to us. Be pretty. Don't actually play. Just enjoy the hawt girl-on-girl action.
I didn't join another table for years. 'Til college.
I did still write, did still let my imagination travel. Just didn't do it around a table. My gaming was through the "safety" of chat RP, and that's another story for another time.
The next table I joined was through my FLGS. It was run by two guys and a woman; the woman was most often the one behind the counter. Through her, my friend and I were introduced to a few other gamers and were invited into an in-store game of Deadlands. It was a diverse table (which made it strange for me to realize the prominence of "all white, all male tables," because my 'real' start was so very beautifully open and diverse), totalling eight people. Five males, three females.
The three females were myself, someone's girlfriend, and my best friend.
The one time we were invited to go to the DM's place for a game and movie night, I was the only girl who could make it there. And then suddenly, the GM and one of the other players were trying to touch me, unwelcomed. One right after the other. The moment I was alone with one or the other.
That is just one reason why the concept of a non-hostile environment is so important. People are being taught to roll their eyes at the need for "Safe Spaces" and people with "sensitive needs". But they are real, and I am so glad that the patience for that eye-rolling seems to be growing real thin.
The world of gaming to which I and so many other women (and non-binary people) have been raised is that world. And we are now the ones who make your games.
When I go to a FLGS, I look for brightly-lit, open spaces that will be safe late at night. I try to get a feel for the games and the people who are playing them. And even when I do find a good store, even when the people are friendly, there is absolutely still an assumption that I – and indeed, many women – go into game stores for their kids or spouses.
(And before anyone tries to say “not all stores do that!”? Just don’t. I know. But if I, hippie-dippie in Portland, am still finding it, I'd be pretty silly to think this was happening to Just Me.)
For example, here is the last conversation I had in a FLGS where I was considering running a game. And this was *recently*, not years ago:
Me: "Hi! I noticed your calendar has a lot of Magic meetups, and I saw two D&D listings. Are these Adventurer's League, or are they random-play, or...?"
Random Player (since owner was out of store): "I think only one is Adventurer's League, and that's how you're going to want to learn about D&D so you can start playing; you're gonna need some dice, too..."
Almost word-for-word. Helpful male assumes I have never touched a game.
(For the record, I write them. And the necklace around my neck ALWAYS has at least 4d6 in it. And the ring I wear is a d20 spinner.)
Opening up a conversation for inclusion (and here, I’m not just talking about gender identity) seems to INVITE a lot of raw feelings from a lot of people. And because the art of communication is more often lost than encouraged (through nobody's fault), tempers flare. Arguments explode. And that is the topic that we are then invited into.
A lot of women would rather not get involved in a firestorm like that. Or not subject themselves to any potential challenge or abuse in a gaming store. So rather than speak up, they just…don’t go. Or worse: they just decide that TRPGs are just Not For Them. And that is a loss for all of us – not just for people who might have benefitted from friendship, but for the stories that will never be shared, the ideas that will not be sparked, the potential gaming professionals who now will never approach gaming.
When one sees how few non-white, non-male-identifying people are present in game stores, it’s far too easy for that person to say "SEE? They don't WANT to be in gaming!"
So that’s why I still make a big deal of it. Because I’m a 40+ female gamer who also happens to be a professional RPG writer. And I want my industry to be better.
I want us paid better. I want us represented better.
And that’s why I – horribly shy, introverted lady I am – still try to find a way to go into the world and be seen at a store from time to time. It’s why I try to speak up when and where I can, to help people know that it’s *good* to promote a safe and happy space for any and all gamers. It’s why I *still* send occasional ‘thank you’ notes to the prominent voices that are helping to carve a space for us, so that the next generations might not have to carve so deep.
You can do it too. I believe in you.
Happy Women in Tabletop Gaming Month.
Happy Pride Month.