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Gamer Chicks and Chicks who Game: Why We Need Both

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From the controversy sparked by Uri Kurlianchik’s article on D&D Kids: Girls at the Table, to Lugh’s discussion of Shared Fantasy’s study on Women Gamers, to Ravyn’s thoughts On the (Comparatively) Lower Frequency of Women Gamers, women in gaming has been a hot-button issue of late. The blogosphere’s seen it all: debates of subjectivity, charges of misogyny, reliance on stereotypes, you name it. Some say it’s the nature of the game and genre that don’t dovetail with female traits and interests, while others point to the “no girls allowed” mentality that discourages new players.

But I think that’s only half of what’s holding women back from the hobby.

D&D is “Too Nerdy”

One of my best friends had originally declined my invitation to the campaign on the grounds that it would stain her reputation. This is a girl that frequents Sephora twice monthly, wears a killer pair of hot pink jeggings with three-inch black pumps when she’s dressing “casual”, and has an itty-bitty waist with a “great cleave” that could make a 9th level fighter blush. She has a right to be image-conscious if she wants to be.

But I explained to her that there’s a difference between being “a gamer-girl” and being “a girl who games.” Just like not everyone who plays tennis is a full-on athlete, not everyone who plays D&D is a geek.

Now she talks “gamer” with the best of us and is a hugely-valuable striker in the party. Yes, she’s an elf ranger, but she’s damn good at it.

The Female Factor

Here’s a secret: women judge each other more harshly than men could ever could. When we dress up, it’s as much to show off to the girl next to us as it is to attract cute guys. Look at me, I’m you’re competition, bitch.

The worst blows to our self-esteem come from our girl friends or rivals, not boys. Female bullying is real, it’s down-and-dirty, and it’s commonplace.

What this means for girls who might want to game is that in addition to some of the male hostility, it’s the fear of being judged by other women. By entering a male hobby, we lose our chic-cred, and are instantly downgraded to the same status as the overweight, androgynous, hormonally-challenged stereotype that most people think of when they think gamer girl.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t hot gamer chicks, but forgive me if I say that they’re the exception to the rule.

We should be able to throw down some dice in Ugg boots and skinny jeans (or a sundress) and not feel like we’re not feminine anymore in the eyes of everyone else. Felicia Day showed us that pretty girls are gamers too, and encouraged a whole new growth in the college-aged bracket. I guess what we need is a new face for gaming, one that reflects 2011, not 1977.

Those of us women who braved the worst of it have to be ambassadors for our girl friends. Lend them Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress, let them roll in your weekly game, bring them to cons, and get them to tell their friends.

The Changing Face of Role-playing Games

We’ve seen improvement, though. One third of all gamers are now women, but I won’t be happy until they comprise one half.

But I have hope. Women are the ones reading now, and what they read is paranormal and fantasy. These genres have their roots in the same soil as D&D, but they’ve gone mainstream. So can gaming–but only if we let it evolve beyond the image it has now.

In fact, that’d be the place to start. You have an entire generation of girls who grew up on YA, who cut their teeth on fan-fiction, and now role-play on forums and MMO’s because the “old guard” of tabletop publishing cling to the glory days of old-school gaming.

Maybe the game that appeals to those young women doesn’t exist yet. I agree with Andy in that World of Darkness dropped the ball there–they had the entire Twilight generation to take advantage of, and didn’t. Maybe that’s a good thing; I know I don’t want a legion of Bella wanna-be’s salivating over a Jacob-clone NPC, but I’ll admit I, too, read the whole series. I’ve also grown up. They will too.

Perhaps the next edition of D&D can be that game to draw in chicks who’re willing to game, but I’m not holding my breath.

But I believe the turning point will come from women, and to get there, we need more women in the industry. Kudos to Lisa Stevens who is CEO of Paizo and doing a great job at it.

Now, who’s going to be the next strong female lead in the industry?

2 Responses to “Gamer Chicks and Chicks who Game: Why We Need Both”

  1. Lugh says:

    Thanks for the link!

    So, out of curiosity, what qualities do you think a game should have to strike it big with the girl crowd? I’m guessing, based on the current fiction, that urban fantasy is probably the best setting. Based on what I’ve seen in general, the game should strongly enable complex, relationship-driven stories. I could name half a dozen games off the top of my head that do that (Buffy/Angel, Dresden Files, and Serenity/Smallville have those traits and the advantage of established properties and fandoms).

    I don’t think we’re ever going to see a “magic bullet” game. Unless someone stumbles onto a not-quite-an-RPG that storms the party game scene (something similar to How To Host a Murder Mystery), it’s just going to take time. As you pointed out, the current generation of young women grew up on Potter and Twilight, and expressed it in fanfic and CRPGs. I think our primary job is going to be to make RPGs welcoming and stigma-free. Also, we just need to make more young women aware that TTRPGs are available as an option. Too many simply don’t know that chucking dice is such a very small step from interactive fanfic.

  2. Loc says:

    I started to look into this subject when one of my players (who is female) was having a hard time getting into our games. We talked about a few points of what it might be and she came to the conclusion that she was getting frustrated that she would suggest a solution to a problem but was being ignored. It wasn’t something that anyone was doing to her on purpose, the male players would have intense debates on strategy and would call out each plan’s weaknesses. They weren’t ignoring her, they were vetting her ideas and when she didn’t debate them or offer a response they felt she was dropping the proposal for a solution. They would then go onto the next idea (or a previous one). So that’s one experience.

    Secondly your pitch the not all gamers are geeks is gold. I’m running a contest right now for how to get people into RPGs, one to explain the fun but also to get past that deer in headlights feeling that people seem to get when someone tries to introduce them to RPGs. Maybe I need a category for “best pitch to girls?”

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