Art by Aledin
When I first started playing tabletop roleplaying games at the age of 16, I found a good mix of genders and nobody made a big deal about my being a girl. At 21, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with an entirely different circle of people, but we had a decent blend of genders, too. Once I started to participate in D&D message boards, however, I encountered reports about The Great Woman Shortage. Gamers regularly complained about not being able to find women who were willing to give the hobby a try. D&D had been a male-dominated game for decades and although some women played, they were vastly outnumbered and rare.
At first I thought that the shortage was all in people's heads, but as time went on I heard about it from folks all over the country. I also couldn't help but notice how guys watched me when I went into gaming stores. It's not just that they sized me up; they looked at me like they expected me to be bored, or shopping for someone else, or simply lost. And whether or not they intended to do so, some of them treated me as though I didn't really belong in the store or in the hobby.
I started this section of my web site out of concern for the shortage of female gamers, and out of concern for some of the things I'd seen and heard over the years. My goal now is to discuss women as gamers and as characters in a way that's open, respectful, and encouraging to everyone at the table. I hope to address common arguments, attitudes, and misconceptions that I've heard from men and women so that we can gripe less and play more. At the very least, I hope to be part of a movement to make everyone feel as though they belong in tabletop roleplaying.
One of the most difficult things about discussing gender bias against women is that, in our current era, many refuse to believe it exists or that they could be affected by it. Some gamers dismiss the whole idea outright and seem to feel personally attacked by the very notion that women could feel marginalized in roleplaying. I would like to be able to say that gender doesn't matter influence the hobby because that would mean that both genders were being treated equally, represented fairly, and encouraged across the board. But I've seen that these things are not universally true and although some factors are subtle, others are not.
I am not interested in attacking anyone or assigning blame; what I aim to do is reveal potential problems and opportunities and discuss them in an organized fashion. Our cultural upbringing influences us in such powerful ways that we don't even realize it most of the time, and that is one of the most dangerous things about it. Even those of us who have been raised with very “modern” attitudes about gender and women will fall back on ideas we didn't even know were instilled in us. Pointing fingers only builds resentment, and resentment only stands in the way of building a satisfying gaming experience.
Even if you have never been affected by gender problems in gaming – or even if you don't believe that such troubles exist – continue reading, anyway. Chances are, you will meet gamers who have dealt with some of the issues I discuss here, and you might run across similar things in your game when you least expect it.
As I proceed, I'll be using a number of different terms to talk about women in gaming. Sometimes I'll just talk about "women" in gaming as a whole, although I know that there are also young girls involved in the hobby. When I talk about "girls" in gaming, I'll probably be referring to all women, whether they're young or not. I will probably even talk about "female gamers" or "females," for short.
Why the variation? Well, first off, it makes the text easier to read. If I spoke of nothing but the female gamers who play female characters who talk about female things, the redundancy would probably make you grit your teeth. But I'll also use different terms because I'm trying to encompass a lot. Sometimes, I'll be talking about people who were born female and who present themselves as female, but I'll also be talking about the cultural aspect of being a woman, as well as being a woman in the gaming subculture. One word just ain't gonna cut it.
Last but not least, I will also be talking about the ways in which women can be problematic in gaming. Just as I have encountered and heard about troublesome male gamers, I've also found disruptive female gamers. I've also had to wrestle with the wives and girlfriends of men who play. So I'll be talking about women many would describe outright as "bitches," but without name-calling; I'll be trying to look at even the most annoying behavior constructively.
Women In Character: A look at female characters, including their roles in society, power, and other aspects.
Women Out of Character: A look at female gamers, their history in the hobby, their impact on games, and more.
When I first started this web site, I couldn't find many other sites by or about female roleplayers at all. Now, much of what's out there consists of lists of women who write games and individual articles (not always written by women). It can still be difficult to find substantial discussion of women in tabletop games, since so much is dedicated to women and video games. Whether you think gender matters or not, you might want to look around for other sites that address women in gaming to get a broader perspective.