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Eye of a She-Gamer


45% of you are nobler than I. You're the ones who chose option c in last week's poll "the female arrives". To you, gender doesn't matter; a new player is a new player. Perhaps it befuddles you why any of us clicked a different option. As one of those who did not pick c, let me explain.

Sunday I returned home from a convention with a brand new copy of Shadowrun, Second Edition, for which I paid not a cent. I obtained the book (worth almost the cost of registering for the convention) through no merit in gaming nor luck of the draw. I simply approached the front table of the game room to sign up for another rpg demo.

"Miss, would you like a prize?"

"Me?" It took me a while to realize that the guy behind the desk was addressing me. "Sure. Um, what's this about?"

"Just go back and pick something from that table. No one's sending their players up here for prizes today, so somebody might as well take one." He shrugged. "You've been in here all day..."

True, I had, but I certainly wasn't the only one. In his eye, I stood out. Maybe he had an affinity for the brand of shoe I wore or maybe he always notices people with unattached earlobes, and thus it would be presumptuous of me to claim it had anything to do with my gender. But the ratio of unattached earlobes to attached earlobes far exceeded the ratio of females to males in that room.

So maybe it was the shoes. But every time I've gamed tabletop with a group of males unfamiliar to myself and to each other, I keep the attention of at least one or two of them without trying to do so. Those who chose option b ("Great, I respect the fairer sex. Besides, I'm not picky") constitute 21% of you, so it's not surprising that there seems to be at least one in every group of five male gamers.

I like the attention. I crave it. If a second female joins the game, I'm friendly to her, of course, but secretly disappointed because she may gain the notice that would have been mine. If I am the second female to arrive at a table of males, I feel awkward because I can't help thinking she feels the same way about me, even though the poll shows she is more likely to consider me a potential friend. And that's just in a group of strangers. When I have a regular gaming group of all males (other than myself), I consider them "my boys". The suggestion that another female might join us makes me cringe with jealousy.

So I chose option g ("I'm a female so she's a threat to my territory.") However, in the past I've had a regular gaming group consisting of several females and several males. In that situation, I felt as ease with the other women and I had no desire for attention. When a new female joined the group, I viewed her as a potential friend, just as I viewed new male players. In that setting, to me, gender didn't matter socially.

Regarding the gaming itself, I've observed no gender distinctions in the way females play, but 14% of you do expect differences. I find this... irksome. On my favorite mailing list, a person going by "James" eventually revealed herself as female when someone specifically asked about women on the list. She explained that she preferred to keep her gender unknown because other gamers and play-by-emailers tended to make assumptions about the way she would play when they knew she was female. She said they expected her to "talk to the monsters - explore their feelings," but once her peers got to know her better, they thought of her as any other gamer.

I hope that this 14% of us who expect gender distinctions in play will also change our minds about female players once we've seen them game. Jack and Jill may play differently from each other, but hopefully so do Jack and Tom. However, if we're expecting gender-based distinctions, we may mistake individual variation for gender variation, "confirming" our expectations and promoting stereotypes and other unpleasantries.

I am one of those people who "talks to monsters," and I am a girl. But I know plenty of males gamers and GMs who are equally pacifistic, and no such females. Indeed, most of the women I've encountered prefer to play "bruisers." But I digress.

I've only met one person who said anything aloud to me indicating he thought rpgs should be for males only. Luckily, circumstances beyond my control forced my PC to kill his PC.

In my experience, for the female gamer in a male-dominated sub-culture, life is good. But I don't claim to speak for other women; I behold only the view from the eye of one she-gamer.


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