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The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths

A GamerGrrls Manifesto (Part one)

Hilary Doda
November 30, 2000

(Note: A GamerGrrls Manifesto originally appeared in KenzerCo's Knights of the Dinner Table #48)

Part the First: Ranting and Raving

I am a gamergrrl. I am a girl gamer. I am a person of the female gender who spends an inordinate amount of her free time engaging in the social phenomenon known as role-playing. Heck, Im a professional game designer over at Dream Pod 9 (www.dp9.com). I am also, apparently, in an unreachable minority, representing a gender who, for some distant, unknowable reason, just isnt interested in boys games. Manufacturers, fans, clubs and retailers spend dozens of hours and thousands of dollars trying to find some way to tap the untouched market potential of a demographic which includes over half of the worlds population. Drawing on my umpteen years of experience as a gamergrrl, I offer the following suggestions:

For Manufacturers:

We get it. Girls look good. You like the way women look in skimpy bits of nothing. That doesnt mean that all women everywhere in every time period wear little more than a postage stamp or two, whether they be sword-slinger, superhero or cyber-hacker. A brass bikinis not going to do much in the way of protection, so why does the single, solitary female fighter illustrated in your handbook wear about two square inches of clothing? It looks even stupider when shes standing next to a guy in full plate mail.

Fine, you say. No brass bikinis. Look at us - we have our female fighter in full protective armor! Wow. Youre enlightened. Now tell me why you have one female character who does anything besides scream? Yes, you. I look through your book and see dozens of pictures of men in battle. I read fiction pieces from the guys point of view. I see your sample characters, and one out of ten is female.

Repeat after me: Token Is Not Enough.

What do women want? We dont want books with pink covers. We dont want collectable card games to find our perfect date. Once you hit the age of about - say - 13, that stuff doesnt really appeal except for kitsch value. We want a game where women are represented as being just as capable as men. We want a game where women appear as often as men. We want a game that is not obviously, painfully, gratuitously and desperately appealing to the hormone-crazed, drooling fourteen year-old boys who currently populate the hobby. We want to open a book and see pictures of both female and male characters and say - wow. He looks cool. /She/ looks cool. I want to play this.

For Clubs and Conventions:

Yeah, we know. You dont get girls often. Girls are something of a mystery to a lot of you, or so says the stereotype. Girls arent into gaming, and girls arent into gaming guys. Funny, that. If girls arent into gaming, why are there Quake Clans made up of only women? Why has my gaming club been run by a woman for over two years now? Why are 40% of European gamers women, as opposed to our pitiful 20% in North America? Maybe because were not actually an alien species. Maybe were there because we want to play, and want to find people to play with.

It would help if youd treat us like human beings. I cannot count the number of times Ive walked into the game room of a convention and gotten nothing but blank or lewd stares. My name is not hotty, by the way. Nor am I cutey, darlin, or wench. Im a woman, yes, but Im certainly no supermodel. So why are you staring at me like that?

No, My Breasts Dont Talk.

I am not interested in playing the NPC bar wench in your D&D (www.wizards.com/dnd) game. Im not going to play the sexaroid in BESM (www.guardiansorder.on.ca.com). Im not even going to take you up on that oh-so-generous offer to toodle around with one orc in the trenches in your Warhammer (www.games-workshop.com) demo. And no, the widdle woman is not interested in learning to play with the big boys. Im here to play some games that I love, and if you would only offer me the same courtesy you show every male at this table, I just might have something fun and interesting to contribute.

Of course, you could always ignore me. Im sure that, me being a girl and all, nothing I have to say would interest you in the slightest. Ive only been gaming for longer than some of you little punks have been alive, but that doesnt matter in the slightest. Im a girl, after all, and cant possibly understand the depth and passion of the material.

On second thought, Id rather you ignore me than assault me. I am not here as a plaything. I am not here for your pleasure. In point of fact, I am not here for you at all! If you grope me, I will hit you. If you verbally assault me, I will call convention security down on your head. Would you talk to your mother that way? No, the fact that I am in your LARP does not mean that I want you. The fact that I signed up for your game does not mean that I plan to sleep with you. You try to bite me, fang-boy, and youll be picking those fake teeth out of your tongue for a month.

For Retailers:

I realize that the boy market is your biggest market. I realize that you have to tailor your environments and staff to supply the demand these kids have for their favorite games and books. I understand that the needs of the few - the perilously few, from what I understand - female gamers arent high on your priority list. But they should be. We have a lot of money to spend, and your store is where we want to spend it. Why, then, are you dead-set against allowing us to do so?

I have no qualms in saying that I have a blacklist. There is a list of stores in the major cities in Canada that I will never return to, and will never spend money in as long as I can help it. I may even stop buying gaming products entirely before I spend money in those stores. And Im not a person who holds grudges, or gets insulted easily. Not usually.

You may never have seen me in your store before. I may look like just another one of those girls from the mall who wanders through and giggles and doesnt buy anything. Fine. You have paying customers to attend to, and I fully understand. But when I am standing at your cash register with a pile of books in hand, and when I am first in line and you look straight through me and serve the skater punks waiting behind me who want to buy two dice? Yes, Im going to get angry. And dont be surprised when I leave without buying that $150 worth of material that Id been looking for. And dont shrug and say something about hormones loud enough so that I can hear you as I leave. That will only ensure that I /never/ come back.

You may be a new staff member. Fine. I can appreciate that theres a learning curve. You may be on your first day on the shop floor, and be a little clueless. Weve all worked retail in the past, and I know it can be hell. But dont blatantly ignore me when I walk in, especially if you look right at me, acknowledge that I need help, and then wander off to the counter to talk to your best friend for an hour.

You may have only ever seen boys in your tournaments. You may have a 99% male consumer base in your store. Sure, I understand. Its a guys market. But when I walk in with my army case under my arm to enter in your tournament, and when I spend half an hour trying to pick out all the materials I need to build my next regiment, dont you dare walk up to me and ask me if Im waiting for my brother or my boyfriend. How can you possibly be so blind as to not see that Ive been playing this for years, especially when Ive just been asking you questions that must - at the very least - betray the fact that I have at least basic knowledge of the game system? And have a massive number of my own figures here? And nothing in my speech or manner have ever suggested that I was there for any purpose but to spend obscene amounts of money and play in your tournament?

On the plus side, my army fetched a decent amount on eBay after a series of encounters with people just like you convinced me to give up the game entirely.

The fact that I am in your store does not make me your property. The fact that I have asked you a question in no way gives you the right to touch me. You brush up against me accidentally like that again and Ill organize a boycott. Yes, I look a little nervous when youre around. Im sure youre just trying to be friendly. I know that it seems absolutely inexplicable to you, but given the cultural climate, women dont like being gawked, gaped, leered or stared at. We find it uncomfortable when you stare at our bodies, lick your lips or try to get close to us during conversations. My body is mine to do with as I choose. It is not on display for you, nor do you have permission to do anything to me beyond interact as you would with any male customer.

I know you love your posters, but those pictures of Lady Death, Vampirella and BattleChasers plastered all over your walls do nothing to make me feel comfortable in your fine establishment. You could, at the very least, add some beefcake after all, even if you only get men in, 10% of your customers are guaranteed to be interested

The Ends in Sight (Finally!):

So, all told, what do women want?

We want to be treated like human beings.
We want the same courtesy and professional attitude you extend to male customers.
We want games that reflect our reality and our worlds. (That doesnt mean Barbie RPGs, either.)
We want games that acknowledge that we exist and can contribute.
We want groups that dont assume that women are incapable or uninterested.
We want to feel safe and welcome in stores and clubs.

We want what everybody else wants: to feel somehow included in a hobby that purports to welcome everybody.

Hilary Doda grew up in Toronto, but managed to escape to Montreal following the HentaiCon Tentacle Disaster of 97. Slaving away in the RPG sweatshop known to insiders as Dream Pod 9, she divides her time between managing the Tribe 8 game line and scribbling desperate cries for freedom on smuggled-in sheets of paper towel. She can be reached at hdoda@dp9.com

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The The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths by Hilary Doda

Other columns at RPGnet

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