Why I’m Not A Girly Gamer (Anymore)
When I first started tabletop gaming, I got REALLY EXCITED about the process. (Caps are necessary to convey the amount of ‘Squee!’ I felt and still feel about the first game I learned, White Wolf’s Changeling: the Lost.)
I was so excited, I searched for and wide for blog posts and essays about playing tabletop RPGs. I didn’t have to search far: from Wil Wheaton’s TableTop to TvTropes.org, there are near-infinite resources about grown-ups playing pretend. And the descriptions of gaming range from the resounding squees like my own to the snide mockery of those who just don’t get it.
But somewhere out in the wasteland of the internet, I found an essay about how women can have a hard time being taken seriously in tabletop games. It can be difficult, the author said, for a woman to establish herself in a new group because men may want her to take a role that makes them comfortable. The might think she should play a woman in a chainmail bikini or a paladin, because those are stereotypical female roles in fantasy. Worse, the men might think she “can’t” play a tabletop wargame like Warhammer because it’s too mechanistic, too violent, too scientific, and women have no place in that world.
And this gamer just wasn’t okay with that.
So far, I’m nodding along. I have righteous anger on her behalf.
But then she made a comment that still stings. She said (not a direct quote), “They told me I should just go play a soap-operay game about lame half-fairies, because I’m a girl, and that’s what girls do. But if I wanted to do that, that’s what I would do.”
I felt like she’d slapped me in the face.
I like playing a Changeling character. I like playing paladins, too. I felt as if I’d been told that I was a stereotypical girly gamer, voluntarily reinforcing predictable gender roles that feminists fought to overcome, and that I wasn’t worthy of the title gamer. It was a new form of “fake geek girl” shaming, at least to me, and I promptly felt that I wasn’t a “real” gamer.
Of course, there are other essays, like this one, that discuss sexism in tabletop gaming in sensitive, thoughtful ways. This was one lone voice on the internet, one lone woman who only had power over me because I gave it to her.
Because I’m stubborn, and not a little contrary, I decided to own the title of girly gamer. I tweeted my adventures under #girlyRPGer. I took pride my pretty, pastel dice. I owned the role for which I felt others judged me.
But somewhere around the time I took over as Storyteller from my gaming group, I realized that my self-imposed title wasn’t the dramatic reclaiming I’d hoped it would be. Instead, it felt more like a concession to all those hypothetical men who never even told me I didn’t belong at the table. I was saying to the world, “You have my permission to make fun of me for taking on what a few people might see as stereotypical roles.”
Instead of accepting myself as a badass paladin or an sadistic Storyteller, I told myself I was “just” a girly gamer. I was telling myself that playing a fairy, playing with magic, playing as a healer, all these things that I liked, were indeed stereotyped gender roles.
That’s not what I wanted. In my ideal gaming world, all roles are created equal. A burly man could play a delicate half-elf paladin. A petite woman could play the biggest, most brutish barbarian without eliciting comment. Characters could be homosexual, assexual, transsexual, any ‘ual they want to be, without regard to their players’ gender.. And a woman could play a female character who is a healer without feeling ashamed of perpetuating gender stereotypes.
So I decided that if I want to see that world, I needed to create it in my own life.
I’m not a girly gamer. I’m a gamer. And I can play any way I want.
Kristin McFarland worked as a newspaper reporter until she decided it would be far more fun to cover fictional woes. She writes fantasy of all breeds and has a penchant for flawed and funny characters. Although she’s a Game Master to put fear into any player’s heart, she has a thing for pretty dice and spends way too much time glued to her computer.