It looks like I may have been volunteered to be on a panel at Fandemonium. The proposed topic is “Women who like science fiction and gaming” In order to prepare just in case the panel actually happens I posted a thread on Schlock Mercenary’s Nightstar forum. I was a little surprised to discover that there are people out there who consider gaming to be a “guy thing” in which women are only a distraction.

I guess it depends on why you’re playing. I can see how a group of guys would find it relieving to be away from women doing something that is fairly incomprehensible to them. They could tell jokes and roleplay scenarios that would be embarassing in the presence of women.

Is it bad that there is a part of me which wants to get into really good shape, dress really attractively (for maximum distraction), and crash their parties and then win all the games and walk away laughing? And yet in the end I don’t think I’d enjoy that nearly as much as I’d enjoy being treated as a person (instead of a Gurl) and really enjoying the game itself. Besides, I’d probably goof-up the vamping part and then lose miserably which wouldn’t have the same effect at all.

It has been a really long time since I’ve be able to role play properly. I haven’t been able to since Kiki was a baby because finding large stretches of time to play sans children is difficult. Playing with children in tow is pointless. The mommy function usurps all brain circuits and I can’t get into the game. Then there is the whole problem of finding a dedicated group to play with. I could somewhat solve that by hosting and GMing, but then there is all that set up work and planning for which I have no time.

Funny, until I started thinking about all this stuff I didn’t even realize I missed it.

35 thoughts on “Gaming”

  1. A good quarter or third of the roleplayers at my college are female…my first GM was, many of the people I consider to be fantastic roleplayers are…

  2. That is really good to know. When I was a teen and in college it seemed like I was the only female gamer in existence. There WERE some other women who hung around games, some even played, but they were actually there to be with a boyfriend.

    I’d like to think that Female Gamers is a growing population.

  3. I don’t know. It may be that my particular group is unusual, but it would seem completely ridiculous to me to think of a large (20+ people) game without at least three or four females, if not more, and most smaller games have at least one.

  4. If you’ve got time, Nightstar has a #dnd channel. There’s a game nearly every night, and often you can just hop right in… though, uh, it does usually go laaate.</pimp>


  5. The guys who don’t want girls there are the ones who are insecure in real life, are playing a character to make themselves seem like a bad-ass, and know that most girls will not only see right through it but call them on it later.

    This is a VERY BROAD generalization, but stay with me here…

    Guys, on the whole, are actually more forgiving than women. Guy Friend says something boneheaded, and later buys me a beer: I know he means he’s sorry, and I realize he doesn’t want to fight, and I brush it off, and we forget about it. (This of course doesn’t work with major transgressions, like, say, beating in the door of my car with a baseball bat or something. But for the most part, this is a fairly accurate picture of guythink.)

    If the situation is brought up later, it’s generally in a semi-joking way.

    On the other hand, Guy Friend says something boneheaded around a Woman Friend. Nine times out of ten, Woman Friend will either not be mollified by the purchase of a beer (or equivalent), but will need an abject apology, possibly coupled with a card or other sacrifice — and, depending on the Woman Friend, it may have to be a semi- or fully-public sacrifice. If the situation is brought up later, the Woman Friend is usually able to utilize it as leverage.

    This doesn’t work with insecure gamers. For some gamers, it’s not a chance to indulge one’s fantasies of being in a magical world — it’s a chance to indulge one’s fantasies of being an almighty conqueror. It’s basically the mental equivalent of a physical contest. It’s not exactly a (pardon my moderate French) pissing contest — it’s a purely imaginary, metaphorical pissing contest.

    Guys who take part in imaginary pissing contests know that (a) the other guys are also pissing imaginarily, and (b) the game will be left there. If a guy takes on a character who learns to use two swords, in the game, he could be a total bad-ass. The character could convincingly say things that would be stupid in RL: “Taste the fury of my blades,” or something like that.

    It feels good to say, even though you know it’s stupid, because the insecure gamer guys know that they could never sound that tough in real life.

    So when a girl is present, a guy remembers the female tendency to latch on to “boneheaded” things and to bring them up later. A guy imagines the girl saying publicly something like, “Oh, sure, Mr. Taste-My-Fury,” which would result in other people asking about what that means, which could lead to public humiliation.

    I just spent way too long trying to say: Some guys will never trust you to keep their fantasies secret.

    If another guy were to tease them about it, it would be a little different — it’s sort of impugning one’s manhood, but guys are supposed to impugn one another’s manhood. If a woman impugns one’s manhood, though, it’s devastating.

    Alternately, unless their character can kick your character’s booty from here to eternity and back again, the insecure guys will feel equally emasculated, which defeats their whole point of gaming in the first place.

    My final statement will be to repeat: this is a VERY BROAD generalization. I don’t believe it’s always true. But in general, I think guys who don’t want women to game are using gaming to feel more confident of their masculinity.

  6. From my own experiance

    I have noted, at least in my area, the gamers seem to be predominately male…

    Which is a shame, because I have found that some of my favorite RPers are female, and not because they are soft in all the right places…

    They just loose themselves in the part better…

    Then again, phrases like “Are there any girls at the tavern? If there are, I want to do them…” sound even MORE pathetic (as if that were possible) when women are around…

    I lost one GF cause I showed her to my group of gamer friends…

    You’d have thought I’d brough a russian to tour the Manhattan Project…

    Or that they’d never seen a girl before…

    I swear they scared her off…

    But most of us are aware that there is a large population of female gamers (near 50% of gamers are female, i heard somewhere)…

    Some just don’t live in areas that HAVE said female gamers…

  7. Re: From my own experiance

    Girl Friends are a completely different animal from Female Gamers unless you are so fortunate as to date a gamer. My experience sugests that girlfriends (Probably boyfriends too) at games never turn out really well. If you get into the game, Girlfriend feels ignored, if you pay attention to girlfriend, game gets neglected. Hard to win with that one.

  8. Re: From my own experiance

    unless you are so fortunate as to date a gamer.

    I have yet to experiance THAT going even close to well…

    I guess the local (and by that, I mean the midwest in general) pool of gamer chicks is tainted…

    Cause they all seem to be freaking insane…

  9. I used to roleplay with a couple who were parents of 7. Luckily, by then they’d gotten to the point where the older children could take care of the younger ones, so there weren’t necessarily *constant* interruptions…

  10. Actually, I have generally found that the guys who are unsettled by a woman and automatically assume she is untrustworthy may never be convinced of her trustworthiness.

    But, on the other hand, if she is accepted as trustworthy, the guys in question may then spend months trying to derail her character (still in the macho mindset).

    And if they finally come to accept the woman as another average gamer, I would assume that they would either take her as “one of the guys” or fall hopelessly in love.

    As long as I’m generalizing.

  11. Re: freaking insane

    That probably relates to their rarity. There are significant social pressures against female gaming which means that female gamers tend to either be strong people who know what they want, or unable to be normal and so have decided to be as weird as possible.

    Wow, that was a big generalization. I’m happy to change my statement if someone will offer evidence against.

  12. I was lucky

    I was introduced to tabletop roleplaying in a group where the male/female numbers were even. And, more to the point, they were pretty good role players who just wanted to get on with the game already.

    And that set the pattern for my experience with RP in the UK. I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky or I joined in at a time when female gamers were far more plentiful than in previous years. I also think the advent of games other than D&D did encourage more females to play and helped RP lose that “it’s for beardy weirdies” image, at least a little bit.

    Happily, I now mostly roleplay online and gender just doesn’t seem to come into it at all. Which is nice 🙂

  13. It *really* depends on game

    The male-female ratio in a gaming group is also strongly influence by what kind of game they’re playing. These days, there are lots of female tabletop roleplayers, and CRPGs appeal strongly to women, too (Perhaps even more strongly than tabletop, thuogh I’m not sure why). However, other computrer games, like FPS and RTS computer games are dominated by men. When I was running a TeamFortress clan a few years back, I didn’t know any other female players of the game. Even I didn’t like TeamFortress that much. Which brings me around to another point:

    I’m a gamer, not a “gamer’s girlfriend”. I play games because that’s what I like to do. My boyfriend is also a gamer. But our favorite games aren’t the same ones. He loves MMORPGs, FPSs, and medium-complexity wargames, like Warhammer 40k and Starfleet Battles. I love person-to-person RPGs (that is, ones without computer AIs involved), turn-based building games, some trading card games, and certain types of boardgames/wargames. (My favorite boardgames are ones with rules that I can learn in 30 minutes or less, but that allow sophisticated strategy elements, as well as some element of luck. )

    Anyway, there’s some overlap in what we like, but one of us often winds up playing our “second pick” game because it’s the other’s “first pick” game. That can give our relationship a bit of that “gamer’s SO” look, even though it’s really not the case. And we never have that aura of total cluelessness that the usual “I’m with him” person has. >:)

    But back to the first point — some games don’t seem to attract or appeal to very many women. Men in those cases may shy from having women in their group because they think “she won’t get it” or “she’ll slow the game down”, because all their experiences have been with girlfriends-of-gamers who maybe tried it but never got it.

    Incidentally, I much prefer to have at least one other woman playing with me in an RPG. I can’t explain why, but somehow it seems to improve the quality of the whole group: people seem more immersed in their characters, and less going through the motions to get to the next combat.

    If you want to see really skewed demographics, pay attention to ethnicity at a gaming convention. It’s not just a sea of men: it’s a sea of mostly Caucasian men with some Asians and almost no one of any other ethnicity. I don’t know what’s up with that.

  14. Re: It *really* depends on game

    Here is a guess why Computer based RPGs appeal to women: Gender isn’t an issue. People are there to play the game.

    In face-to-face games the women often have to prove competence, or they have to deal with “will this guy fall for me and start stalking me?”, or they have to deal with wink and nudge jokes from the male players around her.

    That’s probably why you prefer games that have two or more female players. It cuts down lots on all of the above.

  15. Re: It *really* depends on game

    Though men can impersonate women online, I have to disagree with you, somewhat.

    That is, many clearly female names/characters/setups are mocked or harassed in online computer games. I haven’t played much in the way of MMORPGs, but for Diablo II, and to a lesser extent MUD’s (though people there tend to be faaar better roleplayers), there can be problems.

  16. MUDs don’t do as well as MUSHes in that respect – the former does mostly dice to do the gaming, the latter are usually based on a tabletop RPG system which emphasizes the roleplay part. However, they also can fall prey to the ‘cybersex’ part too, especially when guys playing women get into it.

    In Computer RPGs, there is no real DM for most games – the only DM is a computer, and it doesn’t care about your gender in reality; just your stats for its dice, or what spells or equipment you have. They’re also a more social activity than tabletop can be at times – guys can be whoever they want, and ditto the women. Yes, some guys do harass women online, but they’re not usually a majority of the population in a decent place where there’s both combat and exploration – most of the former type are busy hacking monsters into sashimi and generally powerlevelling.

    For example: Ultima Online was probably one of the first MMORPGs which drew a larger female population, compared to earlier attempts like Meridian 59 or maybe Delphi’s online game. Why is this? I suggest that this is because women there were equal to men in every respect; they didn’t have their stats adjusted to make them weaker physically (such as in D&D 1st and 2nd Ed rules), and they also didn’t have to wear bikini chainmail. Female paladins wore REAL breastplates, which actually covered their physical assets, and female mages could wear robes as well as the usual scanty clothing. The world of Ultima was also very strongly egalitarian, as far as male and female roles were concerned, as far as the setting goes – female bankers, fighters, and leaders weren’t treated as pariahs for being independent.

    The next wave of games, including EverQuest and Asheron’s Call took a step back in this regard; Firiona Vie, the poster-girl of the game, shows up in each new picture with less and less on her, though female roles are still essentially the same as male ones. Asheron’s Call was better in this respect – women characters were female but well-armored (no bikins) and the setting was similarly egalitarian and I know many female gamers who still play the game due to the ever-changing world (monthly updates ensure this) and the very socially-oriented nature of the game (monthly events which require cooperation among large numbers of players, such as the return of Bael’zharon, ensured this).

    Anarchy Online, Dark Ages of Camelot, and many others have come around since then, though most of them are very combat-oriented and the levelling treadmill favors those who spend most of their time with the game. The most social games at this time, of the new generation, are probably Second Life, There!, and The Sims Online – all three are virtual worlds, and they’re socially oriented. I don’t have any stats on the last two, having played only some beta time on the second game, however. These social games are among the first popular virtual worlds, which allow the gamers to reshape them and create content, however.

  17. Part Deus

    Now, Quake and other FPSes produce a different breed of female gamer – the twitch gamer who’s out to be a hotshot, just like everyone else. 😀 In this sort of game, the goal is to dominate; there is no functional difference between men and women in this respect. I know quite a few female rugby players, and football players – they’re just as violent and driven as any male player I know, and it’s not blind aggression that makes them go, but it is rather the same need to succeed and show superiority and skill that male players also display. Even if some of them have played on their gender as the first really famous female FPS gamer did – Stevie Case, geek goddess and later Gamer Sex Kitten and Playboy Pinup – many are more prone to showing their skill and virtuosity by being no different from the guys in combat, or in their habits outside of the game. Here, some may have ‘chips on their shoulders’, but most all of them just want to be the best – just like their male counterparts.

    But we’ve left out two or three important genres, though they are almost universal in their appeal; strategy games (both real-time and turn-based), adventure games (Monkey Island, King’s Quest games), and the puzzle-games.

    Strategy games favor nothing save a good mind with tactical ability – they’re very unforgiving of poor planning, for the most part, and men and women find the same things in them, from what I’ve seen. There’s no functional difference in genders or the gender-appeal as a result of this, and there’s no real reason why this genre should even be looked at as a result.

    Adventure games involve exploration and study, along with a hint of puzzle-solving for the really good ones. The best of them involve humor and a good story, which the act of playing the game helps unfold; it’s interactive storytelling in one of its purest forms, and one of the first types of games to be created for the computer. It favors no gender either, but unlike the strategy game involves the player in a way that rewards the person gaming with a sense that they’re an integral part of the tale being spun. The first wave of these was the text-based game, as epitomized by Infocom’s classics. The second wave of graphical adventure games, one of the first being Mystery House by Sierra On-Line Software, was written by one of the first female game-designers in the business; Roberta Williams, the wife of Sierra On-Line’s president Ken Williams. She wrote Mystery House, then designed and produced the King’s Quest series of games, which focused around the adventures of the Graham family, starting with a man who one day would become king, and also would later feature his daughter Rosella (in King’s Quest IV, she goes to rescue her prince and her family from a curse, which was one of the first major reversals of the ‘damsel in distress’ roles played by women up to this point.

    Sierra Software also came up with the Gabriel Knight series, which featured another fairly strong (for a video game character) protagonist, in the form of Grace Nakamura – and it was written by another female writer, Jane Jensen. Adventure games have continued to develop strong female roles, and probably in the process have brought more women gamers into being; games like the Broken Sword series (Nico Collard), Monkey Island‘s Governor Elaine Marley, and some of the more recent breed like Jade from Beyond Good and Evil and Syberia‘s Kate Walker (lawyer turned adventuress. I’ve ignored Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series here; she is a ‘strong’ female role, but was apparently designed as eye candy first, and a kick-ass heroine second.

  18. Puzzle Games like Tetris and the ever-popular Myst series have been left out here, because they’re very much thinking games in line with the strategy type of games. However, they’re very accessible to non-hardcore gamers because they’re easy to put aside, easy to pick up, and because just about anyone can play them. There’s no real difference here, save that the lack of combat may turn off some gamers (mostly young men).

    The knowledgeable will see I’ve skipped whole subgenres – the Sim-series, the god-games like Populous and Dungeon Keeper, and the whole slew of single player CRPGs like the classic Gold Box series of games from SSI, along with the newer CRPGs with single and multi-player modes such as the more recent D&D games (Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights) or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Most of these allow play as both male or female characters, with slightly different stories depending on whether you get into the romance aspects or not (the Gold Box game “Secret of the Silver Blades” is one of the first I recall which had a romance in-game, which affected how the game went on afterwards – the character and NPC in love would fight better when together, and the story changed somewhat).

    Simulation games such as flight-sims and space-sims are also ignored, since many of them are akin to the FPS-style twitch games, save a few like the Wing Commander series, which included a male protagonist in each and every game, and romance options. Also ignored are the Japanese dating-sim games and hentai games, which represent a different culture and mindset, along with a method of gaming which is part-sim, and part wish-fulfillment. We’ve also skipped over city-builders (a derivative of the real-time strategy games) and doubltlessly a half-dozen other types, if only because most of them fit into one of the above categories.

    This is just a quick run-down, mind you. There are BOOKS dedicated to the gaming phenomenon, and I think a few papers have been written on the issue of male versus female gamers and differences therein.

  19. Part Quatre

    Say, anyone remember Arcades, about five years ago? Very male-dominated places, with pinball machines and four basic types of games; two-dimensional fighting games (Street Fighter and its descendants), vehicle racing/combat games, shooting games, and the occasional scroller or Gauntlet-type game?

    Now look at them – there’s a fairly strong female contingent now in some areas, and I’d credit that to the rise of a new subgenre that combines pattern recognition and memorization (Concentration-type games) with twitch-gaming and a dash of Twister-style physical challenges to one’s agility; the beat-pattern recognition type game, as epitomized by Dance Dance Revolution and its copycats. People play these at home for one thing – to practice for outside, and to memorize the patterns or to learn the moves needed to succeed. Outside, it’s almost performance art, at least at an arcade. You’ll often find a small crowd in some places, watching one kid pull moves and work with the pattern as they try to keep perfectly in sync with the machine. Great workout, and very gender-neutral in its appeal. It’s also a way to show off to the opposite sex that you’re physically talented and have good stamina, but that’s for the older gamers. 😉

    Amazing how one simple game can help revolutionize even the arcades, isn’t it? Most people don’t play DDR at home for fun – it’s either a party game, or else it’s just practice.

  20. Oh dear

    I’ve probably killed Sandra by now. 😀 Say, if you ever do what you threatened to above, we want to see the videos and photos of these guys’ faces after you take them to the cleaners.

  21. Re: Oh dear

    Not dead. I’m going to have to re-read the material to fully absorb it, but Thank you very much for supplying it. You’ve handed me loads of wonderful research material and I didn’t even have to go to the library!

    Naturally I’d want to take videos and photos. Part of the point would be the gloating. 😉

    Except as I said above I’d probably get it all wrong and then there would be video of me falling on my face. Not so good for the gloating that.

  22. Re: Oh dear

    True – but it’d be entertaining to watch you fall on your face. 😀

    And as I said – there are books on video games, which I’d suggest picking up to look at a general sweep of the phenomenon: look for what they leave out as well (many of them ignore Europe to focus on Japanese and American gaming – and most of them ignore the way Japanese games tend to differentiate themselves from the competition by introducing new concepts of gaming as well as new sorts of games).

    Historically, female gamers usually are either hidden away or else otherwise shunned by both the gaming community as well as their peers. This has begun to change in the last five or six years, however, with the rise of more positive female gamer roles, and the fact that a lot of gaming boys have realized that the girls can be more than eye-candy like the Lara Croft models. Some of them are indeed very vicious. 😉

    Stevie Case is an interesting subject to look at – she was one of the first officially acknowledged and acclaimed female FPS gamers, who won fame as being the woman who beat John Romero. She later ended up dating him, playing off her sex appeal, and showing up in Playboy and other ‘fine’ publications. She was a geek and proud, but she wasn’t afraid to exploit her more physical attributes. She broke many of the stereotypes around female gamers, even if I personally dislike the course she charted after she started dating Romero, by showing that girls who gamed could be sexy as well as ‘in charge’ as it were.

    There are whole clans in Counterstrike and other online-enabled FPSes as a result of the pioneering efforts of women like Case that are female, and they’ve helped change some of the attitudes that teenage boys have had to women gamers as a result – usually by kicking their asses or at least keeping up. Prior to Case, most female gamers stayed away from this area or were otherwise kept quiet, since FPSes were seen almost exclusively as a ‘male’ sort of phenomenon, and have been the subject of controversy due to Columbine and studies which have ‘proven’ that games like this cause violence.

    CRPGs have always been a different story – they’re like the adventure games insofar as they are interactive storytelling, at least with the best of them, but they usually involve more combat and fewer puzzles. The Ultima games were different from most other RPGs when they were first introduced, at least starting from Ultima IV or V, in that you could be a female protagonist as well as a male one, IIRC.

    Ultima IX took a step back in this respect, by making the main character a man again and by giving you a love interest in the form of the privateer Raven. They also had an interesting method of picking classes, by using the ‘Virtue’ questions (weighing one against another) to see what suited your character. The story in games V through VII was probably the best in the series as well, and the setting’s fairly equal, as far as gender-roles go and as far as that sort of setting gets (pre-industrial).

    Try doing some looking around, like I said – and don’t ignore the consoles. That’s where a lot of women started their habit, since there were quite a few games which were unisex in their appeal.

  23. Re: Oh dear

    This article may be of use to you:

    Here’s a quote of the relevant sections:

    Experience matters

    The belief within many areas of the games industry that women like to play puzzles rather than shoot things, is an assumption which is frustrating for a large proportion of female gamers who do shoot to kill.

    Myst’s game-play does involve a lot of puzzle-solving, and the only shooting in the latest instalment, Myst IV Revelation, is through a new camera feature.

    But Genevieve Lord, Myst IV producer would rather the industry started to distance itself from this kind of stereotype.

    “I have been a gamer all my life,” explains Lord.

    “I also play RPGs [role-playing games]. I don’t want to generalise, but I would say for women, a game is like an experience,” she told BBC News Online.

    Whether that experience is a mind-bogglingly confusing puzzle, or a simple shoot-em,-up, it does not matter.

    What does matter is that it is an experience they want to return to and spend hours exploring – if they have the luxury of time in between juggling work, family, leisure and home life.

    Lord plays with her two adolescent boys. They have different skill sets which let them work through the game as a formidable team.

    Her 14-year-old is at “that age” when talking to your mother is the last thing you want to do.

    Through the gaming medium, however, he does talk to her and she sees it as an unobtrusive way of finding out what is going on in his life.

    Like game, like film?

    Essentially, intricate brainteasers, the requirement for lots of lateral thinking, and great storylines are major pulling points for millions of fans, not just women.

    Still, to many gamers who happen to be female, what makes a great game is subjective and can vary, just as in the movie industry.

    “I do believe in variety and really do believe we are on the threshold of the video games industry expanding and following new grounds and giving more in-depth content,” said Lord.

    “It is a bit of a risk for the industry, but we can really reach people. We have the technology and the know-how.”

  24. Re: Oh dear

    “pioneering efforts of women like Case that are female”.

    I hope that being a woman means being female. 😛 You can tell I wasn’t fully awake when I wrote that.

  25. Speaking of which… I find that one of the faster growing groups of female gamers, at least online, has been mothers. Stay at home mothers usually, though there are working mothers or working women in general who do enjoy a few hours unwinding online. The biggest challenge to them is not the game, but rather finding the few hours it takes to game. 😀

    It also changes the conversations somewhat, especially when they suddenly have to go as the kid made a mess or wants to play on the computer. With them, I talk about kids a bit more, and the discussions concerning gaming and how to handle kids playing games of all sorts become all sorts of interesting.

  26. Re: It *really* depends on game

    “…trading card games, and certain types of boardgames/wargames. (My favorite boardgames are ones with rules that I can learn in 30 minutes or less, but that allow sophisticated strategy elements, as well as some element of luck. )”

    I’m sure that you’ve heard of this but if not, there’s a great game out there called Star Chamber and you’ve more or less described it right here so I thought should point you to it:

  27. It might be. Personally, I like RPing with the mothers who are old enough to have kids who game or do IM, because then we can talk about issues like security and online etiquette (the ones who game are the ones that, I find, are more Net-savvy and thus able to work with their kids on things like this).

    Now, the ones who game WITH their kids online are a different kettle of fish. A fun bunch they can be, though. 😀 I love playing with those groups, when I do find them.

  28. Incidentally, I find that male gamers of this generation (who grew up in the middle to late 1990s) are probably less female-averse than those of my generation – that may be due to the games they all grew up with. With my generation, and your generation, that was D&D or one or two other RPG systems which were more dice-fests and excuses for combat than anything else. RPG systems which emphasized things other than dice started showing up in the 1990s, and LARPs became more popular around this time period (outside of the SCA, that is) as well.

    Between these changes in RPGs, the rise of card games (which don’t respect gender), and the arrival of games like Dance Dance Revolution and similar performance games, those kids seem to hang in groups as ‘gamers’ and less as ‘guys’ and ‘girls’. At least, that’s my view on the subject.

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