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The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths

A GamerGrrls Manifesto (Part two)

Hilary Doda
December 12, 2000

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

Part the Second: Suggestions

But Hilary, you cry, what on earth can I do about all these problems youve mentioned? Im just a single publisher/fan/retailer, and these issues are so widespread! I cant possibly effect societal change all by myself! No, unfortunately, you cant. The womans movement has been active for over 20 years now, and has barely begun to make the changes that are needed. What you can do is change the way /you/ act.

Think about it. If 20% of North American gamers are female, while 52% of the total population is female, that means theres an untapped feminine market equivalent to a full 60% of the /current total gaming market/. If you can make your game/club/con/store female-friendly, you have an opportunity to grab more market share than anyone has to date.

How to Make Games Girl-Friendly:

The most vital thing is the first impression. If I walk into a game store and pick up a new game, the first thing I see is the cover. If I see a massively-breasted woman with impossible proportions - and, importantly, its not a Macho Women With Guns ( style parody - Im going to put it back without ever reading it. I have no interest in financially supporting companies that have no interest in appealing to anything except hormones. I know sex sells. I know that /you/ know that sex sells. I want games that have more to offer than breasts. I have my own, thanks.

The way that things are phrased is vital. Im not going to tell you to use him/her/it for everything; thats just silly. A brief note that you purposely chose to use one over the other would be a good idea, however. Using female gamers and characters in your examples would also be a nice touch. Really, how hard would it be to change Gary, Mike and Joe decide to play a Role Playing Game to Gary, Mike and Joanne decide to play a Role Playing Game? It doesnt have to change anything else except the name, and its an acknowledgment that girlgamers really do exist.

Female representation in the game world itself is another thing. If youre going to have a medieval world, great. Games set in the middle ages can be a real blast to play, but they can be horrendously grating when writers and designers fall back on age-old stereotypes instead of doing some extra research. No, women didnt hold high office in the middle ages, but they werent all just screaming and swooning princesses waiting to be rescued, either. Boadecia led a rebellion against the Roman armies. Queen Mathilde waged civil war on her husband for years. Jeanne dArc crusaded with armies at her beck and call. Anne Boelyn almost single-handedly brought about the separation of England from the Church of Rome. The suspected presence of a Pope Joan changed the entire selection process for the new pope. Women had an immense impact on the middle ages, as scholars, as fighters, as religious and political leaders, whether they were officially sanctioned or not. If your game is a fantasy or science-fiction world, youve got even less of an excuse for ignoring women. If its non-historical, you change whatever you /want/ to change about it, earthly status of women be damned.

Damsels in distress are highly overrated as a game concept. Let women be /people/, not just chattel or prizes. Women can be heroes, villains and helpers, political powers and assassins, spies, scientists and construction workers - anything that one gender can do (beyond reproduction or writing your name in the snow, unless youre doing far-out sci-fi) should not be restricted to that gender alone without good, in-game reasons. It can be explained as a prejudice within the game world - DP9s Tribe 8 has a matriarchy with ruling priestesses, because the Fatimas (avatars of the Goddess) are all female, but not all the men in Tribe 8 take that lying down Explore this arena for conflict, dont just mandate sexism because it doesnt occur to you to change it.

Interior art is the other prime opportunity for change. Take a look at your last published book. What percentage of the archetypes/classes/monsters/non-gender-specific NPCs are illustrated as female? Why? How about your scene art? Your splash pages? Count the instances of active, powerful female characters youve pictured in the scenes. Count the males. Now count how many females are portrayed in positions of weakness, of powerlessness, of passivity. Now count the males in the same situations. Is there a marked difference? Why? Is that difference necessary? Why?

As for the stories and campaigns themselves, how many of your NPCs are female? Is it necessary for them to be male or female in order to do what they do in the story? Why? What about your introductory fiction or your chapter fiction? Who is the main character, and who is the supporting character? Is that gender relationship always the same in your fiction? Why?

Take te time to think about the issues involved. Changing a game to make it inclusive can be as easy and as simple as ensuring that its not /ex/clusive.

How to Make Cons and Clubs Girl-Friendly:

Repeat this mantra after me:

Girls are not aliens. Girls are not freaks. Girls do not like being stared at. Just because she talks to me, doesnt mean she wants to sleep with me. Breasts dont hold conversations.

I know youre an enlightened man. You see girls wander into your club or game room every once in a while, but they never seem to stay. It must be that girls just arent cut out for gaming. They dont have the interest, or the mindset, or the math skills. It has to be that - it cant be the fact that we treat them differently. After all - theyre /girls/!

Let me set one thing straight right away. There is no mental or psychological reason that would make girls any less capable of gaming than boys. Companies like White Wolf have managed to introduce a huge number of women to gaming, and they dont seem to feel inadequate at all. So why dont more girls play? Why dont they stick around after wandering into clubs and conventions? Because of the treatment they receive when they do dare to set foot in this forbidden fortress of masculine identity.

Let girls play. If a girl comes to your club, dont try to scare her off. She may well be really interested! Why would she seek you out if she didnt want to play, or at least learn about gaming, in the first place? Talk to her. Answer her questions. Treat her exactly the same way you would a guy who comes knocking at your door. If a girl signs up for your game at a con, dont harass her. Dont stick her with the female PC if she wants to play someone else. Dont force her to make a female PC if she doesnt want to. Treat her exactly the same way you treat the rest of your players. And please, dont comment on her physical attributes. Do you feel the need to make passes or snide remarks if one of your guy players is really buff? No? Then dont tell a girl that shes stacked. Chances are, she already knows.

Dont try to save her. Girls were not put on the earth for the express purpose of being rescued from danger by big, buff, boys. If shes having trouble with the game rules, explain them. Dont try to dumb them down for her. Dont tell her to go play somewhere else. Need I reiterate? Treat a girl playing in your game exactly the same way you would treat a guy in the same situation.

Staring and pointing is just rude. When a girl walks into the game room, chances are shes looking to play or learn. You staring at her like shes the first woman youve ever seen - or like shes a demon from the underdark - isnt going to help her find what shes looking for. Dont be a jerk.

How to Make Stores Girl-Friendly:

The game store is often the center of a stable gaming community. Its the place where we meet and greet, where we make new discoveries and new friends. It can be a hangout and a clubhouse, a focal point for ideas and conversation. It is often the first place someone will go when they want to learn about gaming, and can very well be the thing that turns them off the hobby entirely. The way a store looks and feels can be the thing that convinces a new gamer that this is the hobby for them - or that they are obviously not wanted at all.

Have a clear view of the store from your counter, and/or ensure that everything is open and well-lit. One of the most terrifying experiences a girl can have is to be backed into a dark corner and either be harassed, intimidated or assaulted. Making the store open, lit and visible is the best way to ensure that the possibility is removed (its also, as an added bonus, the best way to reduce product shrinkage). Even if nothing like that has ever happened in your store, or even in your neighborhood, you can bet that girls are aware of the possibility. We cant even walk down the main streets without being harassed nowadays - we want our hangouts to feel safe.

Make a policy that verbal harassment and obvious sexism are not going to be tolerated, among customers /and/ employees, and then enforce it. What girl is going to want to come back if shes told that girls cant play, or that shes a bitch for asking questions?

Ensure that your employees are aware that harassment is a crime, and that obvious lewdness is inappropriate. You would feel very uncomfortable if you were forced to deal with someone who constantly talked to your crotch; women are made to feel cheap, used and violated by someone whose eyes never move above their chests, or who tries to touch them in an inappropriate manner.

If you plan to serve women between the ages of 10 and 60, and if you have a bathroom which is accessible to the public, you should have a way to dispose of the unfortunate by-products of female sanitary practices. A specialized sanitary-napkin disposal unit, either a wall-mounted or stand-alone bin, is preferable, but a garbage can in the bathroom itself is perfectly serviceable. Women coming to your store for tournaments and games will be there for a while, and a few will need to avail themselves of the facilities. It is the utmost in humiliation and inconvenience to have to walk out into the store or tourney area with a conspicuously wrapped bundle and ask the service desk for a garbage.

Lose the obvious and blatant cheesecake. Not even counting the business youll lose from Poke-parents who get disturbed by the soft-porn posters that are so popular nowadays, walking into a store and seeing walls full of breasts (and often not just breasts, but amazingly disproportionate and humanly impossible BREASTS) can be disconcerting, to say the least. It says that you dont really care about the content of the books, or the artistry whether or not its true, the overpowering presence of cheesecake gives the impression that youre only interested in the bodies of the female characters. Im in no way saying that porn is bad, nor am I advocating censorship. Im saying that, if you /must/ have some boobage on your walls, put up some beefcake too. Or some of the incredible posters for things like Lord of the Rings, which dont exploit the human body at all.

On the other hand, if you run tournaments or game nights for adults, be aware that you may eventually get a breast-feeding mother. Those are not sex-breasts, those are working breasts. If they bother you, look away. If your customers complain, please tell them just to look away as well. Please dont force a mother to go into the bathroom to feed. Its humiliating, can remove a woman from the game or tourney for an unconscionable length of time - it make take upwards of half an hour for a baby to eat - and is revoltingly unsanitary. A baby cannot use discretion; it only knows that it is hungry, and must eat /now/. A screaming, panicking baby will be more disturbing to customers than any flash of nipple could possibly be. Especially if youve got Vampirella posters on your walls.

Use inclusive language in advertising. I know we all hate silliness like him/her/it; thats why we at DP9 use the masculine in our Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles books and the feminine in Tribe 8, along with the appropriate disclaimers in our mastheads. But when you put up posters or hand out flyers advertising your tournaments or sales, think about the language youre using. Dont say something like Hey Boys - Check out our Pokemon League!. Use something more along the lines of Announcing our new Pokemon League! Everyone Welcome!. An inane example, yes, but one that gets the point across.

Carry girl toys. I dont mean pink things like Barbie or EZ-Bake ovens. I mean the female character figures from comic books and movies. I wandered into a local toy store a couple of weeks ago, and the action figure section was crammed full of guys. Cyclops, Wolverine and Prof.X, but no Jean Grey, Storm or Rogue. Anakin and Obi-Wan, but no Amidala. Woody and Buzz Lightyear, the Prospector and even the horse, but no Jessie. Heck, when I was younger I remember searching for a Lady J or Scarlett GI Joe figure, and never found one. Same for Mainframe or Mirage out of C.O.P.S. Where are all the action figures of women? Xena is great, but stock from one show does not an equal balance make.

Im not saying that you should completely remodel your store on the off chance that one or two girls might feel more comfortable, but keep these suggestions - and suggestions from your female customers and staff - in mind. Even just one or two changes could make a huge difference in how you and your store are perceived.

Are You Done Yet?:

So, you say, now that Ive made all these changes, the girls will just come piling in? Unfortunately, you probably wont see a massive influx right away. The past three decades of gaming have laid down some very unfortunate stereotypes about games and gamers that arent going to go away by cutting down on gratuitous boobage in books and stores. We still have massive amounts of outreach and education to do, and all of us need to make the effort to change our own prejudices and patterns.

The fact is, women are starting to come to gaming in a way that they never have previously. New editions of games are coming out that showcase a real awareness of the issues of gender parity, and games such as BESM, World of Darkness ( and Tribe 8 can be lauded for appealing to women in a way that the industry has never managed to accomplish before.

My question to everyone is, are you doing everything that /you/ can to ensure that women and girls feel welcome in this hobby? If not, what are you going to change?

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

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

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